Running time: 182 minutes (Unexpected Journey), 186 minutes (Desolation of Smaug), 164 minutes (Battle of Five Armies)
Certificate: 12A (Unexpected Journey), 15 (Desolation of Smaug, Battle of Five Armies)
Screenplay: Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson, Guillermo Del Toro
Director: Peter Jackson
Starring: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Richard Armitage, Ken Stott, Graham McTavish, James Nesbitt, Aidan Turner, Dean O'Gorman, William Kircher, Stephen Hunter, John Callen, Peter Hambleton, Jed Brophy, Mark Hadlow, Adam Brown, Ian Holm, Elijah Wood, Hugo Weaving, Cate Blanchett, Christopher Lee, Andy Serkis, Sylvester McCoy, Lee Pace, Barry Humphries (voice), Jeffrey Thomas, Michael Mizrahi, Manu Bennett, Orlando Bloom, Evangeline Lily, Benedict Cumberbatch, Mikael Persbrandt, Luke Evans, Stephen Fry, Ryan Gage, John Bell, Billy Connelly, Conan Stevens, Lawrence Makoare, John Tui
|Rivendell - tonic for the soul.|
Lord of the Rings came under some criticism from Tolkien purists for making some changes to the novel, but even so I still think it is evident it retains a healthy respect for the original story while not being afraid to make changes if it served the film. It is, frankly, much harder to make the same assertion when talking about The Hobbit. Just the fact that it is a trilogy almost as long as the Rings trilogy (as with that review, here I am talking about the extended versions available on Blu-Ray, rather than the theatrical releases) with a book only a fraction of the size is a fairly clear indication that there are many more liberties taken with the text. Of course, all of the extra stuff is mostly informed by appendices written by Tolkien himself, but there is still plenty here to outrage the purists.
|Bilbo riddles for his life, while Gollum plots murder.|
The first part An Unexpected Journey takes its time to get going, rather than diving headfirst into the adventure, spending time in Bag End with Bilbo and the dwarves. Much of the criticism the film faced was in regards to the slow pace set in these early scenes. For my money, I'm happy enough to spend time in the Middle Earth imagined by Jackson, Weta Workshop, Weta Digital and New Zealand that I'd probably be happy watching Bilbo wash up for 2 hours. The dwarves are realised in a way that is different to the book; rather than coloured hoods, each dwarf has a distinctive look, usually based around hair. I wasn't quite sure about it at first to be honest, but I soon got used to it.
|Bilbo and Thorin, facing up to something awful.|
The Desolation of Smaug bucks the trend of the middle film of a trilogy being weaker (as did The Two Towers) and is actually my favourite of the three. There is a great deal of iconic Tolkien imagery brought to life here; Beorn (Mikael Persbrandt), Dol Guldur, Mirkwood and the spiders, Thranduil's (Lee Pace) hidden woodland realm, Laketown; for someone like me who can often feel more at home in these locations than in the real world, it's a dizzying smorgasbord of visual treats. Jackson and his team take more liberties than even An Unexpected Journey did, but somehow, the film is just so much fun that most of it goes by, forgiven. The invention of an entirely new character, the female elf Tauriel (Evangeline Lily) doesn't feel out of place - in fact it highlights how starved of female characterisation Tolkien's novel was, and goes some way to addressing that. Falling for Kili (Aidan Turner) might have been a bit of a stretch, however, and featuring Legolas (Orlando Bloom), I must admit, took some swallowing.
|Bilbo may have bitten off more than he can chew...But then again, he is a hobbit.|
The Battle of the Five Armies picks up the thread and early on Laketown is laid waste by dragonfire until Bard the Bowman (Luke Evans) brings the vengeful dragon low. The third film is about what happens around the power vacuum that Smaug left behind - the Kingdom under the Mountain, empty again, save for a massive pile of gold and jewels. The dwarves, led by Thorin Oakensheild (Richard Armitage), set up shop and barricade themselves inside. Thranduil leads the elves to the mountain to reclaim some long-lost elven treasure, while Bard brings the now-homeless survivors of Laketown to try to prevent them from starving. Both are rebuffed by Thorin, who is being driven slowly mad by the corrupt Arkenstone, a giant gem from the heart of the mountain that inflicts a dragonish greed on its possessor.
|A redeemed Thorin bids his friend farewell.|
The over-use of CGI is much-bemoaned in regards to modern films, and there is no doubt The Hobbit is bursting at the seams with digital artwork, but the way in which Jackson employs it makes it much less of an issue that it might otherwise have been. Across the whole trilogy, from An Unexpected Journey's escape from the underground goblin town, through the barrel ride and dragon hide-and-seek in The Desolation of Smaug, through to pretty much most of The Battle of the Five Armies, the film-maker is clearly the same guy who made Braindead, Bad Taste and Meet the Feebles (he is still working with some of the same people, even now). The same manic energy, gift for a surprising-yet-perfect angle and warped sense of humour is still there; he's just using different tools.
One of the most beautiful shots in the series, including Rings, is the brief, dialogue-free moment near the end, featuring Bilbo and Gandalf just sitting there, together alone. The sense of exhaustion is palpable, and one can only surmise is shared by Jackson and his crew. The effort that has gone into making these six films is momentous; decades of work, so this small moment feels appropriate, a short snippet of reflection. Like so many moments in these films, it is a strikingly constructed shot despite being so simple - a testament to the great work of the late Andrew Lesnie, cinematographer on all six films.
|Bilbo and Gandalf: Palpable exhaustion.|
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey: 8/10
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug: 9/10
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies: 8/10
As with The Lord of the Rings trilogy, I seem fairly close to Empire's take on the films, as shown in these reviews by William, Nick and James. Elsewhere, there is evidence to suggest I slightly over-rate them, although not by much if these Guardian reviews by Philip, Peter and, to a lesser degree, Mark are anything to go by.