Tag Archives: Peter Jackson

Fellowship of the Ring: Book vs Movie

Recently, I reread The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring for fun. That got me thinking about the movies, as anyone who has seen both versions can’t help but compare the two as they go through. I can’t definitively say who did the story better, although I do think J.R.R. Tolkien put more love, thought, and effort into it, as he is the creator. Sometimes a new person in a different decade can expand on an author’s original ideas, in ways that he or she never thought to explore.

Both he and Peter Jackson should be commended, however, for their contributions to books, films, fantasy, and franchise overall, and I thought I’d examine some key differences between the versions today. Even the extended edition can’t cover everything, and Jackson had to somehow make the movies his own while still being relatively faithful to Tolkien’s original story.

So here we go!

 

What You Lose By Only Watching the Movie

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  • Realistic time-passage. The book may be a lot slower, but events tend to happen at a more natural pace, especially given how disorganized each party was before the Council of Elrond. Lots of time is spent resting, talking, and walking,

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Yeah, yeah, I know, but this load of walking offers many more details and, for some, more subtle and nuanced character development.

  • More interaction with Middle Earth as a whole. People that we see in passing (such as the wood elves in the extended version and the men/hobbits of Bree) are engaged in conversation, and a lot of history about them is expanded on in great detail.
  • Songs, poems, and lore. Another element that adds realism to a fictional world is storytelling. Bilbo in particular is a gifted lyricist and writer, and he shares many tales that lend culture, history, and ideology to the diverse cultures and races the characters encounter. It really shows Tolkien’s detail and passion for the world he created, and even those who might find parts of it boring must at least admit that his skill and intelligence is admirable.

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  • Sam’s cleverness, and his great fascination with elves.
  • More details that inform Frodo’s character. His parents died in a boating accident when he was twelve, and after almost a decade living in Buckland before being adopted by his cousin, Biblo. Bilbo leaves when Frodo turns 33, adulthood in hobbit years, and Frodo begins his journey with the One Ring at nearly 50 years old. He is very close with Merry and Pippin, who are younger relatives of his, and he has a good sense of humor and fairly quick wit.

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In addition, Frodo impresses many of the elves he meets by demonstrating what Bilbo taught him of their language. He is smart and practical, for the most part, and despite being afraid and feeling out of his element, Frodo also demonstrates great bravery and loyalty to his friends. Elijah Wood’s Frodo gets less time to shine, unfortunately, and in many moments where Book Frodo would have attempted to fight, he just drops his sword or falls over, leaving others to do most of the work. Both Frodo characters are endearing, curious, and brave, but Book Frodo has more time devoted to him, for better or worse, and the medium allows us to see some of his thoughts occasionally. It’s unfortunate, but no movie would have been capable of doing him perfect justice.

  •   Aragorn’s sword is re-forged immediately. There is very little build up to this, unlike in any of the movies.
    • Various scenes and characters from the book. Tom Bombadil, Glorfindel, the Barrow Downs, time in the Prancing Pony. As you might expect, to add drama, suspense, mystery, and urgency, Jackson switches around the placement of some scenes and completely omits others. Some other moments that are told in passing in the book get more direct screen time in the movie, which, while interesting and definitely an effective use of the visual medium, sometimes lose exposition and the thought process of the teller. Some motivations change, depending on the needs of the plot, but that can also subtlely or drastically change a character.

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    • Answers to various questions. What has Thorin’s company been up to since The Hobbit? Who are all of the people at the Council of Elrond, and why are they important? Why did Balin go to Moria in the first place? And what’s up with those damn eagles? Anything you wanted to know and more is revealed in the book, and while the tone of The Hobbit was sillier and less weighty, it bridges the gap between the two stories fairly nicely. Certainly better than The Hobbit movies, anyway.
    • Aragorn’s more diplomatic, “kingly” side. In this book, he’s still just a Dúnedain ranger, not a true king yet, but you see snippets of what he will be like. He is scraggly, but wise and well-spoken with the people he believes deserve his respect. When he takes charge of the Fellowhsip, and the elves of Lothlórien insist on blindfolding Gimli, Aragorn tells them that everyone will go blindfolded, even Legolas. He respects their law as much as he can while honoring his companion at the same time, even if Legolas is indignant about it.

Viggo Mortensen’s Aragorn is a little too gruff and scraggly, in my opinion, but he’s a fine enough choice.

  • More of Gollum’s skillful and creepy tracking of the Fellowship.

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  • Some good, old-fashioned elf-dwarf cattiness. Especially once they reach Lothlórien. Good lord…it’s kind of hilarious though. The elves really need to check their privilege.
  • The sense of accomplishment you get when you reach the end.

 

What You Lose By Only Reading the Book

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  • Urgency. The pace slows to a crawl at times, and characters rest for waaaaay longer than you think they should, given the threat. At one point, Frodo becomes suspicious of being followed by a creepy rider dressed in black, but thinks it’s totally necessary to sit down and chat with the older farmer he knew from childhood and have dinner with his wife. At best, it can come across as silly, but at worst, it absolutely kills the tension.

Peter Jackson occasionally adds closure and genuine pay-off by shifting scenes around, even those from other books in the series.

  • Natural dialogue. Similarly to the urgency issue, characters in the book are needlessly polite and wait very nicely for people to finish, whether they are having a disagreement, an exchange of thinly-veiled insults, or simply have new information that contradicts the current speaker. Hardly anyone politely interjects, when you would think that time is of the essence. Some characters actually bring this up during the council meeting, which is hilarious, but also suggests that Tolkien knew he was spinning his wheels and continued anyway, maybe because he couldn’t think of how else to get that exposition in. This is a killer for some readers, making parts that should be interesting needlessly tedious. As much as I love this book, I am perfectly willing to admit that.
  • Orc scenes/dialogue. Other than some vague “shouts” from their enemies, the orcs in the book don’t get any lines. We also don’t get much description of how Saruman is prepping for war, and nothing so far about how Uruks differ much from regular old orcs.

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  • Great music. Howard Shore’s score is absolutely amazing. It’s perfectly atmospheric to the scenes, and he used actual Sindarin (Elvish) for some of the songs. When this film came out, I thought I could not possibly love Enya any more than I already did, but I was prove wrong. And I’m okay with that.
  • Great landscapes. How much tourism has been driven to New Zealand from this movie alone? If but I had Kim Kardashian’s vast riches for a hideously expensive royal wedding, I’d go to where they shot Rivendell and pay them to set up whatever else they needed to make it complete, then invite the cast to dress up in costume and show up in the crowd.

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Yes, I’m a dork. What else is new?

  • Great casting. Elijah Wood. Ian McKellen, Christopher Lee, who actually met J.R.R. Tolkien, in addition to being a general badass in life and acting alike. The costuming is impeccable, although Sauron the Dark Lord is a bit over-the-top. He matches his lair, though, so that’s good. There’s no mistake that he’s wholly, irredeemably evil.

The only one who looks a little out of place is Hugo Weaving as Elrond, but unbeknownst to strict film-viewers, he is actually only half-elf, so his harder features can be forgiven. What might not be forgiven in light of this is his harshness towards Aragorn for trying to court his daughter.

Also, I love that John Rhys-Davies is taller than pretty much anyone else in the cast, but he’s a dwarf, so he ends up looking shorter than everyone.

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  • Great effects. I truly believe that a healthy mix of practical effects and CGI is the way to go in movies. This is less relevant in this film, but part of what makes Gollum so convincing and lifelike is that Andy Serkis is really there, interacting with the people talking to him. In most strictly CG fare, the characters typically never meet each other’s eyes, if they’re even looking in the right general direction to begin with. It doesn’t fool me, it’s not very immersive, and it only looks so impressive standing next to things that clearly don’t mix, with different structures and textures.

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  • Arwen getting some development and screen time. Because otherwise, this story is one big sausage fest. Which isn’t really a problem for me, but the addition of a capable, badass female character gets no complaints from me. And her romance with a main character is actually in the book, if only more subtly hinted. She wasn’t created from thin air and then forced into a stupid love triangle for no reason.
  • Boromir gets less to say, but he’s much more likeable. At the risk of “spoiling” The two Towers, it’s as though Jackson sucked out some of Faramir’s likability and gave it to Boromir…while completely missing the point of Faramir’s original character. But that’s another story!

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Boromir really gets to bond with Merry and Pippin, making his sacrifice at the end all the more redeeming and endearing. The little morons went and wasted it immediately, but still.

Boromir is presented in the movie as arrogant and naïve, but misguided. The One Ring still seduces him, and it’s very similar to the book, but we get more scenes showing that he cares about his people and just wants to defend them as best he can. It’s more implied in the book, but as a result, the most personality you get out of him is just that arrogance and naiveté, less clearly motivated. Sometimes subtle isn’t always better, and I get the sense that the first son of Denethor was not terribly popular with Tolkien himself.

    • The adorableness that is Pippin. large

He’s less young in this version and more of just a thoughtless idiot, but he’s still cute. He and Merry actually have personalities that aren’t confusing and interchangeable, even if they do come off a little less braze at times.

 

    • Frodo doing the chicken dance.

 

  • The Ring Wraiths are much scarier. It’s hard to imagine the imposing, hissing foes from the movie just walking up to the Old Gaffer and even remotely casually asking him where Frodo is. But that is how most people recount speaking to the black riders, even if they seem a bit shaken or their dogs were sent off scurrying. I like the movie wraiths better because they ask questions or swing their swords. They seem sinister and imposing without seeming undignified, whether it’s by their demeanor or their encounters with people on the road.
  • Fight choreography. Before Gimli’s height or Legolas’s archery became a running joke, they were just straight-up badasses. Fights can be flowing and energetic, almost like a dance. It’s not as gritty or chaotic as it might be in real life, but there’s certainly an art to it. In the book, you get very little description of strikes.
  • Showing, not telling. This is pretty standard for film, but acting has to clarify thoughts in place of narration. This allows for some brilliant, even powerful subtlety, like Gandalf’s hilarious posturing when trying to open the Doors of Durin in Moria, or Frodo’s silent exchange with Merry and Pippin before he leaves in the end. Not everything needs to be spoken aloud, and that is one place where realism comes into play in movies.

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One thing missing from the book and movie is moral ambiguity on the part of the villains. There are good guys and there are bad guys, and otherwise, there may be a few characters who are misguided or harmless and confusing. Tom Bombadil in particular reminds me of someone you might find in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

But the antagonists are all ugly and rotten to the core. They vary by race or level of depravity, but there appears to be no possible redemption for any of them, which doesn’t ring true in the real world. It’s a comforting idea – that evil exists, but good will prevail in the end – but it’s not the most challenging of concepts.

That said, Fellowship of the Ring is still an amazingly creative, in-depth story, and the film is the best mainstream adaptation we could have hoped for, despite its flaws. If you like it (or especially love it), you should definitely try to read the books at least once. My parents let me see the first movie (I was about ten when it came out), but then they made me read each book before I could see the film version.

Hobbit-Sized Films, Dragon-Sized Problems

“I would ask them to make an effort of imagination sufficient to understand the irritation (and on occasion the resentment) of an author, who finds, increasingly as he proceeds, his work treated as it would seem carelessly in general, in places recklessly, and with no evident signs of any appreciation of what it is all about.”

~Tolkien

In 2001, I discovered Lord of the Rings for the very first time.

I was ten years old. I had never even heard of the books before, but my dad offered to take me to see some new movie called The Fellowship of the Ring, and, always on board for fantasy, I took him up on the offer.

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I was blown away.

The story was gripping, the characters engaging, and the effects were, and still are, outstanding. Just seconds after the credits began playing, I was gushing about the movie to my dad. My young mind was exploding. This was, to quote some internet commenters, “teh best movie evar! OMG!”

I could do a whole separate review on those movies, comparing them to the books or even that other LOTR movie most people probably don’t remember, but that may come at another time.

But after my dad brought me home, excited and already impatient for the next installment, the conversation with my folks went something like this:

Parents: You liked that movie?

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Parents: Good. Want to see The Two Towers next?

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Parents: Well then, you’d better start reading. You can’t watch the movies until you’ve finished the books. ALL of the books.

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Parents: Don’t worry. The second movie won’t be out until next year.

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But you know what? I read those books and they were great.

Sure, some parts were tedious (I distinctly remember a description of a hill in the Shire that went on for too long), but I’m glad I went through them. Now I can compare scenes/conflicts/characters from the books to the movies and see the different choices made in different media by different “authors,” although, having read LOTR so long ago, my memory is plenty foggy these days. I’m still the trivia person my folks, friends, and other family members go to when they have questions from the movies. 🙂

Anyway, I read the Lord of the Rings first, then, after a bit, The Hobbit, out of curiosity. Finally, a few years later, The Silmarillion. 

Yeah, well…shut up!

But yes. I read the books backwards, not counting the first three.

So given my history with the Lord of the Rings series, I went into the Hobbit movies with great anticipation and optimism. Why wouldn’t I? It was the same director who made the adaptations 10 years prior, Peter Jackson;  a few beloved cast members (some who were not in the book…) were returning to the screen; and Howard Shore was back, working the film scores. I was thoroughly psyched.

Once or twice, I did entertain the notion of Peter Jackson “George-Lucasing,” which, for the unenthused, is when a director: hypes or bloats things to a ridiculous agree, milks his or her initial works (any connections in the new films to said works), badly directs the actors (or picks ones who can’t act in the first place), and dumbs things down. As an added bonus, the director will throw in really cheap, base comedy or comic relief.

ahem
ahem

To break that further down, “George-Lucasing” is a director trying to make his or her new creations as popular and great as the old ones without any of the same substance and quality. It’s one big facade, whether the director lost his or her touch or is just lazy or, worse, has become detached from reality.

I shrugged it off at first, my faith completely with Mr. Jackson to give The Hobbit dignity and respect while making it his own. He did it once, after all.

For the two films presently available, An Unexpected Journey and The Desolation of SmaugI went to see them at the midnight showings. If you’re a hardcore fan or a fan of spectacle, I recommend it for the next film; some people will show up in costume.

Some better quality costumes than you usually see.
Some better quality costumes than you usually see.

I liked the first film for a while, and even tried to defend it. “Come on, people!” I said. “It’s not LOTR!” I said. I thought people were too blinded by their love of the original movies to recognize this new one as its own thing, a separate story with separate characters and a separate tone.

Needless to say, I quickly saw the error of my ways.

So, we come to it at last. What’s wrong with the Hobbit trilogy? What can we say about it before it’s even been completed?

A lot.

Here are my biggest beefs with these bulging, big-screen baddies (note: not in any ranking order):

1. Probably the least of the films’ problems: Why do these films even have to be a trilogy? It’s a children’s book, not even 400 pages.

Seriously. I learned that it was going to be a trilogy right after seeing the first movie and thought, “Really?” I could maybe understand two movies, but three?

Apparently, all major films must be 3 hours long these days. And any good saga or film series must split the last book (or in this case, one book) into multiple, bloated parts.

"It's like printing money!"
“It’s like printing money!”

LOTR is probably to blame for the former issue, but it’s Harry Potter’s fault for beginning the trend of the latter. Even if they had a good excuse, the makers of the HP films split the last book into two movies. Now, for better or worse, everyone is doing it.

2. There are way too many scenes referencing the first trilogy (which is supposed to take place YEARS IN THE FUTURE).

And when I say years in the future, I mean it. Bilbo was around fifty when he went on his there and back again journey. In LOTR, he’s 111.

I didn’t think Jackson could be more gratuitous than Lucas, but I was wrong here. Yes, I said it. Jackson did something way worse than Lucas.

Many of the scenes not in the book (which I can and often have forgiven), but they’re also overblown and hyped up way too much. Any scene that features the Ring, Sting (Bilbo’s sword, which gets passed on to Frodo, the main character, in the next series), or Gollum (the creepy, bug-eyed, CGI Dissociative Identity Disorder sufferer) in particular.

Oh, and I love Galadriel’s little twirl when Gandalf comes to see her in Rivendell. As the action happens and the music swells a bit, it shouts to the audience, “REMEMBER THIS CHARACTER? THIS IS TOTALLY LOTR, YOU GUYS! SHE’S BACK AND REALLY IMPORTANT HERE!”

The scene probably looks especially stupid to those who haven’t seen the first LOTR…if those people even exist.

We get it, Jackson. LOTR happened. This is connected to it. Make these movies strong enough to stand on their own and be their own things.

Again, printing-money

 

And how are Gandalf and the others going to conveniently forget or ignore Sauron for 50 freaking years while he builds up his stronghold and army?

3. The Pacing & Other Unnecessary Changes Made from the Book.

In the book, the dwarves, Bilbo, and Gandalf just kind of go on a road trip. They come across interesting things, have encounters, and move on. It’s a simple but fun adventure with decent pacing. You know, as just 300-ish pages. Not so much in these movies.

The pacing is so slow, bogged down with snippets of appendices and things from both LOTR and The Silmarillion, which just ends up making the movies feel bloated and pointless for significant portions of them. This is in line with problem 2 above, as the filler and random factoids and mythos feels like it was put in to convince you it’s LOTR again, “JUST LIKE BEFORE OMG YOU GUYS!”

As much as I love my extended editions of LOTR, I understand that the extra stuff can be boring to general audiences. I was even bored by some of the pointless things thrown in. And I love Tolkien!

But Jackson stuffs a bunch of things in because he needs to meet the run time, and more importantly, remind you of his earlier films. It needs to look like LOTR (with the Elves and Men and all manner of evil minions interacting with the Dwarves on their journey). Jackson even goes so far as to shove Sauron fully into this story, trying to tie the trilogies together. Between the dark lord and the dragon, both are pretty big threats that should be dealt with immediately.

If you’re curious about all the little changes made between the book and the films, check this out!

The tone whiplash varies both during and across the movies, too. An Unexpected Journey feels very upbeat, goofy, and (for lack of a better word) cartoony, whereas in Desolation of Smaug, everything is very grim and dark. And that’s before they get anywhere near the mountain.

4. The Humor.

I know it’s based on a children’s book, but dear lord, Jackson, pick a tone and stick to it!

I don’t think he can decide whether he wants the movies to be all dark and full of drama, or goofy and juvenile, or a light-hearted adventure story. It’s trying to be everything in one big, nostalgic, money-printing romp. A lot of the humor looks like something you’d see in The Smurfs movie abominations, with barely a scrap of dignity saved by the ye old speak. But not even that can work miracles; dwarves burp and fart and pop out of toilets in these stories!

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I wouldn’t mind so much (or maybe I would. The jokes are terrible enough) if the movies would stop trying to be what they aren’t. Or would at least, you know, commit to trying.

5. The Eagles.

"Fear not! My shamefully obvious CG shall carry you to safety!"
“Fear not! My shamefully obvious CG shall carry you to safety!”

You can’t go into a Hobbit or LOTR forum anywhere and not see this little gem pop up. Which irritates me, because there is a huge freaking ghost army just sitting in a mountain until Aragorn gets up off his royal @$$.

“Why don’t the eagles just take them all the way to the Lonely Mountain?” “Wouldn’t that make the journey quicker and less perilous?”

Yes, yes it would.

Us nerds will argue this all day long, quoting the book as if it translates perfectly into the movies and therefore justifies or doesn’t justify how Jackson handled it.

Some say, “Well, if the eagles did that, then we wouldn’t have movies.”

Correction: We’d have shorter movies.

I agree that it is a distracting plot hole and could be easily solved by a throw-away line somewhere between movie 1 and 2, if Jackson wasn’t comfortable changing the story that way.

“Why can’t the eagles take us right there?” says Dwarf #5. “Because (insert magic forcefield or them being scared of dragons reason here),” Gandalf replies. “Oh. Okay then.” There. PROBLEM SOLVED. GOOD ENOUGH FOR ME.

6. The Dragon.

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Really? The whole story is about them going to slay this thing and winning back their mountainful of treasure, and we only get to see Smaug for the last 1/6th of the second movie?

I feel so cheated!

They were building up this guy from movie 1! Sure, his design and voice were cool, but because of the wonky pacing and “totally necessary” insertion of extra-racist Legolas and his written-for-these-movies, equally necessary and controversial love interest, among other things, Smaug practically got pushed to the wayside and his desolation will have to wait until the next movie! What the what?!

And speaking of the love interest…

7. Tauriel.

Name: Token Chick Catchphrase: I'm just happy to be here!
Name: Token Chick
Catchphrase: I’m just happy to be here!

I’m not quite sure how to feel about her.

On the one hand, “Yay, butt-kicking female!” On the other, “Yay, another cliché love triangle!” This movie not only fails the Bechdel Test, it doesn’t even come close, considering there aren’t many other main females to be found, butt-kicking or otherwise. And Tauriel mostly talks with the elf dudes. About dude things.

Seriously, though. Brief rant here. LOTR had some cool, distinguishable chicks among its plethora of dudes. No problem there. This movie has one major girl, and of course she’s focused on all the men in her life. And is promptly made into a love triangle. giphy

“But she and one of the few cute dwarves are bridging the gap between their races!”

The prejudice is still there in LOTR, so I doubt it will do much for Dwarf-Elf relations. Inter-racial marriages will still be frowned upon, definitely. And then there’s the very real possibility that Tauriel and/or Kili will die…

I’m sorry. It does kind of bother me.

8. The Dwarves.

Labeled for your convenience
Labeled for your convenience

We’ve got Thorin, Gloin, Dorin, Balin, Fili, Kili….uh…Dopey, Sneezy, Doc…Grumpy.

At least those last few dwarves we could recognize by their names matching one defining character trait.

Of all the races in these films, Dwarves get the most crap. They are the buttmonkeys of Middle Earth, if you will.

It was there in LOTR too. What was Gimli but an awesome, butt-kicking wood stump chock-full of comic relief?

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He had almost all of Legolas’s lack of personality, but was short, kind of fat, and hairy. Comedy gold!

The new dwarves…really, Jackson? Once again, pick a tone and stick with it, please!

Why do half of them look like short near-humans and the other half look like they should be washing up to go eat with Snow White? At least Gimli didn’t have a long beard necklace braid thing. Or a dorky deer-stalker cap. Nor did he style his hair like a star. Or look like this guy:

Ori

 

LOTR was not perfect (the book or the movies), and neither are these (book or movies). But the LOTR movies were trying, and it changed the movie industry in so many ways, awing audiences with its sheer scale and effort. And the book, to quote the Nostalgia Critic, became “the holy Bible of geekdom.”

Enough said.

The Hobbit movies, by contrast, feel small despite their attempts at grandeur and are pretty underwhelming when you get right down to it. And that’s not just because they stand in LOTR’s shadow, although from the beginning they were piggybacking off LOTR’s hype and credibility. And that is personally my biggest issue with them.

They are underwhelming (dare I say it, even bad) because Peter Jackson is nostalgic and greedy, so much so that he doesn’t want to end his legacy with just the first trilogy. He clearly wants to make a splash with these movies and have them be just like the good old days, but with new content and a fresh story. Not a bad goal, but the delivery was pretty botched.

The effects feel like old hat these days because every movie has them, and they don’t always look that great anyway. The characters aren’t fleshed out enough and often blur in with the background (which was a problem in the book as well); with LOTR characters making cameos and glorified easter eggs that barely added to the greater story. Like the skin changer in movie two, Beorn. Yeah, it’s cool that he can become a bear and hearing more of his  and his people’s story might have been interesting, but his abilities were kind of pointless in the grand scheme of things. He was in the movie for five minutes, then poof! Gone.

Any normal person could have helped the dwarves in his place, and to the general audience, nothing of substance would have been lost. As a fan, I thought it was cool but could have been easily relegated to the extended cut. They cut all the significance from the book out and made it seem like an arbitrary footnote anyway.

Adapting any media to other media is a difficult process. I can understand that, and appreciate the hard work that goes into it. But as much as I wanted to like these movies and give them a chance, a part of me can’t help but wish he’d left well enough alone.

I’ll go see movie 3 when it’s out, but unless it really wows me and makes this whole trilogy worth it, I’ll be forced to conclude these particular adaptations did not need to happen. Fans and general audiences will probably still enjoy it. I just have to turn my brain off a bit…or go watch the films I liked off the bat.

Thanks for reading. None of the pictures belong to me, but to Disney, Valve, Peter Jackson, etc.