Wednesday, January 7, 2015

One Last Farewell to Middle-earth

Click for my initial thoughts on An Unexpected Journey and The Desolation of Smaug.

When we walked out of the theatre, I was asked what I thought of The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies. I laughed and said that I didn't even know what to think but I had enjoyed it. And, you know what, I think that pretty much sums up my thoughts on this last movie and on The Hobbit movies as a whole.

It's strange to analyze because you have to keep coming back to what these movies should be, what they set out to be, and what fans wanted them to be. If we had been given one movie that was a very straight adaptation of the book, I think it would have satisfied hardly anyone: while I'm not calling the book flat, there are many things about it that are flat. So these movies have added in awareness of The Lord of the Rings (which, of course, was something that Tolkien also wanted to do) and also awareness of people's love of Middle-earth. Sometimes good things don't have to end instantly; we can let them linger a little. So if there are going to be three movies, why not?

The problem with making a trilogy out of this fairly short book, however, is in pacing and character development. By the time we get to the last movie, all that's left is the attack of Smaug on Lake-town, Bilbo's attempt to use the Arkenstone as a bargaining piece, the battle, and Bilbo's return to the Shire. It's less than the last third of the book. And by this point, Bilbo has already done most of his developing. He's found his courage and his wit and all of that. So when you look at just The Battle of the Five Armies, you forget how far he's come: he doesn't change much within this one movie, though he does very much in the trilogy as a whole. Given the importance of Bilbo's personal journey in this story, it does feel like something is missing when it falls to the background. And after spending so much time on other events, the movie did feel like it ended a bit abruptly--but perhaps this was to avoid the "multiple endings" some people complain about in The Return of the King.

I also make fun of how few pages describe the battle, the battle that the third movie is named after. I thought The Lord of the Rings were battle-heavy movies, but The Battle of the Five Armies is basically all about battle and fighting. On principle, I have to complain about so much fighting (Tolkien isn't just about fighting, though it is a part of his stories). But at the same time, this team knows how to put together some good battle sequences. They know to splice in the right amount of non-battle scenes or dialogue scenes or emotional scenes or similar material. Bard's family was one of these devices, and I did really like how they all came together on screen. Bard wanting to protect his family, Bain trying to protect his sisters, and then Bain risking himself to help Bard kill Smaug; it was all rather nice. Oh, yes, and the shot of the elves leaping over the dwarves and their shields was pretty cool, I'll admit; thematically, it's also funny: these two peoples who hate each other work quite well together.

I was expecting Tauriel to die. Characters created just for a movie adaptation tend to die. And because I haven't read The Hobbit since 2011 (that is, before any of the movies came out), I had forgotten that stray sentence that tells of the death of Fili and Kili. I had suspected that Kili might die, alongside Tauriel, perhaps. But I had forgotten about Dain taking over the ruling after Thorin's death, so I thought that Fili needed to survive as Thorin's heir. So I was immensely surprised at the killing of so many characters, characters I had not expected to die (how did Tauriel make it out alive, anyway?). I do believe it made me rather sad, maybe because it was all so sudden.

Even with so much battle going on, this movie was rather beautiful. Because there isn't really any traveling in this movie (weird, huh?), there are less plain shots of scenery as the characters walk across it. So the beauty is, shall we say, more creative--and absolutely no less beautiful. The beauty of the Lake-town rooftops, the horrifying beauty of Lake-town burning far off under Smaug's fire, and the beauty of Thorin's revelation. By revelation, I mean a certain pair of scenes. First Thorin has a vision of being swallowed by the gold-covered floor in Erebor; then the figure of Agog floating under the ice waits to reach up and effectively devour him. In the first scene, he is beginning to realize that he is letting his desire for gold and riches overcome him; in the second, he is facing a foe that is from the outside instead of the inside. He defeats both, though not without a price.

Cinematography was quite wonderful; the camera was a character, moving so artistically. Although it, unfortunately, isn't going to happen now, I really wish one of these movies could have had the Oscar for hair and makeup; I really, really wish that. I do hope they'll get something, although ultimately those awards don't matter when there are so many individuals who appreciate the work that was done on these films. The costumes, the sets, the props, the acting, the digital work, everything. 

The Battle of the Five Armies was not my favorite Middle-earth movie, but I didn't need it to be. I just needed it to be itself, something I could enjoy for what it offered. You know, I never did see any of The Lord of the Rings in theatres, so it was a very special moment when this last Middle-earth movie came to a close and the credits began rolling and Billy Boyd's "The Last Goodbye" started playing. That song captures what The Hobbit as a film trilogy was all about. It was about spending more time in Middle-earth, about seeing how Bilbo got the Ring and the mithril and the sword that Frodo takes on in The Lord of the Rings, about going on one last adventure and also partially reliving and saying goodbye to the first adventure. That song has an absolutely lovely way of combining the weighty feelings towards The Lord of the Rings with the casual adventure of The Hobbit. It's a lovely song and just right for the tone, as always. 

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