Friday, 6 February 2015

Book to Film: The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies

I don't like that tagline. An Unexpected Journey was
the "defining chapter" of my Hobbit.

Heartbreaking though it was to admit, as December approached last year I found that I was really not looking forward to the release of the final part of The Hobbit movie adaptation. Far from the excitement of the Unexpected Journey release, when I went to a Tolkien-themed movie quiz dressed up, not as a beautiful elf-maiden or a cute hobbit-lass, but as a "beardy-axe-dwarf-girl." Because why does dress-up have to equal sexy rather than character? (Though, if I say so myself, I think I made a moderately pretty bearded dwarf woman!)


But The Desolation of Smaug, although I gave it a fair review on the blog, noting both the good and the bad decisions, it was the bad that stuck with me. Nothing that compared to Faramir, or Frodo sending Sam away in Lord of the Rings, which were just Wrong, out of character, and contradictory to the book. But the love triangle, the weird combination of padding and speeding over actual content from the book, and the decision to make the climactic scene of the film something ridiculous and not from the book at all lingered far more than the impressiveness of the dragon, and I felt as though I was going to see The Battle of Five Armies out of duty, to get it over with and to complete the series. (By contrast, Return of the King was the biggest film event perhaps of my life, and I must have seen it 7 times at the cinema.)

The Battle of Five Armies began weirdly. Not badly, but the pacing was strange. There were no flashbacks to set the scene, but the film launched straight into the action where Desolation of Smaug left off, with the dragon wreaking death and destruction on the Laketown. As before, the film gives a better impression of the size and deadliness of the dragon, and it is like a scene from the Blitz (or perhaps the end of Carrie), an entire wooden town ablaze. My imagination falls short of picturing just what it would be like to be in the midst of a dragon attack while reading the book, so the film helps to bring that to life. But it is over quickly: after all the build-up from the previous film and the advertising, the dragon is slain before the titles roll. This is true to the book - I'm always surprised when Smaug is killed off earlier than expected - but the book is not split into three parts. Wouldn't it have been better to use that part as the end of part two, rather than the nonsensical attempt to kill a dragon with molten gold? But then, maybe that wouldn't leave much left for the third film.

When Peter Jackson changed the title of the third Hobbit film from There And Back Again to The Battle of Five Armies, I feared that with the name change he had jettisoned the last remains of Tolkien's original, in favour of his speciality, the epic battle sequences which interest me far less than the plot. To be fair to Mr Jackson, that did not turn out to be the case. I was pleasantly surprised by how much character focus there was in this final part, and he did a good job of capturing Thorin's descent into evil and dragonish greed. Oh, I hated Thorin as he refused to help those who had helped him at great loss to themselves, holing himself up under the Lonely Mountain with more gold than he could ever find any use for, willing to condemn his entire company to death rather than spare some treasure he wouldn't even miss. But then, I hate him at that point in the book, too, and the film does a good job of humanising (so to speak) him as he comes to realise how far he has fallen.

And yes, as its subtitle suggests, the battle scenes are long and extended, but I never lost interest. The weakest element was probably the scene in which the White Council take on Sauron. I'm not sure how you could show a battle of magical power in a would that uses showy magic, well, just for show, well, and the scene had to somehow get from Sauron being a shadowy Necromancer figure in Dul Guldur to being a flaming giant eyeball in Moria. I guess it could have happened like that.

Martin Freeman's Bilbo, of course, is at the heart of this film, and it shines brightest when he is on screen, bringing pathos and courage and humour to the film that from time to time seems to forget who it is titled after. I'm sorry, that's not fair. There are a lot of aspects to be addressed in this story, especially when tying it in with its sequel. I'm afraid that I'm bringing a lot of my Hobbit cynicism into this review, despite enjoying The Battle of Five Armies a lot more than I had expected to.

By the time Bilbo arrives back at Bag End to find his neighbours auctioning off his property, I was firmly back in the optimistic, coming-home frame of mind that I started An Unexpected Journey with, and the ending, fading gently back into the Lord of the Rings opening was spot-on, bringing a happy tear to my eye. After all The Disappointment of Smaug, Peter Jackson and his team managed to regain my trust and love for their work bringing Tolkien's work to life. The end note is just as important for one's overall impressions of a saga as the first impression, and The Hobbit ended just right. As an added bonus, the song played over the closing credits was sung by Billy Boyd, Pippin in Lord of the Rings, a tribute to the entire film-making saga. No, The Hobbit is not as strong a film trilogy as Lord of the Rings - it was never going to be, as a trilogy. Two films would have made for tighter storytelling. But as far as I'm concerned, part three was back up to the standard of the first part, leaving the adaptation pretty satisfying over all.

3 comments:

  1. I'm only skim reading this because I haven't seen ANY of the movies yet and I don't want to be spoiled too hard - but I'm SO GLAD to hear that as a whole the trilogy has been good. I've seen a fair bit of negativity around and I want so much to like returning to Tolkien's world when I finally get around to seeing the films!

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    1. P.S. Your bearded dwarf lady is amazing. The twirly 'tache is strangely hypnotising. :P

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    2. Why thank you! I grew it specially!

      (I didn't grow it specially.)

      It's definitely best to go into something like this not influenced by other people's reviews, I think. I didn't really enjoy Oz The Great And Powerful because I had read a critical article about it and couldn't help noticing all the things that had been pointed out. And you do NOT want that with something so beloved as the Hobbit.

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