Ranking all things Middle-earth
It is useless trying to escape the unavoidable.
With this final post from The Gaffer’s Elite series, it is time to rank the Middle-earth films.
Yes, you heard that right: writing down, from 1 to 6, the best films from the good ones.
I’m sweating just typing that sentence; most fans can attest to the special viewing experience gained from every one of these six movies.
And yet, it is no use denying that there will always be that one film, from either of the two trilogies, that makes you feel geekier and more impressed whenever re-watching.
Do not hate me for the Herculean task I have had to complete in creating this list!
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
Without question, Peter Jackson’s opening to the Middle-earth saga is the undisputed champion of this list. Limited visual effects, practical filmmaking, (real) breathtaking environments, and master storytelling; perhaps the fact that it was the first to be released might explain my close affinity to it.
Whatever it is, it’s strong, nostalgic and the best fantasy film ever made – cleverly blurring the line between reality and Tolkien’s Secondary World.
The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
Bearing the monumental burden of concluding an epic trilogy for over 10 years, The Return of the King is now responsible for bringing to a close one massive saga spanning two trilogies.
Needless to say, the final installment in The Lord of the Rings trilogy continues to live up to its hype. The scope and breathe of the story, the range of characters, the battles, and the emotional farewell to Middle-earth, are nothing short of spectacular.
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
Perhaps a surprise for some, and if I had written this post a year ago you would have been looking at praise for An Unexpected Journey instead. After re-experiencing the return to Middle-earth via the first Hobbit film, it was difficult to top its sense of wonder and enjoyment. But as more viewings took place, The Desolation of Smaug appeared to be better balanced.
That sense of adventure and companionship was stronger; a wealth of new environments and characters to explore was introduced to us; and our hero’s enemies just got bigger and better.
Although it deviates from the beautiful simplicity of the book, as the middle chapter of the trilogy,The Desolation of Smaug feels like an uncharted Middle-earth that has yet to be explored and experienced in its entirety.
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
To continue from the previous ranking, An Unexpected Journey was an experience both new and familiar. Whilst the film did not compare to The Lord of the Rings in terms of awe and surprise elements (for I had already experienced the wonders of Middle-earth), it did manage to achieve an outstanding level of emotional resonance.
I’m referring in particular to the first half of the film. Going back to The Shire and Bag End, and revisiting that environment from a diverse perspective, a new story and populated by a different set of characters, was simply fantastic. It’s faithfulness to the book, especially during certain key sequences, is commendable.
It’s interesting how The Hobbit films have got a high “re-watchability value” to them, more so than The Lord of the Rings. I’ve seen An Unexpected Journey numerous times and would probably be more inclined to pick up that DVD than one from the Rings Trilogy.
The reason behind this may be mostly due to the less complex and simpler multi-threaded story-line of The Hobbit. With The Lord of the Rings, no matter how many times you see it, you need to invest yourself into the story to fully appreciate the depth, the emotion and the journey.
The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
This is the tricky one. So here’s a piece of my mind on the matter…
Although The Hobbit trilogy does not reach the level of The Lord of the Rings trilogy, I still consider it a worthy set of films (with a few kinks along the way that could easily have been avoided).
If The Lord of the Rings trilogy is a mature adult, The Hobbit Trilogy is the slightly juvenile teenager.
And I’m not referring to the adapted story, but rather the complete product. As two whole packages they work both independently of each other and close together; however, since each trilogy is comprised of a series of 3 films, there will always be a third of that whole package which is better than a third of the other.
Still with me? Good.
Now the case for The Two Towers is interesting because as a stand-alone film it is a remarkable achievement and worthy of much praise.
Furthermore, it is the backbone of the entire trilogy – without which The Lord of the Rings wouldn’t be the same. The fact that it is also the middle chapter should place it alongside The Desolation of Smaug.
In many ways, it would surpass its Hobbit counterpart. The Two Towers is a much richer and significantly more elaborate piece of film than Desolation.
However, the “re-watchability value” I was talking about before comes into full effect here. Present me with a copy of The Two Towers and another of The Desolation of Smaug and I’d probably pick the latter. Not because I prefer one from the other, but the relative “laid-back” sense brought about from The Hobbit, is perhaps more indulgent and easy-going than the intense, political and epic drama of Towers.
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies
After the evolution of the story in The Desolation of Smaug, the third Hobbit film promised something bigger, more emotional and satisfying. My fingers are twitching as I’m typing these next few sentences, but it is an undeniable fact that The Battle of the Five Armies left me wanting more.
The film has some extraordinary moments. I still believe the opening sequence is the best of all 6 films. In addition, the concluding scenes were brilliant in seamlessly blending into the world we find in The Fellowship of the Ring. However, the over-use of CGI, undeveloped dwarf personalities, and some inexplicably odd editorial and directorial choices, have left me unsatisfied with this installment.
The fact that this was made by the same director and team who gave us the other 5 extraordinary films makes it that bit more frustrating.
You are made to wonder what they could have achieved with this third film, and it constantly raises questions beginning with: “But why?” Perhaps that is just me.
Things may change slightly with the release of the Extended Edition.
Nonetheless, I still find it compelling and entertaining. Yet, it is regrettably the thin link between the two trilogies.
As I emerge out of the deep recesses of my mind – exhausted and shaken by the task undertaken – I will now seek refuge from the naysayers and the ardent fans who believe The Battle of the Five Armies should have ranked higher; or perhaps The Return of the King placed lower.
I hand over the baton to you now to let us know how YOU would rank the Middle-earth films.
And that brings to an end The Gaffer’s Elite series. I hope you found this weekly posts entertaining and insightful. But don’t worry, more posts are on the way … 😉
Copyright of images belong to Warner Bros., MGM Studios and New Line Cinema