The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring

2001, WingNut Films et al

Get ready for multiple bathroom breaks as Peter Jackson launches the film franchise to end all film franchises. Garnering nearly as many awards as ticket sales, Fellowship clocks in at 178 minutes, with an extended version of 208 minutes—not including 20 minutes of credits! Having never read J.R.R. Tolkien's epic fantasy, and not really having any inclination to do so, I wasn't about to get in line with book fans ready to eviscerate Jackson over the liberties he took. As an innocent bystander, I thought it was all dressed up in the finest CGI threads money can buy, but with nowhere to go; it was much ado about nothing, with entirely too many close-ups of Elijah Wood enduring epic gas pain. Winner of the film-title-nearly-as-long-as-the-film award.

On a side note, Jackson's obsessively detailed making-of docs—which run longer than his films—are like a college course in filmmaking. Taken by themselves, they rate a full-on WOW.

     

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The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers

2002, WingNut Films et al

I'm certain Tolkien and/or Jackson fans would break my kneecaps for giving this bloated beast anything less than full marks. But at 178 minutes, with an extended version of 223 minutes (235 with credits), the film is way too much to take—especially considering how much time we spend watching our hero being carried through the woods by a tree. Sure, Jackson can conjure some eye-popping imagery, but it's window-dressing for a (literally) meandering story that has much more meaning to Tolkien fans than the rest of us. Of course, Tolkien's popularity is such that the film raked in nearly a billion at the box office.

   

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The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

2003, WingNut Films et al

Explain to me how one part of a trilogy can become Best Picture (one of 11 nominations, all of which it won); I'm convinced the Academy was either entirely populated by Tolkien fans, or Jackson incorporated subliminal messages into his copious special effects. Although a bit more action-oriented than previous chapters, with a bit more actual story to hold our attention, it's so visually overloaded that it's exhausting; if Jackson had trimmed away all of the monumental battles and just left Andy Serkis playing Gollum, we wouldn't miss much. Since I never saw it in the theater, I wouldn't know if it had any intermissions for bathroom breaks, but at 200 minutes, it surely needed them; gluttons for punishment can enjoy the 251-minute extended version (263 with credits).

     

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The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

2012, WingNut Films et al

Peter Jackson reluctantly (yeah, right) returned to the land of Tolkien when Guillermo del Toro left the director's chair after waiting too long for MGM to sort out its financial problems. Thus, The Hobbit was guaranteed to bear all of Jackson's trademarks, including mind-numbing special effects and countless close-ups of Martin Freeman doing his best distraught-looking Elijah Wood impressions. And, just as with the Rings series, the first installment was 169 minutes (182 extended) of set-up and no story. Still, Jackson's formula hasn't lost its potency, with Tolkien fans forking over more than a billion bucks. Winner of the most unimaginative film title award.

     

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The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

2013, WingNut Films et al

Bestowed with a little more story and action than before, Smaug is 161 minutes (186 extended) of Tolkien fan service; as the titular dragon makes his long-awaited, drawn-out dramatic entrance, I can almost hear the whoosh of the audience's collective inhalation. And without looking at the credits, how many of you realized he was voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch? How did he get that job? Winner of the oddest, most unpronounceable film title award.

   

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The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

2014, WingNut Films et al

In the making-of docs, Peter Jackson all but admitted that he pretty much made stuff up as he went along toward the end, wandering off-course from Tolkien canon more than ever before—not that I would notice. Despite being a mere 144 minutes (164 extended), which almost qualifies as a Peter Jackson short, I couldn't escape the feeling it was padded with entirely too many endless battle sequences so complicated as to lose the viewer's sense of who's who. After a while, I just didn't care any more, and even as a CGI junkie, I got bored. The best part of the film? Jackson masturbating over Tolkien has finally ended. Sploosh.

 

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