After the success of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings films, it was perhaps inevitable that The Hobbit too would be adapted into film. However, plans for an adaptation were delayed for several years after The Return of the King due to contract disputes, including one between Peter Jackson and New Line Cinema, and financial troubles of Hobbit co-rights-holder MGM. However, the film project was announced in December 2007, and after languishing in pre-production for some time, The Hobbit was green-lit in October 2010 and began principal photography in March 2011. The first film of the trilogy, as the project became, was released in theatres in December 2012.
Many individuals within Tolkien fandom have found The Hobbit films to be a disappointment, including both those who expected to like the films and some who didn’t, but found their meager expectations still an over-estimation. While I enjoyed Jackson’s Lord of the Rings films, I did have many quibbles with them, both as adaptations and as films in their own right. I found The Hobbit films to be worse on both measures, but found debating their merits to be a less engaging pastime than it had been before the films were released, since each successive film seemed to reduce the number of people willing to defend the new trilogy. However, I have gathered several essays about The Hobbit in this section for completion’s sake.
I wrote this piece in February 2009, only two months after I began following news of The Hobbit and discussing it on Tolkien forums. The predictions are necessarily vague and based on some outdated information (such as Guillermo del Toro directing the project, or the project being two films), but I still find it to be a reasonably accurate prediction given that it was made nearly four years before the first Hobbit‘s film release. This prediction was highly unpopular when I first posted it, but the number of people disillusioned with The Hobbit films is much greater now.
- My Prediction: my thoughts (from early 2009) about whether The Hobbit will be a faithful adaptation.
I sometimes characterize these pieces as reviews, though I don’t think this is the most accurate term for them. After seeing each Hobbit film I returned home and wrote a fairly lengthy essay about the film and my thoughts on it. I was running on small amounts of sleep for all of them, so there are undoubtedly various grammatical errors throughout that I did not catch. However, I have not attempted to edit them since I think the rambling style is part of the effect.
- An Unexpected Journey: my response, written after seeing the film on the evening of its opening day
- The Desolation of Smaug: my response, written after seeing the film in the late morning of its opening day
- The Battle of the Five Armies: my response, written after seeing the film on the evening of its opening day
I had at one point hoped to write an extensive analysis of The Hobbit trilogy as both adaptation and cinema, in the vein of the LOTR analyses on this site, but also reflecting how my perspectives have changed since I wrote those as a teenager. However, I (like many others in the Tolkien fandom) have found the new trilogy to be distinctly underwhelming. This not only makes it less rewarding to write about, but removes much of the purpose of said writing in the first place, since there is something of a consensus (though it is by no means universal) that The Hobbit was a disappointment.
While the responses I wrote to each film are unpolished, I have found that I still agree with the criticisms I laid out in them. Of course, they do not reflect the changes in the Extended Editions, and to be fair, I do think that the first two films in the trilogy were improved by those edits, although I would have cut out much that was included in the theatrical edits in order to bring the overall running time of the trilogy down. (The Battle of the Five Armies, on the other hand, I did not think was notably improved by its EE.) My initial predictions essay, while almost four years older than anything else in this section, is also something I still stand behind. I believe the basic flaw I saw then – of trying to warp The Hobbit to make it more like LOTR – ended up being one of the biggest problems with the finished trilogy, alongside the then-unforeseen decision to make it a trilogy at all. What I did not foresee in 2009 was that, besides being an unfaithful adaptation (something that not even PJ really bothers to dispute anymore), the films were also disappointments as entertainment, in my opinion.
There are of course many who disagree with me on this point, and I don’t mean to begrudge anyone who likes The Hobbit films their enjoyment of them. I do think that some of the criticism of PJ and the new trilogy is overblown. As someone who was already a critic of PJ before this trilogy, the disappointment was not so raw for me and I have at times seemed rather mild in my attitude towards the films. I did enjoy the experience of being part of the fandom throughout the whole release cycle, and I was not looking to be miserable about how the films turned out, but I’m not in a hurry to revisit them now that the last EE is out. Others have already delivered lengthy examinations of the trilogy’s shortcomings as cinema, and I feel I have little to add on that point. I initially wrote essays on purism to counter people who I thought were mis-representing the degree of faithfulness in PJ’s films. With so much of the fandom on the same page regarding the changes made to The Hobbit, and with me being in a different and hopefully less argumentative place than I was as a teenager, I don’t feel that’s really a battle that needs waging anymore.
(On the other hand, I’m sure the debates over PJ’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy will continue for years to come, considering the passion that trilogy arouses, but I’ve already said my piece on that.)