The Phantom Menace was The Phantom Menace of movie prequel sagas
I dislike The Hobbit films, even if I’m not a Tolkien nerd, for being spots for the original trilogy instead of actual movies. The novel can’t be directly adapted into a three-act film unless the result is a bit disastrous like the Rankin and Bass animated. It’s a shameless marketing strategy by Warner to fill the void of Harry Potter after the Deadly Hallows two-parter paid-off.
I would like them more if they were a duology without the unnecessary filler, cameos of characters who didn’t appear in the novel and romantic subplot. If you analyze it from a narratological point of view, the first installment should have ended with the group arriving to the Lonely Mountain and just a second part for the rest. It’s obvious that Guillermo del Toro put the parameters when he was going to film the two-parter instead of Peter Jackson.
The first installment is the most logical adaptation and has the most memorable scenes of the novel, like the 75% of what you want to see. But the rhythm is irregular, like the novel itself, which is basically a trip where just the beginning and ending are important. You could delete the trolls, goblins, spiders and other obstacles until Smaug and the plot wouldn’t change much.
A paragraph for each film
An Unexpected Journey only redeems itself for having the least filler, but the orc chief is the lamest villain ever that the novel did just mention in the end. It’s a “shit sandwich” for having great beginning and end but crux with just some entertaining scene and too much obvious sequel-teasing.
The second Hobbit film is my favorite for having the most consistent pacing that only breaks its rhythm to include things that actually were on the novel. While the first installment has irregular pacing for the plot-irrelevant obstacles, Desolation of Smaug makes you forgive the spiders and elves for the character-development and having the best scenes of the trilogy. The barrel scene or fight against Smaug feel more like cinematic tropes instead of marketing strategies, which can’t be said for the Twilight-esque romantic subplot.
But the third is so bad that looks like an auto-parody and confirms the desire of having just a two-part adaptation. It’s very obvious they got without material to adapt and focused more on tying-in with the original trilogy so batlantly that George Lucas would take his hat off. It codified a pattern on prequel trilogies like Fantastic Animals and I remember nothing good but teasing scenes that could rock like Sauron or giant worms that do nothing.