Netflix & Chill #88: The Hobbit Trilogy

So after plodding my way through seven hundred odd pages of The 13 1/2 Lives of Captain Bluebear, I decided that I needed a change of pace for the Eldest Kiddos bedtime book, so I went back to an old favorite, The Hobbit. I haven't read the book for years- but naturally, the Eldest Kiddo being a child of the 21st Century was very excited to learn that there were movies based on the book. We got through enough of the book that we could watch one of the movies and naturally now we've got through enough of the book to watch a second movie, so then I had to revist one of the more irritating film trilogies in existence: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug and The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies. 

We'll get to the first Hobbit movie in a second- but I had to do some advance research on the latter two because I was some astonished to discover that The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies was rated R (at least the extended edition is- not sure about the regular vesion or what the differences are.) Given the fact the Eldest Kiddo just turned 9 that sort of gave me pause and made me feel like checking these films out might be worth doing before plunging into Peter Jackosn length films for an evening. 

(If you want an in-depth look at this Trilogy and you know, what's wrong with it- Lindsay Ellis did an excellent three parter on it: *Screaming Internally*, *Ennui Intensifies* and The Clouds Burst.)

An Unexpected Journey isn't... awful. I think it's actually the only one I've seen- or at the very least, the only one I remember seeing in theaters. Naturally, it starts out with an older Bilbo Baggins writing down the full story of his adventure 60 years before for Frodo just prior to the start of the events of Lord of The Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. And initially, things work fine for me. You learn about Thror the King Under The Mountain who presided over an era of peace and prosperity for his people before the great Dragon Smaug learns of the gold and comes along to take it for himself. The fall of Dale, the expulsion of the dwarves into exile from The Lonely Mountain/Erebor- and Thorin (Richard Armitage) watches as King Thranduil (Lee Pace) and the Elves don't come to their aid, leading him to develop a hatred of the elves. 

Flash forward a bit more and we meet Bilbo (Martin Freeman), a relatively young Hobbit who likes his house and his quiet life and is tricked by Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellen) into hosting a party for Thorin and his company of 13 dwarves, who are in search of a burglar to help them reclaim their lost kingdom from the dragon. They have a party. Bilbo freaks out about food. Worries about his plates. They sing sad dirges about their lost home and Thorin is doubtful about the whole, you know, Bilbo thing. 

So far, so good. Hewing pretty closely to the book. I'm down. I dig it. Okay.

Bilbo doesn't accept the offer to join the company, but the next morning changes his mind and joins the company and they head out into the wild, encountering and being captured by three trolls. Bilbo stalls the trolls from eating the dwarves until Gandalf returns and uses the dawn to turn them all to stone.

Again, so far, so good. I'm quite enjoying this.

Then, Radagast shows up and introduces a subplot that's not at all in the book, warning Gandalf that the Necromancer at Dol Guldur has been corrupting the vast forest called The Greenwood (now Mirkwood) with his dark magic. Then Orcs show up and chase the company to a convenient plot device- I mean, hidden passage to Rivendell. Elrond is there, of course- but naturally, they have to shoehorn a meeting of The White Council into this and involve Sauruman and Galadriel for... some reason. They're all worried about Sauron's return and want the dwarves to stop their thing, but Gandalf sends them on ahead to prevent this from happening and Galadriel calls him on it and also there's weird sexual tension between them? Wut?

In terms of plot relevant things at Rivendell: Thorin and company learn that there's a map and a key and a deadline: they've got to get to the hidden door on the mountain before the last light on Durin's Day. 

Then, they go into the mountains and again, so far so good in terms of the book. We get the battle between the Stone Giants (check), taking shelter in a cave (check check), they get captured and taken into the goblin caves (check check check) and Bilbo gets separated from them and ends up finding a ring (the 'Ring', though he doesn't know that yet) and does the riddle thing with Gollum and eventually gives him the slip thanks to his magical invisible ring. (Very nice. I like- less so all the weird subplots with the goblins, but overall... good. Like wargs? The Eldest Kiddo loved the wargs. Not in the book. The Great Goblin revealing that Azog the Defiler wants Thorin dead and all that business- also, not in the book.) 

I know, it's a movie. It's not going to be exactly like the book and that's fine. But, you've got to understand: these movies came after The Lord of the Rings trilogy. The Lord of the Rings which was probably the most faithful adaptation of the a trilogy of books in the history modern cinema. It was so good, people were forced to argue about things like leaving out 'The Scouring of the Shire' and short changing the whole Faramir/Eowyn subplot in the Houses of Healing. Like people had to really dig for complaints about divergences from the book. So to have The Hobbit turn around do this... it's... jarring. And feels massively unnecessary.

The first movie ends with Bilbo fleeing the mountain and rejoining the company and then being chased by wargs and orcs and getting rescued by Eagles (had this been a more faithful adaptation of this book, this would be my 'deep cut complaint' the Eagles- so awesome when they show up in the book and on screen get short changed here.) They drop them off at The Carrock, where Thorin- who was saved by Bilbo changes his opinion on The Hobbit somewhat. And there in the far distances, they catch their first glimpse of The Lonely Mountain. (Then, we cut to a thrush who is knocking a snail against a stone and inside the mountain- Smaug opens his eye. Bam End of Movie #1.)

The Desolation of Smaug is... okay as well. Might be the best of the three movies? For a given value of 'best'. This movie picks up from the last movie-- and everyone is still being chased by orcs and Gandalf leads them to the relative safety of the House of Beorn- a 'skin changer' who can take the form of a massive bear who doesn't like dwarves that much but hates orcs more. He advises them to go through Mirkwood and helps them get there. 

So far, so good. I like Beorn as a character. 

Gandalf finds Black speech (Orc-speak) imprinted on an old ruin and then *record scratch* gets a telepathic message from Galadriel urging him to go check out the tombs of the Nazgul?

Wut?

To be fair: in the book, Gandalf does leave them at this point for business elsewhere- what he does is never actually specified. So I'll give partial credit on this one. The telepathic message thing is... odd. And entirely a new concept. 

So Bilbo and company have to go through Mirkwood alone. You get the spiders (check) which are legit nightmare fuel in a way that Aragog from Harry Potter is not-- and really made me hesitate about letting the Eldest Kiddo watch this one, but thankfully, it's about ten to fifteen minutes all told, so I think we might be okay. 

The elves show up and rescue them- which is sort of what happens in the book- though I would have preferred to have more time in Mirkwood and to have this part hew more closely to the book- Mirkwood feels rushed to me. Really- if you're making two good movies out of this book, you'd get them through Mirkwood and then see the dwarves imprisoned by the elves. 

But who gets to rescue them? Legolas and... Tauriel. An entirely new character not at all in the book. Or any book for that matter. She's not a bad character... it's just that her entire purpose is pretty much to be caught in between Legolas and Kili, in a kind of weird... cross-racial... love... triangle? I like Evangeline Lilly as an actress. I just wish that her character was more than a plot device-- and I think she wishes it too, but nevertheless, I think she's to be commended for making Tauriel interesting and making something out of well, not a lot. 

The movie seems to go into hurry up mode at this point-- barrels out of bond goes quickly and is less of a heist movie moment and more of a chase/battle scene moment. (It's better in the book, but we've got orcs chasing them ofr plot reasons.) But eventually, the dwarves get to Lake Town with an assist from the barge man, Bard (Luke Evans) who turns out to be descended from one of the last Kings of Dale and has a black arrow in his posession that can kill Smaug. Thorin reveals himself to the Master of the Town (who is played by Steven Fry- which I either didn't know or didn't remember, and thus was a pleasant surprise.) The dwarves then get a fine send off- except for Kili, who was injured by an orc arrow and is being nursed back to health by Tauriel and he's having feelings.

The Dol Guldur subplot is just... well, inevitable. The Necromancer is in fact, Sauron. The Nazgul tombs are empty. Gandalf is captured. Orcs march off to war, etc. etc.

The dwarves and Bilbo reach the mountain, break in and all in all, it's pretty decent. Bilbo and Smaug do their thing. There's some divergence from the book here, but I'm okay with it because Smaug is absolutely perfect. Probably the best part of these movies. But the upshot of all of this is that Smaug gets pissed off and flies off to destroy Lake Town. And that's the end of Movie #2.

The Battle of Five Armies...  is entirely uneccessary. Though the death of Smaug at the hands of Bard- which in the book is one of my favorite chapters of all time and has one of the all-time great lines in fantasy literature: "And that was the end of Smaug and Esgaroth. But not of Bard." Before this year I've read the book maybe twice and that was when I was a kid and that line is the only line that I remember from the book. Did they do it justice? I think they did. But two-thirds of this movie is just the battle. That's it. I'm pretty sure I watched the regular version because I have no earthly idea why this would be rated-R unless they were going for the Saving Private Ryan of fantasy epic battles and succeeded? Maybe?

Overall: This could have been two excellent movies that remained faithful to the book much better than these do. I suspect that it was forced into three movies to make somebody more money- which it very much did. I'm sure we'll probably watch the next two movies, but I don't know whether it's the purist in me or just my overall sense of irritation at these movies and what they should have been instead of what they ended up being-- but I am awfully tempted to dig up the cartoon version from the late 70s and make The Eldest Kiddo watch that instead.

But...  he likes the wargs. My Grade: ** out of ****. 

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