Why The Hobbit Fails Where The Lord of the Rings Succeeded

My disappointment in Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit trilogy isn’t exactly a secret, but you can believe me when I say that no one is more bummed about that than I am.  I was anxiously awaiting these films and the opportunity to return to Middle-earth, considering how incredible the Lord of the Rings films were.  While The Hobbit films certainly felt like a return to the Middle-earth we all know and love, they failed to live up to the same quality and lacked the impact of the originals.  Hobbit features the same director (and writer), along with a decade’s worth of new technological advances (for which LOTR was praised for highly), but still couldn’t recapture the magic, So what happened?  

With the release of The Battle of the Five Armies on blu-ray happening next week, I decided to take a harder look at the trilogy on the whole to figure out the problem, and I have a few ideas…

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Tone Confusion

I mentioned this idea back when I did my initial review for Desolation of Smaug when it hit theaters, but it’s remained true even in the finale.  One of the biggest issues I’ve had with The Hobbit films, is that they aren’t really sure what they want to be.  It struggles between being a more lighthearted adventure and a darker, menacing tale in which the fate of the world hinges on the outcome.  

All three films fail miserably at balancing these tones, and the result is an up and down mess (tonally).  By the time the credits roll you’re not sure if you were supposed to enjoy the adventure or not.  This is compounded by the fact that, in acting as a prequel, there’s no real sense of closure to the darker tone in the series.  Because that specific storyline is carried on by Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit just sort of drops it off and despite the massive battles, the sense of doom and gloom doesn’t feel sufficiently handled in this movie.  Especially because everything then goes back to the light-hearted and fun adventure.  

Compare this to all of the Lord of the Rings movies in which the tone remains the same.  Sure it has comedic relief and elements of humor, but each of the films remained utterly focused.  The idea that if they fail, the world falls is unwavering.  In The Hobbit, you’ll go from “we have to do this or we’ll all die” moments to “golly gee-whiz, what an odd adventure” in a snap.  Hobbit lacked the focus of the LOTR movies and tried to correct the issue mid-stride in a way that just didn’t work.  


The Fluff

Personally speaking, one of the issues I’ve continually harped on about The Hobbit trilogy, is the inclusion of all kinds of “fluff” to the story.  There are a LOT of things added into the movies that might be cool for fans, but in the long run did NOTHING to progress the story forward or engage you with the characters.  For the most part these scenes, and even entire plot lines, felt like they were added into the scripts to pad the films out and extended them well beyond where the story should have gone.  

It honestly wouldn’t have been such a big deal if the fluff had felt like it was somehow important.  Even on the surface it was obvious that from a story standpoint, the characters had no reason to linger or expand on certain moments.  The meeting with Beorn was cool, but had it been left out of the film, I can’t say the story would feel any different.  Same for the love story with Tauriel.  

Lord of the Rings, on the other hand, doesn’t feature the fluff that’s evident in Hobbit.  Part of this is due to the fact that those films had so much more information they needed to cover.  Lord of the Rings adapted 3 books (one per movie), whereas The Hobbit spread one book over three films.  LOTR didn’t have time to mess around and had to quickly make sure the major points were hit in the films, while still getting audiences attached to the characters.  

As I mentioned in my previous point, it comes down to being far more focused in it’s narrative than The Hobbit.  Where The Hobbit attempts to dazzle viewers with neat things in order to detract from the fact that the story isn’t pulled together, Lord of the Rings had a solid story in place and knew exactly where it needed to go with it.  


Working as Individual Movies

This may be the final point I’m making in the article, but frankly, this idea is the primary reason I sat down to write this article in the first place.  I feel the points I’ve made above are valid, but perhaps they’d be a little more forgivable if each film in the trilogy managed to work as individual movies.  The Hobbit films are movies the work better when approached on the whole, instead of piecemeal.  When looked at as one giant story, some of the kinks can be forgotten and the experience is generally more enjoyable.  This sounds like I should list this in the “positive” category for the films, but frankly, it’s a big problem.    

Think of any great trilogy or saga of films…a franchise that you continually find yourself coming back to time after time.  Chances are, you have your favorite films within those series and when deciding what to watch, will pick and choose those films and watch them, rather than start from the beginning (though that’s not always the case).  Empire Strikes Back, The Two Towers, or even The Hunger Games: Catching Fire…these are films that are easy to watch without having to surround it with the other movies.

That’s because they work as their own films without being over-dependent on the other films to be enjoyable.  Seriously, I’ll have days where I feel like watching Two Towers and days when I want to see Return of the King separately.  I don’t NEED to see the previous films to enjoy those movies on their own.  They each feature their own beginning, middle, and end with copious amounts of character growth and subplots to keep me interested.  

The Hobbit films don’t have the same appeal, and without the assistance of the buffer films don’t work nearly as well.  They are too dependent on the rest of the trilogy to make the connections, and without them, all three films feel entirely lacking when I watch them.  Structurally speaking, it’s a poor way to design a film and give it any sort of longevity.  The ability for the Lord of the Rings trilogy to provide three compelling films that manage to work independently while still connecting to a larger story.  Peter Jackson lost sight of this storytelling necessity while working on The Hobbit, and with the trilogy now concluded, it’s easy for me to see this as it’s biggest flaw.  

None of this is to say that The Hobbit films are utter garbage or anything.  I just don’t feel that these films will withstand the test of time as The Lord of the Rings has.  In ten years, I can’t imagine many people still talking about them.  I guess time will tell…

What do you guys think about The Hobbit trilogy?  Is it able to stand toe-to-toe with Lord of the Rings or do you feel it’s fallen short as well?  Tell me your thoughts in the comments!