The Lord Of The Rings is undisputedly one of the best film trilogies of all time. The Star Wars of a whole generation, many people like myself will remember watching the films in my teens and being completely blown away by what was shown on the big-screen. To this day, seeing The Return Of The King at the pictures on opening night remains a vivid cinematic memory; the atmosphere was electric and the mood bittersweet as the epic trilogy concluded. Some people said they’d never see anything quite the same again and they were right. Sort of.
In the following years, talk turned to an adaptation of Tolkien’s prequel, The Hobbit. An on-again/off-again production was finally given the go ahead in late 2007 and Guillermo Del Toro was lined up to direct. However, due to ongoing delays Del Toro had to drop out and in 2010, Rings director Peter Jackson once again took the reigns on the latest middle earth adventure. What had always intended to be two films, suddenly became three in 2012 after an announcement from Jackson. Immediately people started to scratch their heads in confusion as to how a 300 paged children’s book could be drawn out over a trilogy; criticism the film’s have struggled to distance themselves from since their release. With extended editions also announced, by the time the trilogy ends this year with The Battle Of The Five Armies, the total length of The Hobbit will clock in at over nine hours long. But do the films themselves justify the runtime or is it simply a way of drawing out the story for another year and in turn make more money?
My usual cynical view of a cash grabbing Hollywood is one that remains absent when it comes to The Hobbit films. Undoubtedly Warner Brothers and the other production companies behind it are grateful for another year of massive takings, but I think Peter Jackson and his team of writers have never lost sight of the adaptation that they wanted to make. For many who wanted a straight forward on-screen iteration of the book, I can understand why they may be left disgruntled by all of the added baggage but the thought process as to why it is there makes sense. Now I don’t agree completely with some of the creative liberties that have been taken with the book and could easily do away with the addition of Legolas and Tauriel; however I think it inspired that Jackson has padded out the story with material taken from the appendices in The Lord Of The Rings in an attempt to bridge the gap between the two trilogies.
As far as the extended editions ago, I actually think they do a better job in capturing the spirit of the book than the actual theatrical versions. The Desolation Of Smaug left me wanting after seeing it in the cinema. Far too much time was spent rushing through important sequences from the book just so as to focus on throwaway scenes with little purpose; leading to problems with the films pacing. In the extended version, these problems are rectified however; more time is spent is spent with Beorn and the scene in which our heroes are introduced to him is much closer to the book. We also get a little more time in Mirkwood as well as more clarity as to the purpose of Gandalf’s quest, all of which help the film considerably.
Not only are the films better than the theatrical versions but the special features contained within the editions are by far some of the best to ever grace a box-set. Continuing the film making diaries started back with The Lord Of The Rings, called the Appendices; the in depth guide to all aspects of the production process are equally as entertaining as they are interesting, with witty cast observations that include a swearing habit of Martin Freeman as a particular highlight. Whether The Hobbit films will ever be revered as much as The Lord Of The Rings, remains to be seen. With the concluding film out next month, we won’t have to wait long to see if all the plot threads set out in the first two films will have a good enough pay off to warrant their inclusion. Whilst I would one day love to see Jackson’s two-film cut as originally planned, I’ve found the films and especially their extended editions to be immersive experiences; that whilst not 100% faithful to the book, still manage to capture its spirit. The day where fans of the films will be able to watch both trilogies back to back in extended form, will be a great day indeed.
So those are my thoughts on The Hobbit films so far and their extended editions, what are yours? Are you a fan or do you prefer The Lord Of The Rings? Feel free to leave your comments below..
Next Week: What next for Middle-earth?