We’ve been through all ten Middle-Earth films and a bunch of extras, so it’s time to wrap up with some final thoughts. Since there are so many characters in these films, I’ll be breaking it down (mostly) by species.
BEST AND WORST DWARF
Seeing as how there are thirteen dwarves in The Hobbit‘s company alone, that means we have more than 39 choices here, not to mention Dain, Gimli and others. As for the worst, I find Dori, Nori and Ori from the Jackson films pointless, but I particularly find Ori, the baby of the group, to be the most unbearable.
It would make sense to give a portrayal of Thorin or Gimli the point for best, simply for getting the most screen time. Hans Conreid and Richard Armitage both give their all in playing Thorin, the former making him a wizened dwarf who has never had a home, the latter a younger and somewhat stoic, but unquestionably good dwarf with a tragic arc. I like John Rhys-Davies’ performance as Gimli in Fellowship enough, but he just gets dumber as the other two go on. My favorite is actually Bofur from the Jackson films, portrayed by James Nesbitt, who has a huge heart, a great sense of humor, and is constantly stealing scenes. As for which specific film, I’m going to call it a tie between Unexpected Journey and Battle of Five Armies, because he gets incredibly heartwarming scenes in both.
BEST AND WORST WIZARD
I have some issues with Ian McKellen’s Gandalf but nowhere near enough to count him as the worst, especially seeing his kind moments in Return of the King, Unexpected Journey, and especially Fellowship. Radagast the Brown is silly, but there’s still something likable about the guy, even in the midst of the bird droppings and quirkiness. The worst is the Gandalf who looks and sounds nothing like Gandalf in Russian The Hobbit.
As for the best, Christopher Lee’s Saruman is great, especially in the extended cuts. It’s a role he deserved to play, and he relishes every moment. However, the very best is John Huston’s Gandalf in the animated The Hobbit. He reprises the role in the animated Return of the King, but he just has less to do there.
BEST AND WORST HUMAN
Well there are a whole ton…
But yeah it’s Denethor, no question. He’s so over-the-top that it makes his scenes hilarious.
There are obviously a whole ton of good ones. I like Bard in Battle of Five Armies, Faramir in Return of the King, and Eowyn in Two Towers and Return of the King. John Hurt’s Aragorn from Bakshi’s Lord of the Rings almost takes it, instantly showing a kingly and ranger side, but I have to give it to Sean Bean as Boromir from Fellowship of the Ring. He is the best part of Jackson’s trilogy, giving a Shakespearean arc to a character who could have easily been forgettable. Fellowship is his movie.
BEST AND WORST ELF
When done wrong, the elves in Tolkien’s work can come off as aloof and uncaring. I can’t stand Legolas in Jackson’s films with the exception of Fellowship, but it ultimately comes down to Thranduil the Wood-elf king. He’s voice by OTTO PREMINGER in the animated film, and yet I still find Lee Pace’s melodramatic take worse, especially in Desolation of Smaug.
In Bakshi’s film, Anthony Daniels shows us that Legolas can be an interesting character, even with just a little screen time. Liv Tyler is great as Arwen, especially in Fellowship, and I quite like Evangeline Lily’s Tauriel in The Hobbit films. The best has to be Hugo Weaving’s Elrond, especially because it seems like such odd casting on paper, yet it mostly works. I wish he had more moments of lightness, but I really love him in Unexpected Journey most of all. His scene with Bilbo as they lightly snark at each other while walking around Rivendell is brilliant.
BEST AND WORST HOBBIT
Honestly, there aren’t all that many who are bad. I have some issues with Merry and Pippin in Jackson’s films, but I’m all in by Return of the King. Sam in Bakshi’s film is really stupid, but by the time the Fellowship breaks, he gets a lot better. The worst has to be a tie between Merry and Pippin in the animated Return of the King. In a special where Frodo and Sam are also not great, the radio DJ voices of Casey Kasem and Sonny Melendrez are just awful and distracting.
On the good side, Christopher Guard and Elijah Wood both have their moments as Frodo, but I much prefer Guard’s stronger performance. Sean Astin is brilliant as Sam Gamgee, but every single portrayal of Bilbo is memorable, except perhaps the brief one in Bakshi’s film. The best of these is Martin Freeman though, who brings such heart and such humor to Bilbo that he takes this category without competition. If I had to pick his best film, it’s Unexpected Journey, simply because he feels like the main character.
BEST AND WORST VILLAIN
Is it Richard Boone’s badly-voiced Smaug? The hokey-looking Smaug from Russian The Hobbit? Azog or any of the other pointless orcs from The Hobbit trilogy? Sauron’s living suit of armor? No, it’s the goofy sounding Witch-king of Angmar from, you guessed it, the animated Return of the King.
Yes, Christopher Lee’s Saruman is up for this one too, but he also just misses the win. It’s ultimately very close between Benedict Cumberbatch’s Smaug, a breakthrough in special effects featuring brilliant voice acting, and Andy Serkis’ Gollum, a breakthrough in special effects featuring brilliant voice acting. I really do like Smaug, but it’s Gollum that truly steals the show.
BEST AND WORST SONG
Music is a large part of Tolkien’s writings, and most of the films work in some songs one way or another. For the worst, there’s the Goblin-town song from Unexpected Journey and literally every song from Rankin/Bass’ The Return of the King. However, the “win” unsurprisingly has to go to the funky disco number “Where There’s a Whip, There’s a Way.”
As for the best, we have “I See Fire,” “The Last Goodbye,” “Into the West,” any version of “Misty Mountains Cold,” “Roads,” and more. I have a soft spot for “Rolling Down the Hole” from the Rankin/Bass Hobbit, but I have to give it to Enya’s “May It Be,” which closes out Peter Jackson’s The Fellowship of the Ring. It’s gorgeous and an absolutely perfect note to close on.
BEST AND WORST EXTENDED EDITION SCENE
Obviously, this will only involve the Jackson films, but each extended edition has moments that truly elevate the film. However, there are a few that make you scratch your head. Aragorn trying to eat Eowyn’s unappetizing soup in Two Towers is a failed attempt at comic relief, and the aforementioned Goblin-town song in Unexpected Journey is just plain awkward. The worst is still the testicle-chewing Master of Lake-town from Desolation of Smaug, though. Seriously, someone wrote this scene, set it up, filmed it and watched it without once considering it might be pointless and disgusting.
Most scenes added to the films, however, expand the characters greatly. There’s Bilbo and Elrond’s brief scene in Rivendell in Unexpected Journey, the additional Beorn scene in Desolation, all the additional character moments (and Alfrid’s death) in Battle of Five Armies, Pippin and Faramir in Return of the King or the death of Saruman in the same, and all of Boromir’s additional dialogue in Fellowship. However, the win has to go the additional scene of Boromir and Faramir in Two Towers. It’s the first time we see Faramir feel like his book counterpart, and we quickly see the love between these two brothers. We never actually see them together in the book, so it takes what is there and does more with it. It’s an absolutely brilliant scene.
With the exceptions of the Rankin/Bass cartoons and the Russian Hobbit, each film has moments of pure visual wonder, letting us soak up Middle-earth in all its glory. Smaug looks fantastic, as does Gollum. Most all of the backgrounds in the Hobbit films look beautiful, but sometimes it’s hard to beat the models and on-location shots of Lord of the Rings. Bakshi’s Lord of the Rings has some breathtaking backgrounds, but also some unfinished animation which refuses it the win. Even though I wanted more from Mordor, I ultimately have to give the win to Return of the King. Just look at the Grey Havens.
BEST AND WORST SCENE
I’ve already talked about the bad scenes from the extended cuts, but there are still plenty to go around. There’s the gardens of delight from the animated Return of the King, the terrible cliffhanger ending of Desolation of Smaug, literally any of Alfrid’s scenes in Battle of Five Armies, Galadriel’s heavy metal voice in Fellowship of the Ring, Gandalf calling the same character “Aruman and Saruman” in the same breath in Bakshi’s film, war looking like a dance in Russian The Hobbit… the list goes on. Nothing is more unpleasant and a waste of time than Sam’s banishing in Peter Jackson’s Return of the King.
What is the best scene in all of these films? There’s the defeat of Smaug in Five Armies, the barrel scene in the animated Hobbit, Bilbo and Bofur’s scene in Unexpected Journey, the riddle contest, Thorin’s death, meeting Aragorn in Bakshi’s film, the Balrog and much more. Ultimately, I have to give it to the Council of Elrond from The Fellowship of the Ring. It’s gorgeous to look at, introduces many important characters, shows us the danger at hand, and puts the movie on course for a tremendous second half.
BEST AND WORST STORY
The worst story is Rankin/Bass Return of the King. Yeah, shocker.
No film tells the story perfectly, but do I prefer the drawn-out pace of the Hobbit films or the faster pace of the Lord of the Rings films? Both have their strengths and weaknesses, as Unexpected Journey has amazing atmosphere but takes a little long to get going, while Fellowship of the Ring has a near-flawless second half, but a speed round of a first. It might be surprising, but I ultimately give the best story to Bakshi’s Lord of the Rings. It’s quite a good adaptation story-wise, in spite of its flaws, and it just feels like Tolkien’s work while still showing Bakshi’s magic.
AH NO NOT THAT PICTURE! No one wants to see Treebeard’s anus.
Let’s see where that puts us…
And that puts us at a tie, which is somewhat appropriate. Look at the way the two trilogies mirror each other. Both have phenomenal opening installments, long-winded second installments that are best when they show the hobbits or their starring special-effects villain (Smaug or Gollum) and end with a film drastically improved by the extended edition. That said… I have to pick one.
Unexpected Journey is a more consistent film, atmospheric and fun with an amazing lead and gorgeous visuals, but there are a few unnecessary scenes. It got the higher score in the original review, but if I had to watch one right now, it’s Fellowship. The second half of this film is absolutely brilliant, and regardless of the score, it’s the better of the two. I’m confident to call it the best film overall.