Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy is widely regarded as one of the greatest and most influential film sagas ever made, winning 17 Academy Awards and earning just shy of $3 billion in worldwide box office. Their influence is enormous. And yet, Jackson’s follow-up trilogy based on J. R. R. Tolkien’s earlier 1937 novel The Hobbit, remains a divisive and controversial work. Newly released on 4K UHD Blu-ray from Warner Bros Home Entertainment, is now the time for reappraisal? With the hype around the films now well and truly non-existent and the opportunity to simply take the films for what they are, it’s shocking that they were ever so poorly received. While not at the same level of The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit is still a remarkable feat of filmmaking.
The main cause for controversy around The Hobbit’s film adaptation is that the singular source novel is the shortest in Tolkien’s Middle-Earth saga at 310 pages, and finds itself adapted into a 500 minute trilogy. For reference, The Lord of the Rings film trilogy packed over 1000 pages into a similar runtime. The Hobbit films have been accused of being bloated and packed with superfluous subplots and padding, resulting in strained pacing. Frankly, these issues were totally present in The Lord of the Rings trilogy. This comes with the territory of having so many characters and so much lore to explore. The performances are great across the board, too – Martin Freeman is absolutely perfect as Bilbo, and is certainly a far more likeable, endearing and watchable hero than Frodo. If nothing else, nobody can deny that The Hobbit trumps The Lord of the Rings on that front.
Yes, the films are very CGI-heavy. Of course, this was always going to be a negative comparison when held up against LotR’s dazzling practical effects. But with that said, there is no denying that the visuals here are solid – Smaug in particular looks phenomenal. And if anything, the 4K UHD discs breathe new life into the film’s visual effects. They look stronger than ever, thankfully without the soap opera effect of the series’ 48fps as seen during the cinema releases. While we’re on the subject, these discs are an absolute marvel. The colours are sublime thanks to the gorgeous HDR; from the luscious greens of the Shire to the sparkling gold of Smaug’s lair, the films look utterly breathtaking. Shot in 5K, the films look – if anything – often too sharp, with a blisteringly clean digital image.
The criticism that The Hobbit introduces too many concepts and characters that weren’t in the book also seems like an unfair dig; when The Hobbit was written, The Lord of the Rings didn’t exist. It makes sense that the characters would have crossed paths before and it’s perfectly realistic to assume that the books would’ve been written this way if they were done in the same order of the films. Of course, there is some fan service littered throughout – name-drops to characters and visual references can seem a little heavy-handed, but they evoke a sense of nostalgia for the former trilogy and feel celebratory of it. And that comment can easily be used to sum up this entire trilogy. It is a celebration of what has come before it, expanding the world so flawlessly crafted in the former trilogy.
Sadly, The Hobbit trilogy was doomed from the start. It was always going to be compared to LotR, and it was impossible for anyone to ever replicate the incredible success of those films – even Peter Jackson himself. But if your expectations are adjusted going in, and you tell yourself that is always going to be the case, you can have a hell of a good time with this trilogy. Frankly, like any big franchise, it suffers only due to its toxic and – if you’ll pardon the pun – precious fanbase, who feel that these films are theirs and theirs alone. In hindsight, it seems like the majority of hate aimed towards The Hobbit trilogy was bandwagoning, and the majority of its detractors probably didn’t really have an issue with it. If you felt that way back in the early 2010s, I urge you to revisit this trilogy now with fresh eyes and an open mind. You might be surprised by just how good it is.
The Hobbit trilogy is an incredible, epic piece of work. While it might not hit the staggering highs of Jackson’s former Middle-Earth trilogy, it comes pretty damn close.