Upon the release of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, Lord of the Rings fans from far and wide piled into the theater in anticipation and excitement for the prequel everyone had been waiting so long for. After such an incredible trilogy as The Lord of the Rings, the announcement that there would be a Hobbit trilogy coming to theaters was a dream come true. Sadly however, The Hobbit films did not live up to the expectations of all of those die hard Tolkien fans.
If you were to look up each individual Lord of the Rings movie on Rotten Tomatoes, you would see ratings of 91%, 96%, and 95% consecutively. If you were to do the same for each Hobbit film, you would find ratings of 64%, 74%, and 61%. Something obviously went wrong here. The reason The Hobbit trilogy was a disappointment was because it was a gimmick.
Back in 2001 when The Fellowship of the Ring came out, all of the fans who had read the books went out to see the movie, and as the other two films came out this fan base was generally quite impressed with Peter Jackson's work. In fact, the Lord of the Rings trilogy has been noted one of the most accurate film adaptations of a series of written works in cinema history (the extended editions of course). Now, not only those who had read the books, but many many others had now joined this fan base because of the incredible films that accompanied Tolkien's works.
Ten years later, these fans are older and many of them have families when Warner Brothers releases the first Hobbit film. Those who have read The Hobbit know that the book is written more lightheartedly than the Lord of the Rings. However, especially for the fans who read the book, after seeing just the first movie it was obvious that the film was deliberately family oriented, which is what most fans were not expecting. Coincidence? Not quite. This was an obvious scheme to draw in immensely higher numbers at the box office. The production knew that those who went to see The Lord of the Rings in theaters would now most likely bring their families to see The Hobbit. What was once one or two tickets was now four or five. It is important to note, however, that the darkness of the Lord of the Rings was not expected either, but perhaps a middle ground would have been more appropriate.
To give an example from An Unexpected Journey, during the battle in the caves of the Misty Mountains, many of the CGI goblins look like goofy caricatures. When Goblin-Cleaver is unsheathed, the Goblin King stumbles backwards clumsily and crushes some of his goblin servants. In the scene where Gandalf slays the Goblin King, he pokes the king in the eye with his staff, and they slices through his belly. The Goblin King falls to his knees, and the camera holds on his face as he calmly says, "That'll do it," and is then killed by Gandalf. It's petty humor like that that lead to the trilogy's demise.
To give another example, in The Battle of the Five Armies, there was a character who was in the film solely for comic relief. Alfrid, the servant of the King of Lake-Town, an obnoxious character with a unibrow, awful teeth, and a thick cockney accent, poisoned this last film with cheap jokes. At one point he dresses in drag and dawns a Monty Python like woman's voice; pretending to be a female so he would not have to fight in the battle. When he was then caught by Bard, he begins to stuff his shirt with gold and riches which gives him the appearance of having breasts. Like in the book, this character is meant to be cowardice scum and is always positioned, whether in the literature or visually, in perspective with Bard to amplify his heroic qualities. However, like with the lightheartedness of this film, a middle ground would have been much more appropriate. This character is a necessity, but there is no need for him to be as annoying and unpleasant as the film makes him.
The reason that these films were not even close to being as successful as the first trilogy was because all of the substance and plot of the film was overshadowed by the overt petty humor that was used to try to make this film lighthearted and family friendly. Unfortunately, a ploy to drastically increase revenue polluted the films that fans had been anticipating since the release of The Return of the King in 2003.