What started as a simple adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s famous children’s story has morphed over time into an epic spanning the length of three feature films. Production of the films has been tumultuous to say the least, as original director Guillermo Del Toro famously abandoned the project, with Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson eventually returning to take the helm. While the spirit of The Lord of the Rings films is intact in The Hobbit trilogy, you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who feels that the new trilogy is superior. In truth, An Unexpected Journey and The Desolation of Smaug, the two films released so far, have been disappointing in several ways.
Here are 10 reasons The Hobbit franchise is inferior to The Lord of The Rings.
10. Unutilized Characters
The basic plot outline for The Hobbit is that Bilbo goes on a quest with a company of 13 dwarves to reclaim the dwarves’ kingdom, which was taken from them by a deadly dragon. The films so far share the novel’s practice of only developing a few of the dwarves in the interest of time, while the others are only given the barest of traits and personalities. Unfortunately, this practice works much better in the novel. On-screen, it’s perplexing and a little frustrating that most of the characters are given no personality or agency. Again, Jackson is only following Tolkien’s lead but with three films worth of running time, a little more time could have been spent on developing existing characters rather than introducing a whole batch of new ones.
9. Too Many Characters
Which brings us to another character-related issue in these movies, in that they introduce too many characters. Whether it’s adding in characters that never showed up in the source material (Legolas from LOTR) or creating an entirely new character (Evangeline Lilly’s Turiel, who in fairness does great work in the role), these films are jam-packed with extraneous characters. The Hobbit, as a story, is relatively small in scale (no pun intended) and adding additional characters that now require storylines of their own takes away the impact of the central plot. Essentially, these additional characters are distractions or sideshows to the main conflict of the story.
8. Disappointing Added Content
Before the release of 2012’s An Unexpected Journey, it was revealed that The Hobbit films would feature expanded universe content only hinted at in the original novel. Viewers would get to see just what Gandalf was up to when he abandoned Bilbo for long stretches of his quest, which seemed like an exciting prospect. Simply put, the added content has meandered and felt more like studio-mandated references to Lord of the Rings, rather than creative, significant additions to the story. Admittedly, it’s thrilling to see Gandalf come face-to-face with Sauron, the big bad guy in The Lord of the Rings, but other stories like Legolas’s quest to kill a bunch of orcs or the love story between Turiel and handsome dwarf Kili are not as interesting and take away from the main plot.
7. The Budget is Too Big
It’s easy to forget given their legacy now but The Lord of the Rings trilogy was essentially a large budget indie project. The total budget for all three films was somewhere in the range of $300 million – a large sum of money but a bit tight for three films. Of course, back then, Peter Jackson had no film credit under his belt on the level of LOTR to justify a gargantuan budget. Flash-forward a decade to The Hobbit films, which have a combined budget of approximately $775 million, well over double that of the first trilogy. It’s great that Peter Jackson did not have to stress as much about where the film’s budget was going this time out, but the larger budget has also robbed the films of the creative magic of the past films. Having a smaller budget meant that the team on LOTR had to make do with what they were given, resulting in a lot of creative loopholes that made the films look more expensive than they were. The Hobbit gets to have all of its money on screen but it’s mostly heavy CGI and bigger set pieces, which don’t always equate to better movies.
6. Inconsistent Tone
It’s safe to assume that because they take place in the same universe, The Lord of The Rings and The Hobbit are pretty similar in terms of their tone. In reality, the story of The Hobbit is much more light-hearted and is aimed at a younger audience, whereas LOTR is a darker, thematically deeper affair. Unfortunately, The Hobbit has to strike a balance of staying true to the tone of its source material and appealing to older fans of the earlier films. This has resulted in The Hobbit films being rather inconsistent with in terms of tone. The epic musical score and intense battle sequences don’t mesh very well with goofy-looking goblins and a nature-loving wizard who drives a sleigh pulled by bunny rabbits. At times, it feels as if the filmmakers are unsure of whether to make The Hobbit its own thing or have it feel just like The Lord of The Rings, making the whole affair feel disjointed as a result.
5. Nothing to Prove
Before Peter Jackson successfully helmed one of the greatest adaptations of source material in movie history, many fans and critics believed that The Lord of the Rings was un-filmable given the scope of its fantastical world. Of course, Jackson proved all these naysayers wrong but part of the reason those films turned out so well is that they had something to prove. The Hobbit films, in contrast, don’t have a similar burden – everyone knows Middle Earth can be created on screen because they’ve already seen it. Therefore, there’s a built-in acknowledgment to the newer films that they are, by their very nature, not as significant an accomplishment as their predecessors, meaning it’s pretty much impossible for them to have the same impact. Jackson and co. already know they are doing the possible, rather than the impossible.
4. Too Much CGI
The Lord of the Rings trilogy was at the cutting edge of computer-generated imaging in the early 2000s, is an invaluable tool to help bring the fantastical world of Middle Earth to life. What many people tend to forget, however, is that the CGI in those films was largely used to enhance the staggering number of practical effects and props that made up the bulk of the visual effects. Unfortunately, Peter Jackson and his creative team seem to have forgotten how significant a role practical effects played in those films, as The Hobbit trilogy utilizes mostly CGI, giving the films an unrealistic, cartoonish look. Worse still, the orcs and other fantastical creatures are almost entirely CGI-created, replacing the many actors who donned convincing, better-looking costumes in LOTR. CGI is an indispensable filmmaking tool but it can’t always replace practical effects convincingly.
3. Not Meant to be a Trilogy
Originally set to be a two-picture project, Jackson announced in 2012 that the decision had been made to turn The Hobbit into a trilogy. The problem with this decision, at least from a creative standpoint (it’s pretty clear now that the third film was made to maximize profits) is that Tolkien’s original novel is relatively short and does not have the scope or depth of material to span the length of three feature films. The Lord of The Rings made sense as a film trilogy because the source material is divided into three distinct pieces. In contrast, The Hobbit has no clear start and stop points, resulting in films that have had abrupt endings so far. In hindsight, the original two film plan sounds much more logical.
2. Less Interesting Story
At the end of the day, The Hobbit is a different beast than its bigger brother. The Lord of the Rings is a massive, sprawling epic with the fate of the world hanging in the balance, whereas The Hobbit is a more lighthearted adventure with less at stake. Stretching this simpler story to the same length as The Lord of the Rings films has only emphasized how ill-suited The Hobbit’s tale is to being adapted in the same grandiose manner. It also doesn’t help that The Hobbit is a prequel, which robs it of much of its impact, as the audience already knows who will live and who will die, and that the plot isn’t all that important in comparison to The Lord of the Rings.
1. Bilbo Isn’t The Star
Bilbo Baggins perfectly brought to life by British actor Martin Freeman is the title character of The Hobbit and ostensibly the main character. Unfortunately, for much of the runtime of the first two films, it has felt like Bilbo is merely a spectator in his own story, as the focus has primarily been on other characters such as Dwarven Prince Thorin Oakenshield and Gandalf the Wizard. In the novel, Bilbo is most definitely the central character but it doesn’t feel that way in the films. The third and final movie, The Battle of Five Armies, was the primary focus on large battle scenes (which Bilbo did not play a prominent role), The Hobbit franchise wasted the talent of Freeman on a character the filmmakers aren’t as interested in as they should be.