By creating the awful mess that is The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (which I will refer to as Battle henceforth) Peter Jackson and his team appear to have drained every last drop of milk from the Middle Earth cash cow and left it with bleeding udders. I was only subjected to the 144min theatrical version Lord (of the Rings) only knows what further fell crimes will be meted out against the source material in the inevitable Director’s Cut and I hope sense is seen and peripheral tales such as The Silmarillion are left well alone.
I loved LOTR (the books and the films) and so I had high hopes for the first Hobbit film. I reviewed it a while ago and I recall being mostly underwhelmed. As a result I avoided The Desolation of Smaug at the cinema and instead watched it a while ago on Netflix. I feel I made a mistake as I actually quite enjoyed Desolation and comparing it to the first and last instalments realise that it was the best film. I guess it’s because I’ve always had a bit of a missing scale (soft spot) for dragons. My enjoyment of the second film fooled me into thinking that things were on the up and that (like LOTR Return of the King) the third instalment would be even better. Sad to say it was just as bad, if not worse than the first film.
So what’s wrong with it? Where do I start? Do I have the time or patience to go into full rant mode? Probably not, so I’ll concentrate on the lowlights.
First and perhaps the least heinous crime is the shoe horning in of LOTR characters who weren’t in the book. I’m actually ambivalent over this point. It helps to provide some continuity into the LOTR and it’s not inconceivable that Legolas et al. might have joined in (if Tolkein had set down to write anything other than a simple kids fantasy book).
Worse I think is the creation of the Tauriel character and the accompanying cross-species romance. Without coming across as sexist or racist I see no reason for her inclusion. The love story was as two-dimensional as they come (and not a patch on the Aragorn-Eowyn-Arwen ‘love triangle’ – which admittedly is another cinema construction not present in the original tales) and totally superfluous. Simply removing the character would have saved a lot of time and money – thus addressing one of my other gripes. I found the films and especially Battle to be tediously slow at times with too many slow mos and mind-numbing action sequences.
While I’m on the subject of characters those of the dwarves were mostly sketches at best. Why couldn’t the makers have spent time on developing the proper legitimate characters instead shoe-horning in others and creating new ones? There’s a shot where Bilbo says tatty-bye to the remaining dwarves and I frankly couldn’t have cared less or even begin to try to recognise any of them. It was telling that I spent most of my time trying to figure out which actor was under the makeup rather than being ‘sold’ by any of their portrayals. Most of the time they were like animated furniture.
Which brings me onto a special dwarf played by Billy Connolly which for the most part was distractingly badly animated. The animation was pretty dire in numerous places but especially so when digital doubles were brought into play. Some of it made Legolas sliding down the oliphant’s trunk in ROTK look positively crispy in comparison. Battle should have been a celebration of cutting edge effects and instead made Transformers 4 look good. It was a great disappointment after the fabulous design, rendering and animation of Smaug.
As I grew increasingly bored of the on screen action, I got to comparing my experience of these films with the Star Wars prequels and I have to say it’s a very similar feeling that I’m left with. I think The Hobbit series actually tarnishes my feelings towards the ‘original’ trilogy of LOTR. However I will always rate Star Wars Episode III higher than the first two. It has a great emotional payoff despite some terrible acting and clumsy tying up of loose ends. There’s no such payoff in Battle and I really couldn’t have cared less. I was just happy to get out of the cinema and get some dinner. When Bilbo returns to his unexpectedly empty house and stands there all lonesome it struck me as a metaphor for the artistic void Jackson now finds himself in.
There were moments of genuine enjoyment in the first two films – for example Bilbo and Gollum riddling over the ring and Bilbo coming face to face with Smaug. Martin Freeman was great throughout and in fact I can only feel sorry for all the actors involved in the production of this unsatisfactory trilogy. These moments were vastly outweighed by stupid action sequences designed for a 3D audience with no consideration to storytelling or pacing, those bloody eagles, attempts at comedy that mostly fell flat and in this last film someone (a poor man’s Wormtongue) doing a Monty Python job to avoid fighting. Everything about Battle became increasingly familiarly flavoured with a feeling that it had all been done before and done better (in LOTR).
Finally I feel driven to point out the ludicrous physics demonstrated in the scene where Legolas avoids death by using falling masonry blocks as stepping stones. Perhaps the computers for this scene were powered by Newton spinning in his grave because as anyone with a basic knowledge of his laws, or who saw Mythbusters try and recreate Stallone’s death defying run and leap from the collapsing rope bridge in Cliffhanger, knows it’s impossible. Yes, Legolas is an elf, and yes perhaps Middle Earth has different physics, but really?
Now I have reached the pinnacle of pickiness I will bid you all adieu (just going to check the release date of the Director’s Cut box set on Bluray because, hypocrite that I am, I will be buying it…)