The Hobbit vs LOTR - Jason Johnson picks his winning trilogy
The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies has yet to be released in the US, and yet it has already brought in more than US$118 million (S$148 million) around the world.
The movie, which opens here tomorrow, has a 69 per cent "Fresh" rating at review aggregate website Rotten Tomatoes and an audience rating of 8.2 at The Internet Movie Database.
Many critics are calling it the best The Hobbit movie so far.
The question is, will it be enough to elevate the whole series to the same stratospheric level as The Lord Of The Rings (LOTR) trilogy?
Can The Hobbit movies possibly ever compare to the mighty JRR Tolkien franchise that preceded it?
Story for story, hobbit for hobbit, award for award - who's tops?
ROUND 1: TALLEST TALE
The Hobbit movies are, of course, adapted from JRR Tolkien's The Hobbit, a charming children's book about a small fry who goes on an adventure. It's a masterful piece of writing, but also rather spare. What this means is that director Peter Jackson had to flesh out his three massive epics with characters and incidents out of his own imagination, such as pretty much everything involving Galadriel, Saruman, Legolas and bird-poop wizard Radagast. Many felt that the story was stretched too thin - like butter that has been scraped over too much bread (in the words of Bilbo Baggins). Some also objected to new characters such as Elf girl Tauriel. All that said, no one can deny that Jackson pulled all his threads together nicely in The Battle Of The Five Armies.
With LOTR, you get three movies based on three huge books and stuff had to be left out rather than added in. Unlike The Hobbit, which is a yarn for kids, LOTR is a magnificent high-fantasy epic that lends itself well to Jackson's vigorous style. There are just so many wonderful ups and downs and twists and turns. None of the characters feels incidental. In each new sequence, there is a fresh thrill or epiphany or revelation. There's a beginning, a middle and an end, with each incident building upon the last toward a glorious crescendo. It's almost slavishly faithful to Tolkien and it's basically perfect.
The Lord Of The Rings
Style and substance meld perfectly in LOTR. The Hobbit is an odd duck.
ROUND 2: MOST HEROIC HOBBIT
Bilbo Baggins, played by Martin Freeman, is a lovable little fella, but not much of a presence. It is arguable that The Hobbit could have been made without the actual hobbit. The dwarves, particularly the heroic Thorin and the romantic Kili, are far more sympathetic. Bilbo gets hardly anything to do. Freeman plays him as an exceedingly humble figure with loads of tics. He's supposed to be the one we relate to and yet there's little to which to relate. He seems almost extraneous to his own movies, even at the very end.
Even in a franchise stuffed to the brim with unforgettable characters - Gandalf, Aragorn, Gollum, the Flaming Eye Of Sauron - Frodo Baggins was always the centrepiece of the story. Elijah Wood doesn't play Frodo as a creature, as Freeman does with Bilbo, but rather as a fully sentient person. We share in his sense of fun as he sets out on his adventure. We feel his misery as the ring weighs him down. Everything that happens takes place within the context of his journey. The whole point of the story is that one good person doing the right thing can make all the difference in this messed-up world. Plus, he has the most beautiful blue eyes you ever saw.
The Lord Of The Rings
Bilbo is a cute little guy, but Frodo is one of cinema's great heroes.
ROUND 3: MOST EPIC ELVES
Let's just lay our cards on the table - King Thranduil (Lee Pace) is the most fabulous, scene-stealing elf ever committed to screen. (Full disclosure, I personally own a Thranduil T-shirt.) No elf has a bigger elk. No elf has a fancier throne. No elf has silkier hair. No elf has a flashier wardrobe. No elf has a more superior attitude. Unlike so many of the elves in The Lord Of The Rings - Arwen, Elrond, even Galadriel - Thranduil seems truly alien. He's not a human with pointy ears; he's an immortal being in full-on diva mode with a completely foreign way of seeing the world. The elf maiden Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly) is also a spectacular addition to the Tolkien universe. Plus, we get old faves like Legolas (Orlando Bloom). The Hobbit should really be called The Thranduil, IMO.
The elf world is divided into two eras: Before Legolas and After Legolas. Before Legolas, the general public thought all elves worked for Santa Claus, or that they pranced around in the woods tossing pixie dust on raccoons. After Legolas, the whole world knew what fantasy fans knew all along - elves rawk. Legolas may look as pretty as a little girl, but he talks tough and backs up his words with arrows and blades. Bloom was so charismatic as Legolas that he became the breakout star of the franchise. Unfortunately for him, Bloom only blooms with pointed ears. The other elves were also perfectly cast, particularly Cate Blanchett as Galadriel and Liv Tyler as Arwen.
The Hobbit gives us the elves we loved in LOTR, plus Thranduil and Tauriel. No contest.
ROUND 4: BIGGEST BATTLES
The entire running time of The Battle Of Five Armies is one endless battle scene. The action is almost non-stop. Just for starters, we have the fight against Smaug the dragon, which is stunningly crafted. Then we move on to watch the Middle-earth All-Stars - Gandalf, Galadriel, Saruman, Elrond - take on the newly-awakened Sauron and his wraiths. After that, we're off to the titular battle proper, which is breathtaking in its scope. Let us not forget that this franchise also gave us the one-of-a-kind, unforgettable Dwarf-Elf-Orc River Barrel Battle.
Two words: Helm's Deep. This siege battle from The Two Towers is one of the greatest action sequences ever assembled. Jackson upped the ante with The Return Of The King, with our heroes' bone-crunching struggle to hold Minas Tirith against Sauron's endless hordes. The Ent's destruction of Saruman's fortress is also amazing. The only problem with the battles in The Return Of The King is that they seemed to drag on a bit too long. Jackson's climax in The Hobbit is much pacier, and not just because of Lee Pace and his War Elk.
Say what you will, the fights in The Hobbit seem more imaginative and better executed.
ROUND 5: AUDIENCES & ACCOLADES
No matter how you slice it, The Hobbit franchise has been a massive success. The first two movies each made around a billion US dollars worldwide and The Battle Of The Five Armies could likely exceed both of them. The films haven't been universally loved by critics, but they have received generally positive reviews. In terms of awards, The Hobbit films have won one technical Oscar and some smaller awards from the likes of MTV and Empire Magazine. While many Tolkien fans have been a bit down on the films, the fact is that general audiences have attended faithfully.
BEST DIRECTOR: Director Peter Jackson (middle, back row) with the other Oscar nominees in the directing category in 2004.
When adjusted for inflation, each of the LOTR films earned north of a billion US dollars.The Return Of The King is the highest-grossing Tolkien film so far, even when NOT adjusted for inflation, with US$1.12 billion (S$1.4 billion) in worldwide box office takings. The LOTR flicks won 17 Oscars, including Best Picture for The Return Of The King - all but unheard of for a fantasy film. Each movie in the LOTR franchise earned stellar reviews and was almost universally loved by Tolkien fans. In a nutshell, the LOTR franchise is one of the greatest accomplishments in film history by any measure.
The Lord Of The Rings
The Lord Of The Rings
While The Hobbit has been a huge success, LOTR was MONUMENTAL. My apologies to King Thranduil. I still love you, dude.