Last night, James and I went to see The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies. I have both been looking forward to and dreading this event. Looking forward to it because The Hobbit is one of my favorite stories and I have thoroughly enjoyed the movies. Dreading it because it is the end of the saga and because it might not live up to my expectations. I can be a very harsh critic, though I try to curb my nitpicking tendencies when it is not warranted. And most of the time, I do not enjoy movies as much when I have been looking forward to them because they don’t live up to my expectations. But here the movie did live up to my hopes.
Now let’s get out some of the biases. The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings are among my all time favorites, and they are, in fact, the stories that convinced me that fantasy writing is my passion. The Hobbit made me want to write fantasy and was what birthed the original idea for Tue-Rah Identity Revealed. The Lord of the Rings was what inspired its becoming an epic and the complex world building. I have deep emotional memories tied to both series, and as such, I may be somewhat more blinded to the flaws of the Hobbit trilogy as I am certain I am with Lord of the Rings.
Also please note that there will be spoilers. But since this is based off a classic novel, I feel like that shouldn’t be a big deal.
Premises You Must Accept for This Movie
- a lot of the character development has been done in the previous two films; you don’t have to have seen them, but this movie is not as effective as a stand alone movie
- Legolas is bound by neither physics nor gravity (most elves really aren’t, but he is the Chuck Norris of the fantasy world)
- dwarves are not very bright, but they are obstinate and tenacious
- Gandalf and all other magical beings have massive recharge times
- Deus ex eagalia (and yes, the Doctor does save the day!)
- You will never EVER win a game of Tetris against dwarves
- The movie is very very different from the original book
One last point, though not related to the movie, I am quite long winded when it comes to writing these sort of things, particularly when I feel such affection or passion. So here are the topics I’m covering.
Overall Pacing of the Story
This movie was a little less than two and a half hours, but it flew by. It’s the shortest of the three movies, and, while it was good, I think it could have benefited from being a bit longer. A number of things were shortened and almost passed over, requiring you to pay close attention. The only thing that I think should have been trimmed down more was Alfrid. I’m not entirely sure why he got so much screen time as his purpose was not clear. Except maybe for some comedy? But even then he wasn’t that funny.
But the movie was never boring. At points, I wanted it to slow down so I could see more, but I’m willing to wait until the extended edition. I should also note that I never found the first two movies to drag either, so bear that in mind. I love being in Middle Earth, so it’s unlikely it would ever truly be too long for me.
I also feel I should explain my point about the Doctor from BBC’s Doctor Who. Sylvester McCoy played one of the Doctor’s incarnations, and he also played Radagast the Brown here. He arrives at the end with Beorn and the Eagles. I would have LOVED to see more about him and what happened and how they gathered the Eagles and why the Eagles weren’t there in the beginning. But for those 20 seconds, it was quite fantastic to see the Doctor and Beorn literally arrive as the winged cavalry (remember what River said about good wizards in stories; they always turn out to be the Doctor!).
Bilbo: Yes, the Story Still Involves a Hobbit
I am not a huggy person, but throughout this movie, I felt the urge to hug many characters, not the least of which was Bilbo. Even if the only character he can play is Bilbo, I think he hit it out of the park. There was a fantastic fusion of compassion, loyalty, concern, and fear. I was holding it together reasonably well during Thorin’s death scene until Bilbo started crying. That was the nail in the coffin for me, no pun intended.
As an added side note, a lot of the actors do tremendous acting through just their body language, facial expressions, and their eyes. Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, and Ken Stott particularly stand out in this regard. Some scenes have few words. And it works. I enjoyed those quiet moments and the development and testing of the friendships.
Now some people will point out that Bilbo just took the Arkenstone in the original novel. It was a rather jerkish move to pull, but here Jackson gives Bilbo a motivation. He’s trying to keep the Arkenstone from Thorin to prevent the madness from worsening. I always wondered about Bilbo’s motives initially in the book, and this was a reasonable explanation in my opinion and consistent with the character he presented in the beginning and throughout his journey.
Bilbo, in many respects, never loses his roots. He remains the practical character he was in the beginning. He does tend to point out the obvious, but sometimes it’s needed. For instance, when the elven army stands before Erebor, he has to point out to Thorin that they are significantly outnumbered. Thorin doesn’t listen, of course, but it’s good to know that someone is capable of noticing the practical details. He was brave in his own quiet way, and the story focuses more on him as it concludes. It stops concerning itself with the bigger picture as Bilbo bids Thorin farewell and mourns the loss of his friend. Most everything else is background, but it works in my opinion because for Bilbo it would be.
I also love the fact that Bilbo has so much faith in his friendship with Thorin that he actually goes back to Erebor after giving Thranduil and Bard the Arkenstone, seeming to believe that Thorin will see reason. Thorin does not. But I also loved that the other dwarves did not help to cast him over the side. It was a pivotal moment in the movie as in the novel, and Gandalf delivered his lines quite authoritatively. Even a king descending into madness would be loathe to disobey that order. As far as I am concerned, there can never be another Gandalf aside from Ian McKellen. He was as fantastic as always, even if he does need massive recharge times and disappears at inconvenient moments.
Thorin’s Descent into Madness and Subsequent Redemption
Okay, on the one hand, I did feel that Thorin succumbing to dragon fever or gold fever was a tad corny. It isn’t without precedent. If it weren’t for Duck Tales Gold Fever, it might have felt more serious to me. But I didn’t feel like it was handled in a cartoonish way. I can think of several stories that have mentioned and discussed the curse that dragons often brought to their gold or that could develop when gold was accumulated in great masses (a combination of Druid beliefs and “the love of gold is the root of all evil” 1 Timothy 6:10). I think that it might have been easier if they had created a term entirely separate so that it didn’t have the baggage of the current phrasing.
Even with that caveat, it was heartbreaking to watch Thorin transform from the gruff and driven but noble leader he was in the beginning to a greedy and obsessive ruler who values gold above mortal lives. It’s actually a very difficult redemption arc to set up because greed is such a base flaw that people tend to despise more than others. Cowardice or rage or even lust are easier to redeem characters from. But greed? Hmm…it might be because greed strikes so close to the heart of our consumerist culture that it’s easy to see ourselves falling into the same trap and behaving just as reprehensibly. Thus we want to avoid or demonize representations as much as we can.
Richard Armitage’s acting as Thorin was stunning, in my opinion. In the scenes when Thorin was slipping into madness, he mimicked what we witnessed with Thror in the first movie, down to the placement of the hands, the lurching movements, and even the gleam in the eye. It was uncomfortable to watch, giving the sense that the character you had come to know and love was changing into someone else entirely. There’s a sense of loss that comes from that. Though the exchange that broke my heart the most was when Dwalin confronts Thorin and Thorin rejects the idea of being Thorin Oakenshield again, revealing the self loathing of what he thought his former self represented.
There was also an interesting parallel that may or may not have been intended between Thorin’s obsession over the gold and the obsession that Bilbo faces with the ring. Obsessions, in and of themselves, are rarely pretty things unless people deem them worthy. But the way that this film was structured, it almost made me wonder if perhaps part of the reason that Bilbo was able to put aside the ring came down to the fact that he had seen his friend battle a similar addiction and eventually overcome it.
Not Aragorn or a Reluctant King
I’ve seen some folks comparing Thorin to Aragorn and expressing their disappointment that Thorin was not more like Aragorn and how much better Aragorn was. But Aragorn is a distinct character from Thorin. The two have little in common once you get beyond the kings who have lost their birthrights and must reclaim them. I actually think that Thorin is a more complex character who regularly fails. Aragorn is a wanderer who returns to become a king, in some interpretations reluctant but generally successful, noble, calm, and wise. Thorin is not really reluctant. He is also vengeful and zealous and a bit short tempered. Plus he tends to fail spectacularly before he gets back up on his feet again. In An Unexpected Journey, he attacks Azog and gets thrown around like a doggie chew toy. In Desolation of Smaug, he fails to negotiate with Thranduil (though it’s arguable if he even wanted to). He regularly missteps and has to recalculate his position based on the new information or because he’s about to be crushed. One or the other. But he always manages to find some epic way to come back and demonstrate that he is not to be taken lightly, which is shown in the final sequence of Thorin’s battle with Azog.
That leads me to one of my other realizations in this series. Neither Thorin nor the other dwarves are really that bright. They’re not stupid, but they seem to get caught up in the momentum and forget to be strategic. But I didn’t feel that that was a mistake. It seemed to be something that was played out over and over again. The dwarves tended to be more short sighted, focusing on the immediate rather than the long or even medium term. It’s just part of their characters. They wall themselves up in Erebor overnight in a manner that would make a Tetris expert look foolish (they even include a staircase and a peephole!). Of course they have reinforcements coming in, and no mention is made how they will let them in.
The worst one though is when Thorin battles Azog. The final sequence takes place on a frozen lake. Thorin pulls one particular move that is quite epic and intelligent while giving Azog a look that says “yes, I did watch Looney Toons growing up.” But then…he makes a fatal error…I don’t want to give any more away, but it was all I could do to keep from screaming “get off the ice!” Even though I knew that they were going to kill him, and I knew Azog was going to be the one to do it. Argh! It was still painful, and I still desperately wanted someone to save him and all the others.
Really? Friends? After All That?
The subject of Thorin and Bilbo’s friendship is an interesting one. A friend asked how it was possible that the two could be friends when Thorin was such a grouch from beginning to end. Aside from the fact that Thorin saved Bilbo’s life on multiple occasions (or at least attempted to), I still found the friendship believable. Perhaps it is because I have had Thorin and Bilbo friendships where I was the Bilbo. The other person may be gruff, demanding, and difficult to please, but I don’t know. I still loved that person for various reasons and would gladly stand up for him if needed. (If I have been the Thorin in such a friendship, I am not aware of it, but in fairness, it’s awfully hard to confront those people, and I am certain I would be no exception. My own mother has told me she’s afraid to confront me at times. Drat…I may need to take stock of my friendships now. ;))
The Love Triangle Comes to a Close
Now I will admit that I was somewhat on the fence about the inclusion of Tauriel initially. By including her in the story, they took time away from developing other characters. But I can see where Peter Jackson was coming from, and, in the end, it was not handled like the typical love triangle.
Tauriel is essentially caught in a love triangle between two men whom she can never be with. Thranduil has made it clear that he will never give his blessing to Tauriel and Legolas, and interestingly enough, neither Tauriel nor Legolas speak of their feelings to one another. We don’t even know for certain whether Legolas actually loves Tauriel or if he thinks of her as a friend or a sister. The only information we know for certain is from the second movie, Desolation of Smaug. Tauriel insists Legolas does not feel this way about her, and Thranduil suggests that Legolas does but confirms that he will not give his blessing. So whether Legolas sees her as a favored gal pal or the possible love of his life is never made clear by one of the most essential parties: Legolas. It isn’t said explicitly, but it also doesn’t seem likely that Thorin would approve of Kili’s relationship with Tauriel. Relations with the elves certainly aren’t at a high, and Tauriel, despite her banishment (which seems somewhat inconsequential in retrospect) would be a problematic alliance with the dwarf prince.
The death scene of Kili is made all the more potent and tragic because for once Tauriel fails. She is so close to succeeding. Kili himself is so close to succeeding. After all of the exploits Tauriel has made throughout the series (including shooting a flying arrow out of the air), she fails when it comes to protecting someone she has started to love. The love triangle has something of a Romeo and Juliet feel to it, not in the obvious two groups that are supposed to be kept apart but in the love at first sight that has no chance to mature. I do not doubt that Tauriel and Kili loved each other in the way that many feel that burn of infatuation and compelling desire to be with one another. And yet the love was struck down and death claimed it before the love was ever allowed to develop.
I think that there is some unnecessary hardness directed at Tauriel, describing her as a Mary Sue or a wish fulfillment character. But she’s prancing along next to Marty Stu himself (Legolas). In fact, most of the elves fall into this category in my opinion. They are practically flawless. Just watch them fight! They don’t just turn in battle; they spin. Thranduil having mud on his cheek in a lovely twist pattern is about as bad as any elf ever looks in this series. (Seriously, watch how Thranduil positions himself when he is flung from his elk. Russian ballerinas are more clumsy!) For that matter, Thranduil is one of the few flawed elves I can think of off the top of my head. (I actually wound up preferring the dwarves to the elves in the books as well because I thought the elves were so darn perfect they were annoying.) And as pointed out here, Tauriel does fail. She fails at the most important moment of her life, and you know that it will surely haunt her and she will never get over it.
I was sad that Fili got passed over so much. He got pressed to the side, but I have heard that the extended edition will contain more about him. His death scene though is…heart wrenching and brutal. In one sense, I would say that his death is the nastiest and the saddest because there is no time to mourn over his body. He dies, and then it’s time to fight.
What a Woman! Dark Galadriel is a Sight to Behold
Gandalf apparently is helpless to do anything to escape after his imprisonment at the end of the second movie. And Galadriel arrives to rescue him, dressed as the demure elvish queen we have seen her as. Elegant in all white with a silver crown. Well…not only does she pick Gandalf up and carry him out like he’s nothing, but she also beats back Sauron with the aid of Elrond and Saruman. The film here offers a brief glimpse into why it would be so dangerous for Galadriel to take the One Ring herself. I wish that there had been more of her and her story, but, again, it was like her story just intersected with the rest of the plot and then she went on her own way.
Connection Back to the Beginning and Lord of the Rings
I did cry when Fili, Kili, and Thorin died. But I cried the most when Bilbo returned home and then the movie connected back to the story that started in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey and seamlessly flowed into The Fellowship of the Ring. Following that up with Billy Boyd’s song , The Last Goodbye, was absolutely perfect when combined with pencil sketches of all the characters. (If you have not listened to the song, I recommend you give it a listen: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q8ir8rVl2Z4 It’s beautifully appropriate: melancholy, haunting, and lovely at once.
The other point that got me was at the end when the dwarves say farewell to Bilbo. Balin stands off a little bit from the rest, saying goodbye. And it struck me then that after a few years, Balin would go on to the Mines of Moria with some of the other dwarves and meet his own end. It gave the feeling that the story was continuing on. The Hobbit is only one small piece in a much larger story, and that is perhaps one of the things I love the most.
Could It Have Been Just as Good if It Had Strictly Followed the Book? Or Been Just One Movie
I actually have no problem with this series being three movies. If it had been a single movie, there would not have been sufficient time to connect to the characters. And even two movies would have pushed that. By the end of the third movie (even though I wished it could have been a little longer to finish fleshing certain things out), I was attached to the characters. Thorin’s death wasn’t just the death of a greedy dwarf king who didn’t know how to share. Fili and Kili weren’t just two faceless dwarves who died at his side. And the elf king actually has a name. There were reasons for a lot of the things that happened, and it reveals where Gandalf was during the times when he was so desperately needed. To me, it felt every bit as tragic as the story showed it should be.
Whether it could have been just as good as a strict interpretation of the book, I don’t know. Maybe. I saw the animated Hobbit a long time ago, and I did not like it. It left me unmoved and generally ticked off, even though it was quite faithful as I recall (it’s been a long time, so I may need to watch it again). I actually did feel as I watched this series. I was transported back to Middle Earth and fell in love with the story all over again.
So did I love it? Yes! Absolutely. Does it have its flaws? Yes. It does, but that doesn’t keep me from loving it. I will admit that as soon as I got home, I followed with a tradition that has been part of my life ever since I watched Davy Crockett and the Battle of the Alamo. I pulled up the first movie where everything was good, got to a point where I could see all of the dead characters, and then told myself everything was fine. Denial is bliss. 😉
But really this was a wonderful journey. I do recommend if you enjoy fantasy you should certainly check it out. I’m sorry to see the journey end, but I will gladly take it again and again.