‘The Hobbit’ does not make a great trilogy, but these films do

The second installment of “The Hobbit” opens this week. And while “The Desolation of Smaug” is visually impressive, it suffers from its nearly three-hour length. The book, a children’s-level addition which preceded the “Lord of the Rings” series, just doesn’t have enough in its 150 pages to warrant nine hours of screen time over three movies.

Great movie trilogies are rare. Three films is a lot of time to be emotionally invested in the same characters. And too often, trilogies feel like an industry money grab.

But some can pull it off:

Clint Eastwood’s The Man with No Name series. In these spaghetti western flicks, Eastwood’s character wanders through a twisted Wild West with his own ideas of morality. There’s no emotion to Eastwood’s character; he’s essentially living for himself. It’s a great trilogy because each movie gives the audience exactly what it wants.

Pixar’s Toy Story trifecta. The slapstick humor is endearing, but what really makes all three movies great is that we care about the characters. All three movies made tons of money at the box office. But it really felt like Pixar was trying to enchant generations of Americans, not just cash in.

Other trilogies come close:

Krzysztof Kieslowski’s “Three Colors”

“The Godfather”

While others take a decent idea and drive it into the ground:

• “The Hangover”

“The Matrix”

So what do you think? What other trilogies deserve praise, and which don’t?

On the radio:

  1. Listen Cube Critics: Review "The Hobbit" and "Is the Tall Man Happy"

    Dec 13, 2013

  • benhuset

    Star Wars 4-6 and Star Trek 2-4

  • Jeff

    A couple corrections are needed in your first paragraph. First, Tolkien wrote ‘The Hobbit’ more than a decade before ‘The Lord of the Rings’ was published. It was not “a children’s-level addition to the “Lord of the Rings” series”. Second, anyone who has done a bit of research knows that the movies include material from the extended Tolkien universe, including the epic ‘Silmarillion’. I realize those details don’t support your point that the movies stretch too long on too little material. I also wonder if you’ve even bothered to see the latest movie. By all accounts it is a huge improvement over its successor, something few sequels can claim. And since the third movie is a year from release, it’s a bit premature to proclaim this trilogy a failure.

    • Jeff

      I completely agree with you…I just bought my tickets for the Desolation of Smaug and I can’t wait to see it tonight! I remember all the horrible reviews of the first Hobbit movie and I thought “Wow, this movie is going to be awful”…after going to see it I was in awe at how well it was done; especially considering the base material was only a portion of the book. Most of these critics and reviewers WANT to hate the movie(s) based on the idea that they don’t like a small book being turned into 3 movies (I didn’t like that idea at first myself) but after seeing the first movie I think the makers of the Hobbit really did a great job so far. I also love that these same reviewers of the movie don’t bother to even read the book but are so upset by the idea of 1 book being turned into 3 movies…the best part is that they complain about the 2 music/singing scenes in the 1st move…if they read the book they would understand that you can’t go more than 10 pages before reading another song and in the book it appears very childish while they do an amazing job in the movies.

      Also, like you, I can’t even comprehend how anyone can call the Hobbit trilogy a failure before the 3rd movie has been released.

      BTW, Steph did you even see the 2nd Hobbit movie yet? I’m assuming you saw the first one…what did you think?

      • http://minnesota.publicradio.org/radio/programs/daily_circuit/ Stephanie Curtis, MPR News

        I liked the new one soooo much more than the first. The HFR imaging looks a lot better and there’s not as much silly filler….like dwarves singing songs and too much time with the brown wizard.

        That said, it is just a long chase with a few moments of character development.

        I am not that invested in Thorin. But maybe after waiting for one more year, when the third part comes out, his story will have aged like fine miruvor and the trilogy will gel for me.

        • Jeff

          After seeing the second movie I do feel like it was a bit too long…although they were trying to cram a lot of the book into the movie. They really could have cut the part with the ‘she-elf’ trying to heal up a non-elf (in the same exact style we saw in the first LotR movie…it felt like I was re-watching that same scene); the funny thing is that scene wasn’t even in the book, it wasn’t necessary or important to the story.

  • Stephanie Walker

    What about “The Hunger Games” and the following two movies?! While “Mockingjay” has not yet been released , or filmed for that matter, fans of the books can tell you that the movies lend quite a bit to the story. They even add to the story line! Jennifer Lawrence is one of the true artists of the Millennial generation, and plays District 12 Katniss like a Kentuckian should!

    • http://minnesota.publicradio.org/radio/programs/daily_circuit/ Stephanie Curtis, MPR News

      I can’t imagine how they will film Mockingjay, can you?

      Do you think Hollywood will soften the story? And lower the body count?

      • Jeff

        That’s my fear too with the Mockingjay (or the last 2 movies). I feel like I enjoyed the first 2 books of that series and the 3rd book kept me interested but it was so different than the first 2 books. During that 3rd book even I got confused about environment and what was actually taking place until the action was finally over…plus the high body count…I’m just not sure how that section of the book can translate to film. Plus they are going to turn 3 books into 4 movies…I haven’t gotten out to see Catching Fire in the theaters yet but I’m guessing they ended up cutting book #2 short in order to have a bit more material for the 3rd and 4th movies. I hope the 2nd and 3rd books do translate well into the movie theater.

      • Stephanie Walker

        I am hoping it will be elaborated on, and even improved upon, like they did with Catching Fire. In the second book, Snow did not have a granddaughter, but he did in the movie. I found that a great way of showing how Snow had gained insight into Katniss’ growing influence. It worked well.
        Mockingjay is pretty bloody, and the story as a whole is gruesome, so I hope they don’t lower the body count as you say in order to soften the story for some viewers. They have seemingly kept consistency with the storyline thus far, so I hope they don’t soften it.
        I hope they elaborate a bit further. Mockingjay went by sooo quickly, and I found myself wishing Collins had slowed things down, and even included a fourth story, so the fact that they are creating a two-parter makes me really, really happy.
        Plus I have a lady crush on my hometown hero, Jennifer Lawrence. I just can’t get enough of her, and am so proud of her. As a person, as an actress; I have lots of respect for her.

        Thanks, Stephanie, I love listening to you and Ewan every Friday on my way home from work! You have reviewed SO many movies that I’ve added to my Netflix queue!

  • Rod Henry

    The Human Condition trilogy by Kobayashi is astounding, and the Once Upon a Time in China series is a must-see for any US citizen who thinks the Chinese have forgotten the 19th century.