I've long known that there must be a good movie hiding within the mess that is The Hobbit trilogy. The Maple Films edit takes some excellent steps toward pulling that good movie out of the muck. It's an improvement, to be sure. But for me, it ultimately fell short.
In an effort to save time, the Maple Films team ended up cutting out a lot of moments and scenes that I believe were necessary for narrative cohesion. Most notable, the Battle of Azanulbizar, which establishes Thorin's history with Azog. For better or worse, Azog is the major antagonist of the trilogy, and in order to give the final fight some emotional weight the history of the two characters is essential. Without it, he's just a random orc that is, for unknown reasons, an old enemy of Thorin and their conflict falls flat for the viewer.
-In an attempt to achieve visual consistency with The Lord of the Rings, they went overboard with the color grading. The desaturation throughout the film is far too extreme.
-A good effort at fixing Smaug the Golden, but he still appears wet while exiting Erebor. I acknowledge that this is one of the two most difficult challenges that fan editors of The Hobbit face. The other great challenge is...
-...the transition between An Unexpected Journey and The Desolation of Smaug. This cut leaves a lot to be desired. The voiceover was a creative solution, but in my opinion the flight of the eagles was cut far too short and the whole thing feels off.
-I loved the way this cut handled the deaths of Kili and Fili. I think the cut could have used a bit of polish, but the idea was fantastic.
My biggest thought after watching this edit was, "I thought this was supposed to be JRR Tolkein's The Hobbit?" I don't really feel that it's fair to title this edit in such a way when it's nowhere near a book cut. I still had to watch the Elven/Goblin fight during the barrel sequence, the dwarves still ran around with Smaug inside the mountain, Bard still shot the arrow off of his son's shoulder, and we watched the whole finale unfold between Thorin and Azog. It'd be one thing if there were just no good way to cut these things out, but they have all been skillfully taken care of in various other edits. This is absolutely a better film than the theatrical trilogy, but it falls short as a book cut, which is what I expected given the title.
Finally, I thought it was odd the massive amount of effort that went into all of the formats and subtitles available for this edit, yet they lazily copied and pasted the credits from The Battle of the Five Armies? Not only are there names of actors and characters who never appear in the film, there are drawings of them! I've heard time and again that the goal with fanedits is for them to feel like theatrical releases. When the end credits started rolling and a bunch of faces popped up that weren't in the film, it definitely screamed fanedit to me.
I apologize for the harsh review, but I have to disagree with the general consensus here--they put a lot of effort into this one, to be sure, but it fell short in a lot of ways for me, unfortunately.