I discovered J.R.R. Tolkien, like many of my generation, in college. I read the trilogy, The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit and I was transported. I reread the books many times over the years. In fact, for several years, it was my annual ritual to reread The Lord of the Rings, so all those years later, in 2001, I was excitedly anticipating the release of Peter Jackson's filmed version of the first book in the trilogy, The Fellowship of the Ring. I wasn't disappointed. I thought it was a wonderful movie and I've rewatched it many times.
I should mention that in the intervening years between college and 2001, I had had two children to whom I had passed on my love of Tolkien and when the first movie came out, we went to see it together. And the same for the next two. We enjoyed them all, though, for my money, The Fellowship of the Ring was still the best of the lot because it was closest to the book.
When it was announced that there was going to be a Hobbit movie, I looked forward to it. Then I heard there would be not one but three movies based on the book, The Hobbit. How would that even be possible, I thought. After all, The Hobbit is a slim volume, essentially a children's adventure book. There's not enough action there to warrant three Peter Jackson-length epics.
Of course, there is a lot of related Middle Earth information in the appendices of The Return of the King and in The Silmarillion and even other unpublished materials that could be drawn upon. Even so, it seemed to me that it was a daunting assignment to construct three full-length movies from it.
However, one should never underestimate the determination of the Peter Jackson writing team once they get the bit in their teeth and one should never underestimate the greed of movie production companies. There would be three Hobbit movies released in three successive Decembers. I waited with some trepidation to see what would emerge.
Once again, the first film in the series was pretty good, I thought. It stayed close to the text of the book and Martin Freeman made a wonderful Bilbo Baggins. The next one was a bit bombastic and strayed pretty far afield with a romantic interest between a dwarf and an elf invented, but Benedict Cumberbatch as Smaug was a winner. He was born to be a dragon!
Yesterday, on a cold and dreary New Year's Day, my younger daughter and I went to the theater to see the latest offering, The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies. It gave a whole amped up meaning to the word bombastic. There wasn't much there that I could recognize from that slim book that I read long, long ago. Oh, the basic elements of the story were there, right enough, but you had to ferret them out under layer upon layer of augmentation.
I didn't mind the insertion of Legolas into the story - after all, who doesn't love Legolas? But much of the other augmentation bordered on despoilment of the Tolkien tale, in my opinion, and was a bit harder to swallow. I could certainly understand the complaints by Tolkien's son, Christopher, about these interpretations of his father's work.
And so we've come to the end of the J.R.R. Tolkien/Peter Jackson saga. It's been entertaining, to say the least, sometimes magical, sometimes gross and over-the-top. I wonder how it will all stand up over time and what film critics and historians will say about it years from now. Regardless, I suspect fans will still be watching and rewatching for years to come.
The last film, like the others, had its moments, even though I couldn't love it in its totality. Smaug was still wonderful. Has there ever been such a dragon? One could almost - almost - pull for him to win.
But most of my favorite moments came near the end. The quiet time between Gandalf with his pipe and Bilbo and their parting. The parting of Legolas and his father and the king's speech telling his son that his mother (who died at the hands of orcs) loved him more than anyone and that he should go north and seek a ranger called Strider. Yes, that was a nice moment, even though it wasn't in the book.
My favorite moment of all was not in the action of the movie at all but it came while the credits were rolling. Billy Boyd sang a summing up of the six films called "The Last Goodbye." It's a really nice, really appropriate farewell. Not even Christopher Tolkien could object.