The Hobbit

I’m evaluating the three “Hobbit” movies as a single entity because, really, it’s just one long story.

The fact that the “Hobbit” trilogy was released in three consecutive years isn’t all that relevant (for reference, here are the titles and release dates of each film: “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” (2012), “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” (2013), and “The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies” (2014)).

My sense is that the release plan actually diminished the narrative. Having watched these films one after another, I was struck by the scope and relative connectivity of the entire story. I would have lost the thread if I waited months between watching each film.

So, what’s the deal with “The Hobbit”? It’s visually impressive. It’s full of action (maybe too much?). And it’s got that Tolkien sheen that folks seems to enjoy.

(Note: I am not one of those folks. The Tolkien thing doesn’t resonate with me. It’s not that I’ve got anything against fantasy. Rather, the whole Middle-earth vibe just doesn’t click.)

My vague memory of the book The Hobbit is that it’s a modest story. It’s certainly not an epic that would require three films to tell on screen.

The cursory research I conducted (i.e. I looked it up on Wikipedia and read a few of the introductory sections) revealed that the films were expanded with detail from Tolkien’s other works and supplemented with original material from the screenwriters. I imagine this new stuff filled in story gaps and add a much-needed female character with a modicum of agency.

What’s interesting is that I found this expanded “Hobbit” easier to follow than the “Lord of the Rings” movies. Book-to-film adaptations are forced to cut a lot of material to fit into reasonable running times, so there’s often narrative whiplash between scenes (wait, who is this person and where are we now?). I ran into the same problem with the “Harry Potter” films. I watched those before reading the books, then I rewatched the film series after reading the books. My post-reading “Potter” viewing experience was dramatically different because I understood exactly who was doing what where and why. I haven’t read the Rings novels, but I think the same narrative confusion applies to the “Rings” film series.

“The Hobbit,” however, is different because it’s been expanded for the films. To me, it feels more cohesive than the “Rings” movies.

This probably should have been a streaming series: The first “Hobbit” film was released in 2012, which placed it just before the advent of prestige streaming (“House of Cards” premiered in 2013). Given that the total running time of “The Hobbit” films is around seven hours, and given the scale of the story, these films probably would have worked better as a streaming mini-series than a film trilogy. We’ll see for ourselves how well Tolkien translates to streaming when Amazon’s “Lord of the Rings” series debuts sometime in the next few years.