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Ten Deep: Top 10 Reasons to Love the Hobbit Movies
Posted by Jason Chamberlain on 08.14.2014

For my first column I'm going to share some of the reasons why I am loving The Hobbit films so far, and can't wait for the third and final one this December.

Remember that nothing I write is intended as the final word on any subject. I am but one man (albeit a handsome, Canadian man) and my opinion is no more or less valuable than yours. What I offer here are my own thoughts on these subjects, and I hope they spark your own.

The Hobbit trilogy is an interesting case study. Popular opinion is a difficult thing to gauge, as millions of voices don't easily merge into one. But it is fair to say that the Hobbit films have not received the near-universal adoration that the Lord of the Rings trilogy did. Granted, some Tolkien fans took issue with those films for changes made from the text, and others called them three boring movies about going on a really long walk. But generally speaking, those movies were loved, and stand among the biggest "event" movies of the century to date.

Reviews and public opinion haven't been as kind to the Hobbit films, however. They've been called bloated and overlong, and been taken to task for the ratio of CGI to practical effects, and also for the plot changes and additions Jackson and crew have made to take a relatively small book and turn it into a trilogy of films. If you happen upon an internet story on the new Hobbit trailer, or any of the Hobbit movies really, there's a good chance you'll hear a dismissive, unimpressed tone, if not from the writer than certainly from the commenters; probably accompanied by a list of things the movies have gotten wrong, a stated lack of interest towards the final film, and perhaps an Orlando Bloom meme or two.

Are the movies as bad as some would have you believe? Personally I love them, and am both eagerly anticipating the final installment, and lamenting the end of my journey through this cinematic Middle-earth. So for my first foray into Ten Deep, I'm going to look at the ten best things about the two Hobbit films we have seen to date, and hopefully give you a reason to reconsider them if you have written them off; or an excuse to watch them again, if you enjoy them like I do.

10) Songs

Any Tolkien reader knows that he was a very musically inclined writer. The Rings books include a number of songs that were not included in the films, most notably Tom Bombadil's sequences. I didn't miss those, to be honest, and I wasn't holding out hope for any songs in The Hobbit, though that book also contains some musical interludes.

So far, though, I've been pleasantly surprised at how much I've enjoyed the songs included in the films, from the boisterous cleaning song at Bag End to the mournful Song of the Lonely Mountain.

The Rings trilogy featured a trio of strong credit songs, from Fellowship's "May It Be" by Enya to Emiliana Torrini's "Gollum's Song" in Two Towers and finally Return of the King's "Into The West" by Annie Lennox. So far the Hobbit films have continued that tradition, with An Unexpected Journey featuring Neil Finn's version of "Song of the Lonely Mountain." Desolation of Smaug features another great song, Ed Sheeran's "I See Fire." I'm looking forward to seeing what songs are included in the final film.

9) Sauron Begins

In the Rings films, Sauron has only recently returned to power, and is yet to regain his full strength. In fact, he is never able to regain physical form in the films.

As the Hobbit films take place decades earlier, we see the very beginnings of Sauron's return to the world, centuries after his defeat at the hands of Isildur. While in the Rings films he has been able to rebuild his power base in Mordor, here he is little more than a wraith haunting the halls of Dol Guldur. But he is potent enough to draw evil forces to him and to recall his Ringwraiths, planting the earliest seeds of his return to power.

The Desolation of Smaug ended with Gandalf held captive in Dol Guldur, and Sauron revealing himself to the wizard. If I recall my Tolkien correctly, the White Council eventually musters its strength and pushes Sauron out of the Mirkwood fortress, at which point he regroups in Mordor. What awaits us in the third film? Could we see a conversation between Sauron and his future lieutenant Saruman? Or perhaps an encounter with Galadriel?

8) Richard Armitage

The Rings trilogy boosted the careers of many of its cast members. Orlando Bloom arguably became the biggest star, but Viggo Mortensen also became a bonafide leading man. Hugo Weaving built on his breakthrough role in The Matrix and his Rings work to become one of Hollywood's better character actors. Andy Serkis built off his work as Gollum to become Hollywood's premiere digital performer.

Right now, if I had to choose a potential breakout star from the Hobbit cast, there are many options. Aidan Turner broke through on the BBC's Being Human and his role as handsome dwarf Kili could be another big step to stardom akin to Bloom's original turn as Legolas. Martin Freeman is already a bonafide star thanks to the BBC's Sherlock, the Fargo series, and these films. Evangeline Lilly already hit it big on Lost, and continues to line up big movie roles. But don't sleep on Richard Armitage, an Englishman who could become a leading man in his own right after these films are done. His performance as the honorable yet prideful Thorin has been very well crafted. He has shown Thorin's longing for his homeland and how it ever so gradually becomes a lust for power and wealth of his own. The closer he gets to Erebor, the more willing he seems to be to sacrifice some of his ideals. Having read the book, I'm eager to see how Armitage concludes his portrayal of this character in the final film.

7) Smaug

Seeing Smaug realized on the big screen was one of the biggest reasons to look forward to the Hobbit films. As literary dragons go, it doesn't get much more iconic than Smaug, and dragons as a whole haven't had that shining of a history on film.

While CGI was clearly the way to go for bringing Smaug to the screen, Jackson and team made an inspired choice by having an actor build the performance not just with dialogue but via motion capture. As a result, what could have been a big, unimpressive cartoon character feels real and substantial. Benedict Cumberbatch, who is one of the fastest rising stars in the movie business at the moment, was a terrific choice to capture Smaug's particular brand of evil (he also plays The Necromancer).

You wouldn't expect a big fearsome dragon to be that interested in conversation, but the parlay between Smaug and Bilbo is one of the most unique scenes in all the Rings films. The dragon is clearly highly intelligent, and enjoys playing with his food before he eats it. The battle (if it can be called that) between Smaug and the dwarves throughout the halls of Erebor is an exciting one, though I'll concede that it wasn't very logical from the dwarven perspective. Their plan for actually dealing with Smaug once they entered the mountain was seriously lacking.

6) Grey Power!

One of the great things about the Hobbit movies is the opportunity they provided for Sir Ian McKellen to return to the iconic role of Gandalf. Gandalf, of course, has two "modes" in the books and films. After his "death" in Moria, he is returned to life as Gandalf the White in order to assist the Free Peoples against Sauron (and to balance the scales after the betrayal of the original White Wizard, Saruman. Thrust into the raging War of the Ring, this Gandalf is all business, though still possessed of the compassion and mirth of his earlier incarnation.

Arguably the more "iconic" Gandalf, however, is Gandalf the Grey, and it's this Gandalf we see for the entirety of the Hobbit trilogy. While still an immensely powerful wizard, this Gandalf is a wanderer and much more inclined to stop and enjoy the journey, particularly since the journey in the Hobbit films, while important, is not of the "impending threat of doom" variety.

We've already been treated to a number of great Gandalf moments, both big and small. His first meeting with Bilbo, where he chooses the uninterested Bilbo for the adventure, shows both his mischievousness and his judge of character, as he pinpoints the unlikely hobbit as having heroic potential. We also see his commitment to his role of guide in Middle Earth. Despite having the power to do things his own way, he allows Thorin to make a number of choices that he disagrees with. And he's not afraid to defy his "superiors" like Galadriel and Saruman if he believes it's the right thing to do. It's no surprise that he becomes the White Wizard Saruman was supposed to be!

5) Dwarf Domination

While the Lord of the Rings was long thought "unfilmable" due to its length and structure, The Hobbit also had a cinematic handicap built in. Aside from the titular hobbit, the story's main characters are the company of 13 dwarves who journey to take back their homeland of Erebor. That's a lot of main characters, and not a lot of variety. How do you make this company of dwarves visually interesting, and individually memorable? Do you cut their numbers, merge a few of the characters? Maybe throw a dwarf woman or two into the mix?

These are the questions Jackson and team faced as they put these movies together. Ultimately they tried their hand at including all of Tolkien's dwarven characters. Naturally a few move to the foreground in the movies, as they do in the book itself. Thorin is the second protagonist after Bilbo (an argument could be made for Gandalf though), so he gets the lion's share of the attention. His close confidant Balin is next down the list in terms of focus and screen time, I'd say, with the young dwarven warriors Fili and Kili also coming to the fore. Dwalin and Bofur have also received notable moments of screen time. Then there's a bit of a drop off, with smaller comedic moments allotted to the likes of Bombur and Ori.

Some of the dwarves were always going to lag behind in terms of screen time; it's inevitable with a cast of such size. To better differentiate the dwarves, they were all given their own distinct visual identity and persona, some of which play off of Tolkien's writings, while others were made for the films, though I may be wrong on that.

For example, in the films, Bifur doesn't communicate all that well, mostly due to the ill effects of the orc axe embedded in his head. Bombur is morbidly obese, which has worked both for and against him throughout the journey. Oin is nearly deaf and requires the aid of an ear trumpet. Visually, the dwarves all have different clothing and hair styles, not to mention beard styles. The effort hasn't been wholly successful. Even I have trouble matching names to faces among the lesser seen dwarves in the films, and I've watched them a lot. But all in all, I think the films have done a great job of making 13 dwarves unique and memorable, if not by name than by persona and look.

4) Riddles in the Dark

Andy Serkis was fantastic as Gollum in the Lord of the Rings films, so it was a treat to see him back in action, albeit only in one scene, in The Hobbit. Hearing the immediately identifiable opening notes of Gollum's theme as he crawls out of the darkness is a moment that gives you chills.

Both Serkis and Freeman shine as the unlikely pair match wits. As monstrous as Gollum is (he eats a goblin!), here he proves himself to be quite clever as well. The two sides of Gollum's personality (Gollum and Smeagol, if you will) play off each other perfectly, with Smeagol happy to finally have another living being to talk to, and Gollum simply hungry for something to eat besides orc or fish.

The stakes ratchet up as the game drags on and Gollum becomes more and more impatient, and the tension bubbles over when he realizes he has lost his precious ring. The transition from the friendly (though still hungry) Smeagol to the venomous Gollum is perfectly paced by Serkis and the artists at Weta.

Equally well played is the moment where Bilbo chooses to spare Gollum's life when he has the chance to kill him, and the fact it's conveyed wordlessly makes it even more powerful. Interestingly, it's Gollum's moment of sadness over losing the Ring (and, perhaps, of being alone again) that compels Bilbo to let him live. It's a spark of humanity that will be revisited in the Rings films and, as Gandalf will predict in Moria, becomes key to Sauron's downfall.

What's interesting about the 'Riddles in the Dark' chapter of The Hobbit is that it was changed extensively after its original publication. Originally, Gollum wasn't so vicious in his dealings with Bilbo and actually offered up the ring as Bilbo's reward for winning their game of riddles. But when Tolkien sat down to write The Lord of the Rings and established that the ring Bilbo took from the Misty Mountains was the powerful and manipulative One Ring, it no longer made sense that Gollum would give it away freely. As a result, Tolkien extensively rewrote the Riddles chapter and republished The Hobbit.

3) Legolas

I get the sense that Legolas is one of those "love or hate" characters. I can understand why there would be some backlash towards him in these films. In the Rings trilogy, he gradually progressed from badass warrior to untouchable whirling death machine of extreme awesomeness. He snipes orcs while surfing on a shield! He takes down an Oliphaunt by himself! He is also quite handsome! He's that D&D character who's amazing at everything and can't ever die. I get why some would find that annoying.

His sequences in Desolation of Smaug are more of the same. The man (sorry, elf) skips and hops across dwarf heads, pulls off insane trick shots and throws in a little parkour for good measure. And he's not in the Hobbit book, so his presence in the movie is an immediate red flag for Tolkien purists.

I understand all that, but I still love the guy. He's just too cool. Every time he's on screen you know there's a decent chance you're going to see something awesome. I can't wait to see him unleashed in the Battle of The Five Armies.

2) Connecting the Two Trilogies

Your enjoyment of the Hobbit films will likely vary depending on your feelings about prequels. Either you enjoy the prospect of seeing a new angle on familiar characters and locations, or you see it as a waste of time that damages the uniqueness of the original movie. I fall into the former camp myself. Since I love the Lord of the Rings films, I've enjoyed seeing some of the events of those movies set up in the Hobbit trilogy.

In An Unexpected Journey, we see Gandalf, Galadriel, Elrond and Saruman gather as the White Council, where Gandalf is the only one who takes the threat of Sauron seriously. It's interesting to see a Saruman who is still playing at being on the side of good; viewers must wonder whether he is truly ignorant of Sauron's growing threat or if he is already planning his shift of allegiance.

One of the movie's cooler moments, in my opinion, is when Gandalf travels to the High Fells, where he finds the tomb of the nine Ringwraiths we will see in the Rings trilogy. It's not something we need to see to fully appreciate their later appearance, but it adds texture and perspective.

There are many such moments sprinkled throughout the films, from Frodo's cameo (along with Ian Holm returning as the older Bilbo) to the famous trolls on the night they turn to stone. We first meet Azog on Weathertop, where Aragorn and four hobbits will have a famous showdown with the Ringwraiths. And we see more classic locations like Bree and Rivendell, and hear the familiar musical cues that accompany them.

I'm also glad that some connections weren't made. If you do the math and recall that he is of the long-lived Dunadain race, Aragorn is probably in his twenties during this time period, but seeing him walk by in Rivendell on the arm of Arwen is unnecessary. I love the little winking acknowledgement of Gimli, particularly since his future best friend Legolas calls him a goblin mutant, but I'm glad we didn't see a little red haired dwarf running around Bag End.

1) More of Middle Earth

There are two kinds of people who saw Return of the King in the theatre; those who cheered every time the movie seemed to end only to continue, and those who cheered when the movie finally did end. You can probably guess which I was. Some were perturbed by ROTK's numerous 'endings', but I was happy every time the screen lit back up for another scene because it extended my journey to Middle Earth a little bit more. That's why I was so happy when the Hobbit trilogy was confirmed; it meant nine to ten hours more time to spend in that remarkable cinematic world. And the films have made good on the promise of returning us to that world, and to corners of it both familiar and new.

From a fanboy standpoint, it's been awesome to see iconic locales like Goblin Town, Laketown and the Lonely Mountain and its kingdom of Erebor come to life. We see the city of Dale both before and after its ruination. We journey into the realm of the Mirkwood elves and meet a very different elven lord in the form of Thranduil who, unlike Elrond, is insular and happy to let the rest of the world take care of itself. We meet a collection of new iconic characters to accompany those we came to love (and loathe) in the Rings films, from Thorin and his dwarves to Radagast the Brown, Azog the Defiler, Beorn, Bard and many more.

Ultimately, it's more time spent in a cinematic vision of Middle Earth I've loved for over a decade, and an extension of three of my favorite films of all time. And that's the main reason why I continue to enjoy these Hobbit films, and will be sad to see the credits roll on The Battle of The Five Armies later this year.

That is all she wrote for my first edition of Ten Deep. Hope you enjoyed it! Let me know your thoughts on the Hobbit films thus far, and come back next week!

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