Peter Jackson is, simultaneously, the best and worst thing to ever happen to the fiction of J.R.R. Tolkien, one of my favorite authors, and my favorite fantasy author, period. Tolkien has been deceased for some time, so it’s hard to say how he would have felt about the six movies that Jackson has now made, the three Lord of the Rings and the three Hobbits. Would he have enjoyed the pageantry and the spectacle of the visual effects? The amazing makeup, and the attention to detail? The multiple career defining acting jobs that brought Gandolf, Gollum, Bilbo, Frodo, and so many others to life? We have no way of knowing any of that. All I can say is that the Lord of the Rings trilogy has it all over the Hobbit trilogy, even though there are, admittedly, some visual effects in the three Hobbit installations, and this one in particular, which are simply superlative…beautiful, stunning, majestic, none of these words seem to quite cover it. I looked on in literal amazement at some of the sequences that I saw in this movie. It is not hyperbole to say that I was stunned, blown away by some of the stuff that I was seeing on screen. And yet, this movie suffered from exactly the same disease that infected the first two. I can sum it up in one word: bloat. There’s a bloat factor at work here that marred my enjoyment of these films, and made them so very frustrating to me. This three films, I believe, should have been two, and, let’s be honest here, could very well have been just one. “The Hobbit” is not a particularly long book. Three hours could have covered everything, but because I enjoyed spending so much time in Middle Earth, I would have had no problem if two two-and-a-half hour films were what was decided upon. But because of a combination of studio greed and a seeming inability to reign in Peter Jackson, things ended up the way they did. I’m reminded of Ian Malcolm’s line from Jurassic Park. I’ll paraphrase: they were so preoccupied with whether they could, they never bothered to think if they should.
If you go to see this movie, I honestly don’t know if it helps if you’re a Tolkien fan, or hurts. At the very least, you should have seen the first two, otherwise you won’t know what the hell is going on. The title says it all; Smaug the dragon is dispatched very early on, Thoren is smitten with “dragon sickness,” caused by the massive heap of gold the dwarves now control, and armies are massing to try and plunder not only that treasure, but also control the Lonely Mountain for its strategic position. Those armies all march (or fly), on the mountain: dwarves, elves, men, goblins/orcs, and eagles. It all culminates in a legendary battle that Tolkien deals with in about a dozen pages. We get to see it dragged out for about an hour-and-a-half. There’s some irritating stuff here, just like in the first two installments. We get a creepy character, the master of Lake Town’s second, who is there just for comic relief. The most off-key moment he provides is when he dresses up as a woman and speaks in a squeaky Monty Python-in drag type of voice, to try and avoid the fighting. Inexplicably, before the battle begins, we get an appearance by some evil giant worms that look like the critters either from Dune, or maybe the Kevin Bacon movie Tremors. They show up, then they’re never seen again…needless to say, Tolkien made no mention of such things. Then there’s the forced tie-in between the end of this series and the beginning of Jackson’s Rings trilogy, which means that Sauron himself has to show up, along with the ring wraiths, who are temporarily dispatched by Galadriel. None of it’s really necessary. It all could have easily been cut, and the movie would have been stronger for it. The same as with the first two films, which could have been tighter, and better, if the stuff Jackson decided to make up and throw in there would have been kept out.
The bottom line is, this is a very pretty film, with maybe twenty to thirty minutes of bloat, which is exactly what I said about the first two. If you’re a Tolkien fan, and a movie fan, you pretty much have no choice but to see it. It’s spot-on at some moments, and then tone-deaf at others. It’s the majesty of Middle Earth for a few seconds, perfectly capable of transporting you to that realm where I’ve always wished to spend some time, and then the next moment it’s tossing in a thoroughly unneeded interspecies romance between dwarf and elf that made me want to gag. This series of movies has been such a contradiction, and my feelings about them have been so mixed. No doubt Jackson will come out with a DVD set that expends this nine-hour epic even more. He’d be much better off, and all of us would too, if instead he came out with a version that cuts out everything that didn’t appear in the books. I guess at some point Jackson forgot, Tolkien was the master he was trying to emulate. He was the creator, this was one of his seminal works, and you, Jackson, buried this gem underneath a load of CGI, visually impressive, but effectively cutting out a good portion of its heart. My rating: 6/10.