Last week, the main trailer for The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies launched, and with it came a new crop of cynicism, nerd rage and plain old indifference from the geekier corners of the Internet. Yes, we already know the film will make a killing among moviegoers worldwide, but that doesn't mean critics, fantasy nerds, and die-hard Lord of the Rings fans have to like it, and some of them downright loathe it. Somewhere between the announcement of three Hobbit films and now, Jackson became the target of a lot of criticism and the butt of a lot of jokes. Like George Lucas before him, he undid a lot of goodwill with his prequel trilogy.
I watched the wave of snark and negativity pass over the new Hobbit trailer this week, and as with every other such wave directed at these films -- some of which I've gleefully participated in -- I understood it completely. This is a trilogy based on a short and self-contained adventure novel originally written for children, but with countless bits of Tolkien lore peppered in to make it seem more like a prequel to The Lord of the Rings, to give it a sense of weight that it doesn't carry all that well. It's full of action sequences that just seem to exist because action sequences are expected, and that often feel like bloated, no-stakes video game cutscenes. It's full of characters that aren't really funny, but just cloyingly silly. It often seems brimming with studio commodification, directorial self-indulgence, or both.
And yet, I watched that trailer and thought, quite naturally and instinctively: "I can't wait to see this."
I thought this knowing full well that I've been burned by Hobbit movies before. I walked out of An Unexpected Journey having really enjoyed it, but upon repeat viewing I realized that perhaps I'd walked into that film with Lord of the Rings-fueled blinders of optimism on. I walked into Desolation of Smaug with a bit more stoicism, and came out feeling like I'd seen an overstuffed, often soulless movie that I didn't really care to see again. In the past few months, though, something weird has happened to me regarding Desolation of Smaug: I've gone back and watched parts of it I remember liking, sometimes multiple times. I'm captivated by Lee Pace's Thranduil, and by Gandalf's discovery of Sauron, and by Bilbo's own resourcefulness in the face of absolute chaos. There are things I quite like about that movie, even if I groan at the moments that lie between them.
So, here I am now, with the final Hobbit film looming and plenty of my nerd friends and colleagues groaning or shrugging at the thought of it, usually for very good reasons. Yet, somehow, I'm not groaning like I thought I'd be. I'm not dreading what I'm sure will be a nearly three-hour screening in which I'll have to wait for the things I don't care about to clear away so the flick gets to the moments I do care about. I'm actually excited to see the titular battle unfold, to see the White Council massing in Dol Guldur, to see Christopher Lee in his Saruman robes one more time, to see Smaug slain and the Eagles soaring and Thranduil killing orcs and Bilbo at home again in Bag End, at last, waiting for the day when that ring in his waistcoat pocket will finally catch up to him.
But why? Is it the whole "one last time" of the thing? Am I really that sucked into the "defining chapter" marketing of it all? Am I, of all people, so easily swayed by a trailer when I know full well that trailers often betray the film's best parts and leave the rest for you to pick over in the theater? I guess it's possible, but I'd like to think it's something deeper.
The Lord of the Rings trilogy came out when I was in high school, and as a snobbish reader of Tolkien's books, I tried for a while to hate them. I tried to scoff at these films along with my other fantasy-loving friends who never really got over not seeing Tom Bombadil in the movie. I couldn't hate them, though. They were just too good. The hours I spent watching those films on the big screen are some of the happiest movie memories I have. I was awestruck by The Lord of the Rings and, in a way, I still am. Maybe my undying Hobbit optimism is an echo of that, an undeserved contact high. Or maybe, after spending all those happy hours in Middle-earth, I'm eager to return at least once more, even if things are a little less awe-inspiring.
So yeah, I can't wait to see The Battle of the Five Armies, and you can go ahead and tell me I'm wrong. I may very well be wrong, but I'm willing to take that chance if it means I get to sit down for one more film in Middle-earth with a smile on my face.
Do you think Peter Jackson has overdone it by turning The Hobbit into an epic movie trilogy, or are you thrilled to be spending this much time in the director's vision of Middle-earth? Let us know in the comments!