With the two Hobbit movies, we, the people that bother to think, and wonder, and hope for good movies set in worlds other than our own, are living the life. We are not living well, though.
The movies are so long. They serve so many masters, standing trial accused of Being A Chopped-Up Hobbit Movie and three charges of Being A Lord Of The Rings Movie. There are a lot of places for them to go wrong and send out ripples of wrong across all of that real estate.
Two questions arise:
Q: Can we accept that these two Hobbit movies, An Unexpected Journey and The Desolation of Smaug, are troubled?
A: I don't think anybody would argue otherwise.
Q: Can you keep on living, accepting that?
A: Maybe. But aren't we entitled to living well?
Jesus on ice skates, people! You don't know what you want! You made The Lord of the Rings a success. You made the demand. You forked over the dollars for iteration after iteration of DVDs and Blu-rays, and now there's this astounded shock that a film studio responds by giving the people more of what they prove they wanted.
Some are belting hot air from their mouths while fingers lumber across keyboards, condemning a film adaptation of a beloved book. An old book. A book my dad read to me ages ago when I needed somebody else to imagine up my fantasy.
Now, one flawless (FLAWLESS) Lord of the Rings Trilogy, a few billion dollars, hundreds of hours of DVD bonus features, and twenty some-odd Academy Awards later, there is still a notion going around that this isn't enough? We want more? We want it more, Flawless?
Do you want to hate The Hobbit? Do you want to keep loving The Lord of the Rings? Do you even remember what the book is like?
These-here Hobbit movies aren't movies. They're a half-billion dollar investment. They're bonus-content special features. They're a victory lap. This is b-reel, cutting room floor, Led Zeppelin Coda, and you know what, it's still better than 90% of the fantasy movies in existence.
We want to go back to Middle-earth, second verse, same as the first. But there's an outcry about the format.
We want it to be just one, big, three hour movie! No, two movies, and directed by Guillermo del Toro! No, wait, the real fans know if we could add in all that extra stuff, the apocryphal text only complete head-cases know about, you guys, there's enough there for three movies, spaced out, with references to the appendices from The Return of the King and The Silmarillion, a lot of people won't get those bits, but, I mean, the content is there, give it its time!
Yet people still complain. They complain and criticize because one Lord of the Rings fan got to make his version of The Hobbit, the way he envisioned Middle-earth when he was growing up.
Here's why The Hobbit movies, while not necessarily deserving of your love, (I sure as shit didn't love them) aren't worthy of your vitriol. I'll break it down by examining the most common complaints.
In Defense Of The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
1. Why is The Hobbit three movies instead of just one long one?
Money. And the content was there. We will never know what the 1-movie version, or 2-movie version of this would look like. Get over yourself, and shut up, this is reality.
Actually, no, it isn't reality. If you're upset, you can do a few things to alleviate your pain. You can go fight in a war, survive, be a globally-renowned philology professor, write three to five fantasy books, have them wallow in obscurity for a few decades, hope that hippies start reading them, and when you sell the film rights, make sure that you have an iron-clad contract stating that the first book never be divided up into a lengthy trilogy. Ever! Then, wait a few decades. Open a 401k. Enjoy a successful career, have a few kids, keep busy, why don't you? Was there a car you really liked while growing up, but couldn't afford? Go buy it. Keep it running.
Then, when your spectacularly-captivating fantasy novel is adapted into a movie, go to a nearby movie theater, watch it, and then afterwards, go on the Internet and observe others without experience in movies, writing, character, politics, world-building, and actual war insist that some key player involved in making this movie must have been drinking his own urine, because that's the only explanation for the way the film turned out.
2. Why do The Hobbit's action scenes feel so much like a videogame?
The videogame accusation does not hold water—I watch more movies and play more videogames than most. Videogames have better-designed action scenes than movies do.
To the complaint about the frictionless, flighty feeling to The Hobbit's action scenes, like the goblin mine in An Unexpected Journey or the barrel chase in The Desolation of Smaug, ask yourself, do you want more Lord of the Rings, or do you want The Hobbit: The Movie? People have been harping on how breezy The Hobbit should feel, that it's a kids book, that it's easy-going. "So, uh, I mean, you guys," they bubble, "why shouldn't the action scenes follow with that funnier tone?" Legolas jumping from barrel to barrel like it's Donkey Kong Country in simple pursuit of escaping prisoners from the forest of Mirkwood. We know Legolas won't be hurt. It's silly, it fits with the film's playful tone.
So you can complain about two things: do you want it to stop having breezy action set-pieces, or do you want it to be darker, grittier, and harder? Do you want it to be the same as the older movies? Do you realize that when Tolkien was writing The Hobbit, he had already timelined out The Lord of the Rings, and The Silmarillion (Middle-earth's Old Testament) already existed, and he didn't realize until Bilbo handed the (then-unnamed) Elfking the Arkenstone that he realized this was a story actually set in his Middle-earth, and that's why The Hobbit gets dark as fuck at the end?
The action scenes feel faster and freer in The Hobbit because the story demands it. When the blade falls, and it does, and characters start dying, it's going to be staggering, and you'll hate the creature that kills them even more for ruining the formerly-innocent fun you had watching Thorin float on a wheelbarrow on river of gold, whether that sequence was made-up for the movie or not.
Side-note, there's no mention of Frodo and Aragorn riding on a collapsing set of stairs in the Mines of Moria in The Fellowship of the Ring novel, unlike the movie, so go fuck yourself about embellished film set-pieces.
3. The Hobbit's driving purpose and character's motivations are scattered.
Now we're getting somewhere. All that stuff about it being three movies instead of one, and the action scenes being wrong (all wrong!) -- that was just us digging into what really irked you wasn't it?
The film's purpose. Yes, there are a lot of characters and they're individuals, most are just trying to not get vacuumed up in a world full of dragons, necromancers, elves, and assholes.
We've got Thorin. He wanted his birthright back. He feels entitled to it.
We've got Bilbo. He wanted to go on an adventure. He's reasonable, and he sees the dwarves suffering without their home.
We've got Gandalf. He's nervous about the signs that Sauron is back. All this stuff with the dragon, and the orcs suddenly invading the elvish lands, and poisoning the forests, it's portentous that dark times are coming, and nobody is going to do anything if he doesn't.
We've got the elves. They're punks, except for Tauriel. (The Elfking) Thranduil is a backwards shut-in samurai (notice the way he handles his sword) set in his ways, asserting his immortality and denying involvement in this gathering darkness. Tauriel feels the opposite. Everyone likes Tauriel. We're supposed to like Tauriel. Tauriel and Bilbo are examples of common sense among the crazies.
There are the extra dwarves not named Thorin. They have no home and they all react to this idea differently. Some are bitter, some are impassioned, all know action is the best response, regardless of obvious danger.
In this movie, we finally see human-men. Their existence is a diseased, frigid one, living under corruption without strong leadership. Instead, they have the Master of Lake Town and his Wormtongue-equivalent. It's obvious they need to rejoin the world, too, like the elves. Maybe the humans need a good king (I wonder if one will return)? First, they'll need to strengthen their bonds with the other races to keep being overrun by the formerly-leaderless orcs.
There are a lot of threads and motivations. Their reasons for being so scattered are obvious though.
The connective tissue across all of these stories is that everybody is alone in Middle-earth right now and it is a worse place for it. While the races turn away from cooperation and face inward, evil is coalescing. It's a less singular objective, but nonetheless powerful.
Think of all the ruins the heroes come across in The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. Middle-earth is post-apocalyptic environment. The Silmarillion explains how long ago, the trees gave the world light, and all light is sacred, and everything was good, then Morgoth and his lieutenant Sauron messed it up, and the elves and men just barely defeated Sauron, and instead of prosperity in the following centuries, the races all became self-absorbed and distrustful. The land fell into ruin. The Hobbit is still the aftermath of those days. It might be convenient for Bilbo to stay in his hole in the ground, yet as he ventures beyond The Shire's greenery into the actual world, he realizes the world is a freezing and starving place rife with hatred and petty rivalries that Sauron would capitalize on.
This is the objective of The Hobbit movies—to come together to make the world better.
The Hobbit's holistic story likely won't come in full-circle until the third film, There And Back Again, is released, since it is a three-part story of a single novel. The films are also strengthened in terms of motivation and narrative when stood up alongside the drama in The Lord of the Rings. We need to see the final redemption of men and elves' alliance in that trilogy.
As we've realized, the world is a festering shithole at the time of The Hobbit. Bard, Legolas, and Thorin all have daddy issues, and their environments are decaying, and getting worse, and if they don't do something about this, if they don't recognize that a dragon waking up is a sign that dark times are coming, they will be enveloped by the evil descending at the start of The Lord of the Rings.
4. The Hobbit's Tauriel and Kili love story is dumb!
Oh, eat shit! Two of the best characters act outside of Middle-earth's status quo to save one another, strengthening the argument that each race ought not be such dickheads to one another. Thorin smacks away a compromise from Thranduil when they're captured because of pride. Thranduil tells Tauriel that she's just a commoner and shouldn't string Legolas along.
Tauriel and Kili try to overcome that.
This is a stupid complaint. This is on the same level as people being annoyed by the lack of party wandering and getting lost in Mirkwood, meaning, they would have preferred it if this was longer, more drawn out, and boring, like it was in the book. In the same breath, they complain about the singing at the dinner party in the beginning. Again, what do you want?
5. The Hobbit was my favorite story as a kid, and they ruined it with extra stuff! Wah!
Then go back and read the book. It hasn't gone anywhere. You can still love it.
And the stuff isn't extra, it's ancillary.
Here's a pitch Tolkien fans would respond positively to when they first started making LotR movies:
"We're making The Lord of the Rings trilogy into movies, AND we're going to splice together the side events mentioned in The Return of the King appendix to create a thorough retelling of the Middle-earth setting during the events of The Hobbit. While this will take the form of an expanded, extra film trilogy concerning the return of orcs and trolls to landscape and the revelation of the elves and their slowly-returning trust of men, it will focus primarily on Thorin's quest to retake the Lonely Mountain. Martin Freeman will play Bilbo. Benedict Cumberbatch will be the voice of Smaug. You probably don't know him yet, but you will. Bitches."
If this news was released ten years ago, people joy-shriek so loudly that Canada would invade Buffalo, New York.
There's so much anxiety surrounding not just an adaptation of a beloved book, but a stupidly-thorough adaptation, digging back into the geekiest-of-the-geeky depths of the original high-fantasy story, and people are legitimately UPSET about it being so expansive? There were actually complaints when The Return of the King movie came out that they omitted 'The Scouring of the Shire' chapter from the book.
Which is it? Which do you want, do you want to see it made into a movie, or do you want to keep the story to yourself, forever and ever?