Well, if there’s one word I realized I’ve been pronouncing incorrectly all my life, it’s “War.” I’ve always thought it was pretty self-explanatory, I mean, w-a-r. War. Fairly short with the emphasis on the ‘r’ cutting the duration of the pronunciation But no, I’ve been wrong this entire time. It’s actually more like this;
So if there was one aspect of The Hobbit adaptions that I was genuinely excited for, it was the magical, childlike innocence that the original novel conveyed, that I felt once on-screen, would take me back to my childhood when I first read the novel, a simpler time where I could actually have the luxury of curling up on a couch/in bed and getting lost in a good book. Ah the days.
Who am I kidding? Of course I wanted to see the climactic battle of The Hobbit on screen! I’d honestly been waiting for this since I first read The Hobbit as a 12 year old, obviously heightened by Peter Jackson’s depiction of Middle Earth in the original LOTR trilogy. The final verdict? Well, be careful what you wish for. Because that’s exactly, and only what you get during the 2 ½ hour duration.
It has been extremely well documented and argued about how Tolkien’s fairly easy-going 300 page fantasy novel written for children essentially got grafted onto the framework of the LOTR trilogy (not perfect in their own right but still one of my favourite films of all time), originally being two movies, and then artificially re-edited into three. Having finished this trilogy now, man can you feel that. An Unexpected Journey is completely padded out, Desolation of Smaug is by far the best-paced and this is the other extreme; literally only one thing happens. Other than the honestly pretty spectacular opening sequence featuring the destruction of Laketown, Smaug, and Bard (the overall placement however, feels like a cheap and awkward resolve to the cliffhanger that DoS presented, and clearly should have been the climax of a film), the plot hinges on the fact that Thorin has claimed the lonely mountain, gone crazy because of “Dragon Sickness” (coming to a head in a hilariously overplayed scene involving Thorin and the now magically solidified gold floor left after the climax of DoS), and suddenly elves, men, dwarves, orcs (not just one, but two armies for some reason) trolls, eagles, and a criminally under-used Beorn all show up because WAAAAAAAOOOOORRRR.
Look I didn’t hate The Battle of Five Armies. In fact, I genuinely enjoyed a fair bit of it. Martin Freeman’s interpretation of Bilbo still makes a better protagonist than Frodo ever was, all the acting is serviceable, most of the FX are pretty spectacular (towards the end though, Peter Jackson seems to forget how physics work), Howard Shore’s score is beautiful and the series wraps up beautifully. I even commend Peter Jackson from not shying away from the depiction of several major characters. However, ultimately, it’s impossible to get past this one simple fact; the film places incredible emphasis on this “war” that (spoiler alert) Sauron has been plotting (a rather blunt connection to LoTR, dealt with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer), but ultimately, when the battle (yes battle, not WAAAAORRRRR) goes down, all parties are fundamentally fighting over one thing; some gold in a mountain. No matter the enormous gravity that Jackson and co tried to weave into the plot, it just falls flat. There simply is not as much at stake as in LoTR, where the fate of the world was being fought over. You cannot hope to replicate that, no matter how heavily you draw from the appendices, when your source material is just not built to support that weight, and it was never meant to.
Ultimately, The Hobbit: Battle of Five Armies is perfectly fine if you don’t go in with your expectations for Return of the King level filmmaking. Honestly, the thought of a fan edit that could bring three back to two, cut all the useless fluff that Jackson felt was necessary (including that god-awful inter-species love triangle) and re-establish something resembling a consistent pace, I would be first in line for it. It’s ultimately just a shame that Jackson let it go this far in the first place.
So I’m a big fan of the Lord of the Rings movies, a really big fan, on more than one occasion, I have watched all three movies back to back. Cannot stress this enough, I really love those fucking films. Geez wouldn’t it be awkward if I were luke-warm on his Hobbit series, yeah about that…
LOTR is an epic told across three books, there are many characters completing any number of tasks, across vastly different locations, ultimately leading to the victory of good over evil and the salvation of the world. The Hobbit on the other hand is a children’s book about dwarves with funny names going on an adventure. This isn’t inherently a problem, unless you decide to stretch the smaller kids book into three movies each with a runtime longer than the life expectancy of a hamster. This length is particularly felt in the third movie where there is only the dragon to kill and the Battle of the Five Armies to watch play out. To make up for this shortfall in content, Jackson raids the appendices of LOTR and panders to fans by having Galadriel, Elrond, Saruman and Gandalf fight the Nazgul as ghosts. Much in the same way that a little brother with shitty pants appearing at the door undermines my air of mystique to my date, this appearance manages only to undermine the mystery and horror built around the Nazgul in the Fellowship of the Rings,
Speaking of shit that Jackson made up…
The following is (allegedly) a factual account of what happened; the Hobbit writers are all passing around the first draft and patting each other on the back, when one of the more sensible writers brings up the uncomfortable fact that there aren’t any strong female characters in the Hobbit. “Hmm there were strong heroines in LOTR and that movie came out 10 years ago, we are Hollywood, we are enlightened, we can’t be seen to be regressing!”, “I know!” Injected another “Let’s add in a she-elf, she can be strong, fast, intelligent and a master archer” “So essentially a female Legolas?” asked the third writer raising a lone eyebrow. It was at this point that the Warner Brothers studio executive (who was sitting in on the meeting to make sure the writers didn’t create something too unique or interesting) was awoken from his day-dream about money; “Legolas… Legolas… Leg-o-las… WE SHOULD PUT LEGOLAS IN THE MOVIE!” “what?” exclaimed the writers “That’s a stupid fucking idea, he doesn’t appear in the books, and that would undermine his story arc in the Lord of the Ri…” “It’s perfect!” cried the studio exec, “Orlando Bloom isn’t as big of a star as he was back then so we can get him cheap! We can put him on the poster! I can almost taste the cocaine money!” “But what about the strong female lead?” stammered the sensible writer “Oh who gives a fuck about her?” snapped the studio exec “give her a generic elf name and put her in a love triangle with a dwarf and Legolas, people need to see more Legolas.” And on that fateful day the character of Tauriel was created.
Almost every damn thing in this movie pisses me off to some degree or another, why is so much screen time devoted to a character that has no arc and straight up disappears? Why is Thorin’s madness shown through a loud, elaborate CGI piece when a shot of him alone in the huge empty halls would have sufficed? Why in a two hundred and fifty million dollar movie do almost all the jokes fall flat?
There is one funny part of the movie when Billy Connolly turns up on a war-pig and starts chopping off heads, but the film makers don’t get points for that. Regardless of genre, Billy Connolly attacking while mounted on a pig improves every scene in every movie. Seriously; Imagine Luca Brasi paying respects to the Don- now imagine Billy Connolly rocking up on a pig, Imagine the Omaha Beach scene from Saving Private Ryan- now imagine Billy Connolly rocking up on a pig. Having that scene in your movie is cheating, and you don’t get points for cheating.
Ok so Jackson can direct exciting set pieces, his action scenes keep you invested and interested. Unlike some directors he knows how to draw your eye, when to cut and when to let a scene play out. This is good, but without characters we relate to it is ultimately hollow. Remember in A New Hope how upset you were when the death star blew up Alderaan? Of course not, Vader striking down Obi-Wan on the other hand is remembered as a pivotal scene. Scale doesn’t equal emotion, I’m reminded of a great quote “One death is a tragedy, one million is a statistic” – Joseph Stalin
Tolkien loyalists will lament the bastardisation of the source material, film geeks will be upset with the artificially lengthened movie, and general audiences will find it to be long, entertaining yet forgettable.
Ultimately the only groups that will be truly happy with this adaption are Warner Brother’s accountants and the New Zealand Tourism board.