We’re nearing Hobbit Day—the birthday of J.R.R. Tolkien’s beloved heroes, Bilbo and Frodo Baggins. I also happen to be a few months away from celebrating my own Hobbit Birthday, 33 and a third years young. So, I foolishly thought: I’ve avoided watching Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit movies until now, maybe it’s time I gave them a chance. Nine hours later, I feel like I’ve aged another 33 and a third years. I’m older but none the wiser, doomed to wander the depths of Middle-earth full of sorrow, regret, and troll spit chili. Why did nobody warn me?
Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy is a testament to the power of cinema. It’s an achievement that changed the landscape of speculative genre on the big screen—paving the way for blockbuster fantasy, science fiction, and (yes) even comic book franchises. You can damn well bet the Marvel Cinematic Universe wouldn’t be what it is today without the influence of LotR. So, when I heard that The Hobbit trilogy was a total mess, taking everything good about LotR and hurling it into a pile of Orc-smelling garbage, I stayed clear. I didn’t want to harm my opinion of the series in general. But, with time comes perspective (or at least so I thought...now my brittle bones carry the weight of my mistakes).
Sometimes, there are films and shows that are not well-liked in their time, but experience changes our perception. Blade Runner and The Monster Squad are two great examples, albeit for very different reasons. I wondered if The Hobbit was burdened by its own legacy—not only of Tolkien’s original novel, but Jackson’s previous work within the series, as well as its future with Amazon’s upcoming TV show. The Hobbit might not be LotR, but could it be something else entirely? The answer is yes: It is something different.
It’s something bad.
Let’s see, what did I like about The Hobbit movies, which include The Hobbit: Bilbo Runs With Paper In That One Shot, The Hobbit: I’m Bringing Sexy Cumberbatch, and The Hobbit: Is 14 Hours of Sword-Fighting Enough? No? Better Add More Then? I already forgot, but I assume those are the titles. No one tell me otherwise. My mind can’t take any new information, or I’ll forget what gerbils are or that I’m not supposed to eat sand.
I mean, I thought the dwarves were cool. The makeup effects were fantastic—at least on the ones who actually looked like dwarves, so that excludes His Highness Smolder Face and those two “I play Ed Sheeran covers on the Quad” nephews. Of course, we barely learn anything about them, other than the fact that they can survive about 1,400 near-death experiences: Neither puncturing giant spider legs that could pierce any bit of flesh, nor a giant wall of fire that crumbles stone and wood, nor a whitewater rapids race in open barrels that continually take in water can do these guys in. Unless, of course, if they’re handsome and need dramatic death scenes that “hurt so much!”
I also liked Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins, even though I know others didn’t. Sure, he was a little subdued sometimes, but I thought he was charming. He seemed to respect the character he was portraying, though the story itself was clearly different than the one he signed up for. He previously said he liked emotional “talky scenes” as an actor, which would’ve fit in a Hobbit movie that matched the source material. But scenes like that ended up being few and far between, to make room for more Legolas jump kicks off dwarves’ faces. Really, it explains why Freeman constantly had a look on his face of “I know what this is turning into and I’m contractually obligated to ride out the storm on my pony that’s clearly a regular horse covered in extra hair.”
And finally, I’ve got to talk about Cumberbatch as Smaug. I get it now, people. I get it. Cumberbatch may not be able to carry an American accent in Doctor Strange, but by God he’s a sexy-ass dragon. The scenes between Bilbo and Smaug—or the dwarves and Smaug, or Bard and Smaug, or anyone in the world and Smaug—may have felt long and bloated (like everything else in this trilogy), but they made sense. Not for the story, mind you, but for life itself. Every person wants to bone that dragon. If the pages upon pages of Smaug fanfiction isn’t proof enough, it explains why they ended the second movie on that weird “Smaug invades Lake-Town” cliffhanger that’s resolved within the first 10 minutes of the final movie. It’s because we didn’t want to let him go.
That’s what I liked. And frankly, you don’t have time to read everything I didn’t like, because we’d be here all day (though I recommend this fantastic video essay from Lindsay Ellis). So here’s some of the specific things that drove me up the wall:
1. The “’Member Berries” framing device, with older Bilbo and Frodo Baggins getting ready for the party that started the LotR series. It was pointless and added nothing to the story. And it was weird seeing Elijah Wood looking much older when the character is supposed to be younger.
2. There’s so much padding that characters repeat things in the same movie, sometimes even in the same scene. Case in point, when Gandalf tells the gang that the bear dude doesn’t like dwarves, then the next morning the bear dude tells the gang he doesn’t like dwarves.
3. The trolls clearly crushed those horses to death and yet they seem fine later.
4. All of the unnecessary LotR character appearances and crossovers that have been dissected to death so I’m not going to embellish. I just want to remind the room that all of them are dumb and none of them should be there. Legolas uses an Orc’s body like a skateboard.
5. Thorin, son of Older-Smolder, is super honorable until the moment they need him not to be. Then he turns into this greedy gold-obsessed weirdo until the moment they need him not to be. Then he reverts back into the hero figure and fights some Orc on a lake until they both die.
6. On that note, that Orc guy. He wore a bird skull as a codpiece and I never cared about him or what he was doing. I thought he was going to die in the first film, and when he didn’t I knew I’d have to wait until the final climax to get rid of him and I hated it so much.
7. Elves are so beautiful you can copy-paste them into an army.
8. I never thought a movie could make me get sick of Lee Pace’s gorgeous face, and yet here we are. This is a film trilogy where Lee plays an immortal creature of pure beauty and grace, with a crown of magic leaves on his head, and yet by the end, I wanted to hurl his stupid stare glare into a giant apple pie that he could never wash off. That’s not supposed to happen. I’m angry that it has. The Hobbit made me temporarily dislike Lee Pace and I can never forgive it for that.
9. Every action sequence had me begging for someone to die. Not because I didn’t like the characters—although for the most part I didn’t—but because I wanted things to have consequences. This is a movie where peasants in potato sack pants hurl rusty cheese graters at giant Orcs in steel plating, and they go down like they were made of silly putty. I just wanted someone of note to die and not have it take 20 minutes of onscreen “noooooooooooos.” And nope, Jackson adding blood to the existing scenes isn’t enough.
10. Stop relying on the eagles to save everybody; at some point they’re going to get sick of it and peace out forever.
I feel withered. My muscles atrophied. My spirit slowly cascading down the stairs of my apartment, yearning to flee out the front door into a night where stillness means freedom from thought. This series has broken me. I know that I previously said time brings perspective to some shows and movies. But maybe it doesn’t. Maybe it just reminds us that it’s pointless to try and care about some things, no matter how long ago they happened, because they’ll never be anything other than terrible.
The Hobbit movies are objectively, subjectively, theoretically, and prospectively bad, sprinkled with moments of okayness that stand out so much in the crowd that you end up thinking they’re genius. But they’re not. They’re like the eagles, always showing up at the right moment but never staying long enough to actually fix things. I spent $11.97 on Amazon to loathe Lee Pace, worship a slithering Benedict Cumberbatch, and wonder what it was all for. Probably everything. Most likely nothing.
I went on an adventure, and I came back destroyed. After hurling the ring into the fire, I have returned to a world where I can never truly feel at home. I will sit here, silent and disconnected, until I board that ship, unfurl its sails, and ride off into the peace of death.
Disclosure: Ellis is a personal friend and former fellow producer at Channel Awesome.