Today we bring you a dialog between ACPL bloggers Craig Bailey and David Winn as they discuss their thoughts on the most recent and final Hobbit film, Battle of the Five Armies.
David: That time is upon us again for the third year in a row, the time when we take another foray into the snow-capped environs of Middle-Earth for Peter Jackson’s interpretation of the godfather of modern fantasy J. R. R. Tolkien’s work The Hobbit. This third and final installment is appropriately subtitled Battle of the Five Armies, an event whose preamble and execution takes up roughly three quarters of the film’s 144-minute running time.
I’m no stranger to Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy. They hit at a time during my adolescence when swords and sorcery already appealed to me, and while they are a much different introduction to Tolkien than the source material, they will forever hold a special place in my heart for rendering a fully realized fantasy world that seemed even bigger than what we saw on screen. All things considered though, it’s a fairly surface level relationship with Tolkien. Fellow blogger Craig Bailey is a … well, what’s the technical term? Frothing Tolkien uber-fan?
Craig: What is life like without passion, David? Hmm?
But, yes, like David, Tolkien was a big part of my extended childhood/college experience, and I have a confession to get out there before we get in too far. I saw Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy before I read the books. The looks on some of your faces are surely a mirror image of those upon the faces of the members of the Cambridge Tolkien Society in 2003 when I made a similar statement. However, let me assuage you with this, it seemed to work for them. I had read The Silmarillion twice (TWICE) before I saw the Jackson movies. And since, I have read the trilogy, The Children of Hurin, The Hobbit, went to Oxonmoot in Oxford, England, and have consumed an entire haggis in one sitting. (Not sure what that last has to do with it, especially since its a gross exaggeration, but there it is.) So, if anyone doubts my Tolkien chops, well, I’m no Stephen Colbert, but still, I think you’ve got to give me some credit.
David: I can only give you so much credit while you’re making up words like Oxonmoot, but suffice it to say your credentials seem pretty legit. Obviously the first films by Jackson were enough to get you to embark upon this odyssey to thoroughly explore Tolkien’s universe. Now that Peter Jackson has returned to the property in adapting The Hobbit, do you get the same fond feelings you once had, or does your familiarity with the literature make it hard to go “there and back again?”
Craig: Honestly, for me with Tolkien, more is basically more. More footage in Jackson’s extended editions, more movies than a single book might reasonably dictate, more Christopher Tolkien cobbling together more hardly legible marginalia = good. So, no, I didn’t have too much trouble going on this “journey” and, yes, sometimes I make up words, or use words made up by others, just like Tolkien did himself. Zing!
David: As I see it, good fantasy films are few and far between, so even as Peter Jackson’s interpretation of the Hobbit veers closer to a glorified fan fiction than faithful adaptation, I really appreciated all of the energy and bombastic action he brought to the screen — and there’s a lot of it! From the opening sequence Jackson drops you into to a burning Lake Town, ratchets up the tension for the monumental battle that gives the film its namesake, and even engineers a way to give us some dramatic, character-focused battles that won’t get lost among the fray. Peter Jackson’s knack for inventive battle scenes is apparent, and even when I found myself rolling my eyes at some of Legolas’ combat techniques (think a Rube Goldberg machine with trolls instead of marbles) it was nevertheless exhilarating. I’m not sure if these sequences will be seen as iconic as Helm’s Deep or the Fields of Pelennor, but I can’t wait to watch them again.
Craig: Well, I’m glad you liked it, though I’m confused why you say “Rube Goldberg machine” as if it’s a bad thing. I mean, let’s see: a machine is efficient and efficiency = good; an efficient machine like Legolas also means more trolls dead which also equals good; and Rube Goldberg was a genius (he won a Pulitzer, by the way, for political cartooning) and genius = good. I’m having trouble seeing the downside of Legolas’ awesomeness, that’s all.
David: That may be the case for the inventor, but in Legolas’ case it makes him more of a murder savant or something. I can accept that elves are the ninjas of this universe and capable of running on snow without leaving footprints, but at some points it seems like Legolas is either insanely lucky or has the gift of precognition in order to pull off some of the stuff he does. But, hey, it looks cool!
Legolas is certainly not a major focus of this tale, although he is given a pretty good chunk of screen time toward the end. While The Hobbit has always been Bilbo’s story, this final film arguably spends the most time dwelling on Thorin Oakenshield and what the obsession to reclaim his ancestral home has done to him. It’s not the most nuanced of character transformations, but I was pretty impressed by Thorin’s arc. He is portrayed as someone on the edge of madness and given to reckless behavior, and it’s genuinely frightening at points. How did Thorin strike you?
Craig: Oh, you used the M-word. Murder. Talk about a grey cloud, Stormcrow. However, moving on to Thorin. I felt the movie’s treatment of him was more sure-footed in this final installment, and I really loved the Hall of Kings scene with the golden floor opening up to swallow him whole (pun intended). I mean if you’re going to go mad, it seems like an optimal way to go, sucked into a precious metal vortex whilst looking fabulous in your kingly garb.
David: Nothing makes you look more fabulous than sitting astride a majestic goat! Speaking of goats that appear from nowhere, I’m super curious to see what was left on the cutting room floor for the extended edition of the film, because it feels like we should have gotten a bit more Bilbo. He seemed more like a MacGuffin moving the plot forward in several cases rather than a central character. The return to Hobbiton, however, was appropriately light-hearted given the grave stakes for most of the film. You often hear of the dark second act of a trilogy, but I felt that this film might be the darkest of the three overall.
Craig: I am also very interested in the extended edition of this movie. Remember, more is more with me. Also, I’m wondering where the goats came from. I feel certain they will get a more formal (more appropriate to their majesty) introduction in the extended edition, and I could always use a bit more Bilbo, sure. Martin Freeman is pretty great, and his character constantly grounds and puts into perspective the plot threads of this movie.
David: As a side note, fans of Martin Freeman should check out the first season of Fargo. His transformation from timid insurance salesman who gets in over his head in typical Coen fashion to sociopathic sleazebag is fantastic, and definitely a different role for him.
As you say, more is better, but did you feel this movie was lacking anything that you wanted to see as a Tolkien fan? Or anything that you wish would have been represented differently?
Craig: Yes! I did. Not to actually “criticize” Jackson (I don’t want to be sacrilegious), but I thought Beorn and the orc army from Gundabad got real short shrift in this final movie. I mean CGI goats are great, or whatever, but I needed and the text demanded some real awesome CGI Beorn in bear form. Alas, I shall have to fall back upon my imagination … or the extended edition, whichever comes first.
David: I agree that a Gundabad Orc’s ferocity is a bit diminished when a Hobbit can take them out by flinging rocks, but I think that the Beorn issue is that you just can’t contain too much awesome in one film. Those eagles went in with a precise, tactical ursine nuke, and it worked!
Jackson went all out with the visuals on this film, and for better or worse, I think he got to tick off a bit more on his wishlist of portraying Tolkien characters at their best. He gave Saruman, Galadriel, and Elrond screen time that they weren’t given in the book, and it feels like a way to give the actors’ portrayals of those characters a last hurrah. This is conceivably the end of Jackson’s Tolkien universe, unless he somehow finds a way to adapt the more mythological writings of Tolkien to film. I’m left wondering if these will forever stand as the definitive Tolkien interpretations in film or if Jackson opened the door for another director to take on the works 20 years down the line.
Craig: In 20 years if someone remakes them, well, I’ll probably show up to see them. I mean, I imagine that more will still be more then as it is now.
David: I think your more is more philosophy would fall apart if we ever got Michael Bay’s Lord of the Rings, but I appreciate the enthusiasm. Speaking of things that reminded me of Michael Bay’s oeuvre, the character of Alfrid is perhaps my least favorite part of this film, the sort of cartoonish stereotype that felt out of place, especially amongst the plight of the people of Lake Town. There is certainly room for humor in this universe, and the dwarves and hobbits are normally the source of it, but something about the way main characters kept trusting such an over-the-top untrustworthy dude had me exasperated at some point.
Craig: True, Bard’s a better man than I. His tolerance of Alfrid is sort of super-human. But then, this is the guy who killed a fire-breathing dragon with a broken bow and a rusty arrow.
David: Well, I think the time has come for the final verdict. What do you think, superfan?
Craig: A+. I wouldn’t want anyone in Cambridge or Auckland to doubt my loyalty.
David: As the resident film reviewer, I’d summarize it as thus: hey, did you like those other two Hobbit movies? Do you want a third one? You know by now if this interpretation is working for you, and while it may bring nothing particularly new, there is a focus on spectacle here that makes for an exciting watch. If I’m being honest, I think I liked the tone of the first two films better as they embodied the classic quest narrative and a sense of adventure, whereas Battle of the Five Armies sees most of its action at two or three locales by virtue of where the story has ended up. What I’m really left wanting to see now is a fan made supercut that combines all three and trims out the fat. I’m sure once this final movie sees a DVD release, we’ll see those projects popping up.
Craig: So…you’re saying you think there will be “more” projects to come? Hooray!
David: Oh yeah, Craig. As soon as you take a crack at adapting the Silmarillion into a film that can be followed without having to consult a glossary. Good luck!
What did everyone else think of this final film? Did it meet your expectations? How about the Hobbit trilogy as a whole? Make sure to let us know in the comments below, and please share with your friends if you enjoyed reading this article.