This blog post is a contribution to A Tolkien Blog Party 2022 hosted by The Edge of the Precipice.
I may have some quibbles with how Peter Jackson chose to portray Tolkien’s stories and characters (more on that later), but the fact remains that Jackson got many, many more things right than he got wrong. I truly love both the Lord of the Rings trilogy and The Hobbit trilogy! But…I do love some of those films more than the others, so today I’ll be ranking all six from least-favorite to most-favorite. There will be fangirling, a few critiques, and maybe a controversial ranking or two. Let’s go!
6. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013)
What I like: The usual suspects—Martin Freeman’s Bilbo, everything with Smaug, the beautiful visuals. The spider fight in Mirkwood is also good stuff, particularly the bit where Bilbo goes crazy over the ring. Excellent work from our beloved Martin Freeman. I also enjoy the soundtrack! The new leitmotifs for Kili + Tauriel and Laketown are great.
What I don’t like: It’s boring? Really boring? Your mileage may vary, of course, but there are only a handful of scenes in The Desolation of Smaug that really capture my attention. Beorn, Mirkwood, Gandalf investigating the return of Sauron…sadly, I’m bored more often than not. Oh, and don’t get me started on the orc attack in Laketwon. *yawns*
Ultimately: One of these films had to be in last place. There’s still a lot about Desolation that I like, but at the end of the day I’m not a fan of its too-long sequences (river chase, sneaking around Laketown, orc attack) and downer ending.
5. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012)
What I like: All of the Shire scenes are pitch-perfect, no question about it. And casting was not one of the faults of the Hobbit trilogy. I know I’ve already mentioned Martin Freeman’s Bilbo, but he bears mentioning again! Rarely have I seen an actor and a character so well suited for each other. The opening bit with him and Gandalf and “good morning” is cinematic gold.
(Oh, and the soundtrack is also splendid, as always.)
What I don’t like: Radagast. 😛 And the whole Goblin-town sequence is (again) boring.
Ultimately: An Unexpected Journey is perhaps the coziest of Peter Jackson’s Middle-earth films. I’ll always be happy to rewatch it, even if I do skip over Radagast’s scenes. (I just do. not. like. him.)
4. The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002)
What I like: Rohan, Théoden & family, Gandalf’s return, Andy Serkis’ brilliant performance, Helm’s Deep, “Look for my coming,” THE MUSIC, the flashback scene w/ Boromir, the last march of the Ents, Merry and Pippin.
What I don’t like: I’m not going to talk about this at great length, but Faramir’s character (or lack thereof) in The Two Towers consistently rubs me the wrong way. Not a fan. I also think that TTT is the slowest-paced and least uplifting installment in the LOTR trilogy. (Which I suppose isn’t suprising, as it’s the middle section and so much still has to be resolved.)
I also don’t care for the subplot with Aragorn’s ‘death.’ It doesn’t add much (if anything) to the overall story, so it feels like a waste of time.
Ultimately: There really is a lot to love about The Two Towers (especially Théoden’s character arc!!!), but even Sam’s speech at the end can’t lift the forboding, gloomy vibes.
3. The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (2014)
What I like: It’s the cast and characters that really elevate this movie. Bilbo, Thorin, Gandalf, Bard, Thranduil, Kili, Fili and the list goes on. I love them! The relationships between these characters, the drama, Thorin’s downward spiral and subsequent redemption, Bilbo’s return home, that final scene, ‘The Last Goodbye’…it’s all so good. Not as epic as The Return of the King, no doubt, but very, very good in its own right.
What I don’t like: The titular battle drags on and on and, if you watch the extended (R-rated) edition, it ends up being extremely gory. Ugh.
Ultimately: On a different day, I might have ranked The Two Towers above The Battle of the Five Armies. But I really do love Armies this much. It’s bittersweet and beautiful and I want to rewatch it right now.
2. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)
What I like: Where to begin??? I’m getting choked up just thinking of certain scenes and lines from this glorious film. But I’ll try to write out a list of my absolute favorite things. They are…
Minas Tirith, Faramir and Pippin’s friendship, Frodo not giving up, the music (always have to mention that), the ride of the Rohirrim (!!!!!!!!!), the 1.5 scenes devoted to Éowyn and Faramir’s romance, Gandalf and Pippin discussing the afterlife, Gandalf and Pippin’s friendship in general, everything after the ring is destroyed, and I could keep going.
What I don’t like: Frodo and Sam’s fight on the Stairs of Cirith Ungol. Nope, nope, nope.
Ultimately: The Return of the King is a masterpiece, deep and detailed and wonderful in every sense of the word. The very best send-off possible for both the characters and the fans. I doubt it will ever be surpassed, as epic finales go.
1. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)
What I like: Pretty much everything. No lie.
What I don’t like: I’m sure there’s something, but…what?
Ultimately: The Fellowship of the Ring has three things going for it that no other Middle-earth film has—the entire fellowship travelling and fighting and sightseeing together, (almost) all of Boromir’s scenes, and Howard Shore’s indescribable ‘The Breaking of the Fellowship.’ I absolutely love this film, and it could never have been anywhere on this list but here.
Are you shocked, absolutely shocked that I placed The Battle of the Five Armies higher than The Two Towers? How would you rank these six films? Do let me know in the comments!