How the Hobbit Trilogy Affects the Lord of the Rings Trilogy

As soon as the Hobbit trilogy was announced, I had one goal that popped right up on my radar: watch all 6 movies as close to back-to-back as I could. (When you have a full time job and three children, watching 20 hours or so of films is going to be difficult to pull off on a literal back-to-back basis. And there was no way I was going to watch anything but the extended editions. What do you take me for?) Ideally, I wanted to do it all over Christmas break. In practice, I started December 20th or so and finished last night. (I had to wait a bit until I could see Battle of Five Armies in the theater, and then there were pesky things like “parties” and “family activities” and “friends” that kept getting in the way.)

One of my biggest questions going into this was what seeing the Hobbit trilogy first would do to my viewing of Lord of the Rings. Because there was no doubt it would affect it. Would they work to make something better? Would they feel like one overarching story? Would it be clunky? I really wasn’t sure what to think.

Wonder no longer.

I’m sure there will be some who will disagree with me. Opinions of The Hobbit range all over the map. But for this Tolkien fan, the new trilogy and the old fit together like a glove. The LOTR becomes a better trilogy by watching The Hobbit trilogy first. And in significant ways.

For example, one of my complaints with the original trilogy was how little time we spend with Gandalf the Grey. When he falls in Moria (spoilers?), we’ve had a bit of experience with him, but not too much. Everyone’s very sad for his passing, but come on–there’s like 11 or 12 hours of the trilogy, and he’s Grey in only about an hour and a half of them. The rest of the time, it’s White all the way. With the Hobbit, we now get more Grey than White, which is how it ought to be, in my opinion. When Gandalf the White shows up in Two Towers, he’s a stark contrast to the Grey, and he does a whole lot of awesome.

Another example: Moria. Dwarves in the original trilogy really get the short end of the stick. (Pun intended?) We see Moria, and then we’ve got Gimli. That’s it. The end. Having viewed the Hobbit first, Balin’s tombĀ means something. Seeing all those orcs and the balrog in this dwarf city has more oomph than it did the first time I watched it.

How about Legolas? The character some people can’t stand for appearing in The Hobbit. How does he fare? For me, he becomes even better. When I watched the LOTR the first time, Legolas’s battle acrobatics seemed pretty cool, if far-fetched. The trick with surfing down the shield while firing arrows in The Two Towers? How does he do that? But then you watch him at full awesome in Battle of the Five Armies, and seeing him surf a shield is no longer surprising. It is the right and proper way for Legolas to behave in battle. Jumping up on a rampaging Oliphaunt and taking it down? Standard Operating Procedure for the elf. Really, I loved how when he shows up in Fellowship, it becomes that much more impressive. You’re watching, and you’ve just seen Legolas be a one man wrecking machine last movie. That they have him on their side? That means a whole lot more than it meant when he was just being first introduced in that movie.

What about the much maligned Dwarf/Elf love in The Hobbit? That’s solved a great deal by watching the movies as a complete whole as well. Because I–like many of you–questioned that relationship the first time. A dwarf? And an elf? Get real. And then you have that end the way it does, and the next film, you see Aragorn and Arwen, and suddenly you’re wondering why you had such a problem with Dwarf/Elf love. Was it because they looked too different? Do we accept Aragorn and Arwen because all that separates them is some pointy ears? The two relationships are great mirrors for each other.

Speaking of elves and dwarves, Legolas and Gimli’s relationship also takes on more meaning. We can understand why Elves and Dwarves have some bad blood between them–and why Legolas in particular might not be too rosy when it comes to Gimli in particular. So when the two of them hit it off and declare their friendship at the end of the series, that has more of a punch than it did even before.

There are many more examples. Saruman’s betrayal now feels like an actual betrayal, something the original trilogy just couldn’t pull off, because we only get to see Saruman as good for about 10 minutes of screen time. Galadriel is much less bizarre and freaky, because that one scene with her and Frodo isn’t allowed to dominate our perception of her–instead, it calls back to when she was facing down the Necromancer, and it makes a lot more sense.

More than just individual examples, though, there’s the whole feeling of the first trilogy (Hobbit) compared to the second (LOTR). You’ve got epic battles that finish both of them, but the stakes in LOTR are so much higher than Hobbit–and that’s again, how it should be. Hobbit is a lighter trilogy. It’s Middle Earth when it was still mostly Sauron-free. Watching it, we get a sense of how things used to be. Battle of the Five Armies gives a glimpse of where things are headed, and it works very well for that purpose. The Hobbit makes LOTR even bleaker by comparison. It’s an excellent foil for the later trilogy.

There are few movies that I’ll happily sit down and watch again and again, let alone whole series that I’ll shove that much time over to. But these two are definitely the exception. The biggest criticism I’ve heard lobbed at The Hobbit trilogy again and again is that it didn’t capture the essence of the book, but I think that’s evaluating it by something other than what it was trying to do. Viewing the two trilogies as a whole, it’s clear to me that Jackson was trying to create a foil for LOTR, using the events of the Hobbit to do so. This is different than the book versions, where Hobbit and LOTR are so drastically different. You can look at one as the prequel to the other, but you’d be on shaky ground. Other than some shared characters (who don’t really behave the same) and shared settings, they’re two totally different works. Jackson’s movies, on the other hand, are all LOTR, all the way.

It’s fantastic to me that he was able to pull off something like this over so many years–it’s a great testament to all the creative minds that contributed to the effort, from the designers to the actors to the composer and everything in between. Let the haters hate–after watching all 6 movies in a half month, I can unequivocally say that I love them all.

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