It feels very strange to have witnessed the end of an era, alone, on a cold Friday and at the start of a new year. It felt like it should have had more fanfare. For each person give it the red carpet, not just one premier. But then, as a fan/avid reader (whatever you want to call yourself of Tolkien’s masterpieces) a quiet welcoming is often enough. After all, you invest more than just time; it is easy enough to invest a piece of yourself, of your heart and soul. No matter people have said about The Hobbit films, and what even I think, I had to see it, if just to witness the end of it. 13 years since the first of these epic encounters flickered on to our screens. (who said 13 was unlucky?!)
As I have mentioned in a previous post, The Hobbit was something of a turning point in my reading and it means a great deal to me. The book itself is 300 pages in length, The Lord of the Rings well over 1,000. So on the release of the first film when I found out there would be three films I had my suspicions, and sadly those suspicions were proven right. The first one made sense as Bilbo is at the heart of the tale, however it still took a good chunk of time before we are even given a glimpse of the shire. Though that is probably down to Tolkien’s inclusion of Hobbit back story in The Lord of the Rings Appendix than creative licence.
This last film is an exercise in money and incredible cinematic experience, at the expense of the original story. Yes, the battles are both epic and intimate, the details intricate and expansive and Peter Jackson has done Middle-Earth proud. But for me, The Hobbit at most should have been two films: still of epic proportions but just that bit less battle embellished and with a bit more narrative structure.
What of Sauron’s face off with Elrond, Galadriel and Saruman, as they come to Gandalf’s rescue on Dol Guldur and fight the Nazgul? A set piece that was too short-lived. And what of the dragon Smaug? A film subtitle all to himself and he is dispatched with disappointing speedy efficiency. I’m all for creative licence but inventing a character to add ‘something extra’ irks me, Tauriel? Noooo!!!! Sorry, I don’t care how good the acting is at this point, it’s just wrong!
The Hobbit is a book about Bilbo Baggins – a Hobbit. So why, in The Battle of Five Armies, is Thorin Oakenshield the one with the most screen time? Nothing against Richard Armitage’s brillant acting but it appears as embellishment for the sake of it. Focusing on the dragon sickness as it drags Thorin down into madness and he turns against the rest of Middle-Earth, only to culminate in his realisation and assistance with the battle outside his walls. It is the precious quiet, still moments of the film where Bilbo’s voice rings out, engaging the viewer in a quiet, matter of fact way that will make you listen (at least eventually in Thorin’s case). Thank you Martin Freeman for such an incredible portrayal of an integral and lovable character. And as usual the acting by Ian McKellen, Cate Blanchett and Christopher Lee is as spectacular and engaging as the world their characters inhabit, if not more so.
The incredible thing is, that as a cinema goer the final battle is the films rescuer: it is a true conqueror in an epic encounter, and can stand with the Lord of the Rings on equal footing. The book means a great deal, and now so do the films, my advice is to take the films as they are and not as a visual replica of the book. They are all cinematic experiences that open up emotions, vast tracts of landscape and create epics that will live with you for a lifetime.
The Battle of the Five Armies takes a flourishing bow to end the journey of all journeys and I’d actually go and see it again but I’d still think it far from perfect.
There and back again,