*** Contains spoilers ***
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012)
Reluctantly a hobbit named Bilbo leaves the comfort of his own home to go on adventure with a band of dwarfs to reclaim their territory.
Without drawing any comparisons to the books, Jackson's latest venture visually captures the imagination, even though heavily reliant on CGI naturally to tell the story some shots are unnecessary and on occasion distracting for example the rendering of the hares. The Hobbit An Unexpected Journey works best when it's displaying the wonderful landscapes, sets and focusing on the characters interactions.
As a prequel to The Lord of the Rings trilogy it's notably visually glossier loosing that filmatic like feel. Nevertheless, it is a fine film with fantastic costumes, great writing and a wonderful cast, too many to name, Martin Freeman captures the essence of Ian Holmes Bilbo, notably with the line "I'm going on an adventure!" Once again Andy Serkis steals the show as a superior computer generated version of Gollum.
As a standalone film you have to have patience as I can see why a new comer to the series would find the opening plodding, with flashbacks and meetings of off the wall dwarfs. However if you've seen The Lord of the Rings it works better as you are already invested in two of the main characters from the off.
Naturally and unavoidably the narrative is slightly lighter and less grim in tone given the danger and what is at stake compared to the previous trilogy. This aside the journey is certainly worth your time.
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013)
Bilbo Baggins, along with a group of dwarfs and Gandalf the Grey, continue their quest to reclaim the dwarf gold from a dragon.
Without making comparisons Tolkien's book this follow-up to the smouldering Hobbit is faster paced and is much more of a spectacle with some great set ups putting the adventure back on track even with its lengthy running time. It goes without saying the sets, costumes and music are fantastic and Jackson keeps quality consistent as the actors give it their all. The introduction of more Lord of the Rings characters takes the adventure into uncharted territory and director Peter Jackson offers more excitement and here the Middle Earth hijinks has all the mysterious and strange elements you'd expect from a fantasy saga.
Notable is the creepy oppressive forest segment where the company are ensnared by giant spiders and Bilbo must come to the rescue, the barrel escape sequence has plenty of action. Later Gandalf investigats the tombs of the Nazgûl and faces off with the Orcs. But act three finishes it off nicely where Bilbo faces Smaug and the Dwarfs try to retake mountain.
Jackson effortlessly offers incredible visuals and quality action. While not all the special effects are good as Smaug, the dragon, it ends on a cliff hanger leaving you eager for the final chapter in the trilogy.
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (2014)
Bilbo is forced to be a mediator in a war with an array of opponents as Gandalf and his fellow sorcery friends push back against a rising evil.
Again without comparing it to J.R.R Tolkien's fantasy novel Peter Jackson brings the Hobbit trilogy to a satisfying conclusion. The returning cast are once again on form, Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen,Richard Armitage, Evangeline Lilly, Lee Pace, Ken Stott and James Nesbitt to name a few. It also features The Lord of the Rings actors Cate Blanchett, Ian Holm, Christopher Lee, Hugo Weaving and Orlando Bloom.
Surprisingly Benedict Cumberbatch's excellent Smaug is killed off early in the first act bringing the dragon's story-line abruptly to a close. Also Luke Evans' Bard while great in the action scenes feels like a sidekick to the Elves and Dwarfs and is given little to do. That aside, it's an engrossing dark episode that stirs emotion with some surprise deaths. Bilbo forges friendships and is torn between duty and the greater good. There's more Legolas and Tauriel, giant bats, magic spells and sword fights. Jackson's offers epic battle scenes (where Billy Connolly show up as dwarf Ironfoot) and stand offs along with a tense romance and friendship climax. As with the previous outing the special effects are at times a little iffy but it's still colossal technical achievement. Again the production values are high, the costumes, props and sets are outstanding topped off by a magical Howard Shore score.
In amongst the visually stunning set ups Peter Jackson agreeably connects it to the second (filmed first) Middle-earth trilogy.
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)
volcanic Mount Doom of Mordor.
Thankfully, to his credit, director Peter Jackson delivers an adaptation in the heart and spirit of Tolkien's fantasy and the extended version offers even more of a bold, cinematic take as the Fellowship's heroes struggle to save Middle-earth. The Fellowship of the Ring is packed with danger and evil forces including haunting reaper-like Ring wraiths, pointy Orcs, a octopus- like creature, the Balrog a giant fierce demon and more.
Jackon offers adventure, heartache and conflict as a group of Hobbits leave the safety of the Shire. Unlikely hero Frodo (Elijah Wood), a Hobbit that commits himself to the task of destroying a ring is helped by Sam (Sean Astin) his loyal friend and acquaintances Pippin Took (Billy Boyd) and Merry Brandybuck (Dominic Monaghan). The characters are wonderfully brought to life by the acting talents on board. Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen) is an endearing hero venerable too, Legolas (Orlando Bloom) an Elf and Gimli (John Rhys-Davies), a head strong dwarf aren't just standard warrior characters as they slowly develop an unlikely bonding. Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellen) is a wise guide and an insightful companion. Notable is Sean Bean as Boromir who gets a memorable story arc. As well as the main players there's notable actors Christopher Lee as the evil Saruman, Hugo Weaving as the powerful Elf Elron, otherworldly Liv Tyler an Elf who save Frodo from the scary Ring wraiths in a spectacularly filmed horse chase and there's also ethereal Cate Blanchett to name a few.
Along with Howard Shore's mystical power score, as well as some Elven language, character development and breath-taking set-ups that already existed notably the chase through mines of Moria with its Cave Troll and demon. In the final act The Fellowship go hand to hand with the strong skilled imposing Uruk-hai.
Jackson's extended version of The Fellowship of the Ring, reinserts scenes and shots that expand upon the characters and themes. It includes Isildur's death, more glimpses into Bilbo and Frodo Baggins relationship, Wood Elves leaving for Grey Havens, Aragorn singing, Galadriel offering gifts to the Fellowship which enrich the tone making them more powerful than the theatrical cut.
It's a swords-n-sorcery epic with warfare which ends of a cliff hanger. In retrospect it was frustrating waiting for the next part but since you can now watch the whole three-part journey without the wait coupled with the extended scenes, all is forgiven. The production values are high. Weta's special effects for the most part are excellent, this coupled with the fantastic make costumes, props etc. and sweeping beautiful locations create a breathtaking masterpiece.
Jackson's The Fellowship of the Ring as well as being an admirable fantasy film sets the scene for the first-rate saga to come.
The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002)
The Fellowship has gone their separate ways. Some shed of their mortal coil, others to recover captured friends, while two Hobbits venture towards Mordor to destroy the ring.
The skillful Kiwi director Peter Jackson along with co-writers Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens top the previous instalment not just in scale, notably the battle scenes and attack on Helm's Deep, but in character development. The Two Towers is a near on perfect a fantasy epic with more digestible dialogue, which builds tension and momentum that complements the action with its chases and lengthy and difficult conflicts.
Again Howard Shore's score is outstanding and heightens the emotional scenes and battles. The groundbreaking practical and digital visual effects, sets, costumes, props and locations are commendable. We have more weird and wonderful inhabitants of Middle- Earth as well as the introduction of new characters King Théoden (Bernard Hill), Miranda Otto is delightful as Eowyn and Gollum (CGI performed and voiced tremendously by Andy Serkis), is revealed fully. David Wenham is Faramir (brother of Boromir), worming calculating Wormtongue played by Brad Dourif and warrior Eomer is played by Karl Urban.
Gimli, Aragorn and Legolas becomes closer. With a telling flashback of his Balrog fight Gandalf the Grey returns as more serious Gandalf the White. There's sagacious interplay between Sam, Frodo and Gollum as their journey to destroy the ring is met with obstacles. Aragorn's love for Arwen is tested. With the drama of Théoden being under a draining mind control spell there's also plenty of action, Rohan's soldiers slicing and dicing Orcs and Uruk-hai, and a showdown with Warg riders where Aragorn seemingly dies. There's also two great battles, an army of Tree Ents taking on Saruman, while Rohan's army along with warrior Elves go head to head with a countless Orc and Uruk-hai armies at Helms Deep.
The extended version of The Two Towers like its predecessor improves on Jackson's theatrical cut, Sam uses his Elvish rope (which ties in with an extended scene in The Fellowship of the Ring), Merry, Pippin and Treebeard have more screen time and we find out how old Aragon actually is. Flashbacks reveal more of Faramir's family dynamics as well as more backstory to the sadly missed Boromir.
As a fantasy sequel and midway part you couldn't ask for much more, excellent entertainment.
The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)
Legloas, Gimli, Gandalf, Aragorn and an army try to save humankind while Sam and Frodo move on to destroy the ring to stop the root of evil.
Peter Jackson and company offer the same excellent standard of storytelling on screen. With the moving Howard Shore music score, high production values, real life locations and special effects to help bring Middle Earth to life. Gollum's treachery comes to pass. Gandalf and the rest of the Fellowship continue fighting against immeasurable odds. There's more love and loss, tension and urgency in this final part. Jackson handles both the action and emotional drama with ease, in amongst the effects including the giant spider Shelob, dragon like creatures, spirits, trolls and orcs.
With the extended The Return of the King we see how Sauroman dies and how Wormtongue meets his demise, there's extended battles and lots of little additions that like its predecessor enhance the journey rather than take anything away.
Jackson offers many great moments in the third instalment even if it somewhat rehashes in terms of visuals the some of the Two Towers only with larger battles. We see how Deagol and subsequently Smeagol/Gollum gets the ring. There's the creepy cave of the dead where Aragorn and company face the ghosts of disgraced warriors. Frodo tangled in Shelob web is spine-chilling as the two Hobbits are assaulted by spider legs and fangs, there's also a disturbing encounter with various Orcs and Uruk-hai in Mordor reminiscent of Mary and Pippin's experience in Two Towers.
The saga of 'The Lord of the Rings' is a perfect mix of action, adventure, with a slight hint of romance. And Return of the Kings brings it to a very emotional close.