The wrath of Tolkien, the majesty of Jackson, the fickleness of Fandom.
Wizard Peter Jackson concludes the movie trilogy that stole his baby fat. THE HOBBIT comes to a spectacular end – greed, fury, purity of heart and interspecies love – to the wonderment of appreciative moviegoers and the chagrin of sniveling purists.
THE HOBBIT: THE BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES is not for everyone. It’s not for people who enjoy well-made movies with sweeping cinematography, unbounded excitement, hero angles, evocative soundtrack and seamless CGI. (If you don’t want to see this kind of excellence – don’t go!) It’s also not for Hobbit fans who love touting their bona fides by citing every mismatched character name or location. (There are many divergences from the source material. You know this. Don’t go, only to complain about divergences from the source material.) It’s not for people who pretend a literary-to-filmic sophistication that would have us believe they could do a better job envisioning this monument than a master filmmaker (maybe you would have put that thing here and this thing there, but YOU deal with deadlines, unions, budgets, studio assfaces and people who pretend literary-to-filmic sophistication). And finally, it’s not for YOU. Go gripe somewhere else.
If, on the other hand, you love movies, as I do, and appreciate an all-encompassing cinematic experience created with a surfeit of sincerity, with its cast and crew driving for excellence in art, entertainment, and capitalistic gain, then by all means, I’ll meet you at the corner of wealth and damnation and we’ll enter Peter Jackson’s final HOBBIT chapter together, holding hands with dandelions braided through our hair…
Somewhere between that second and third paragraph lies THE HOBBIT: THE BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES…
Movie opens two seconds after THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG (2013): Dragon coming. Lake-town aflame. Tauriel hot.
Smaug retains a fearsome aspect not because he is a giant dragon (he speaks the King’s English as Benedict Cumberbatch, which makes him less scary), but because of the way he is “directed.” This is no cheap special effect flying across the screen and blowing fire, this is a swooping deranged spitfire belly-rolling vision in 360-degrees of thunderous airspace.
Who gives credit to the director for the wondrous way this beast is photographed? Well, certainly not those people from the first paragraph. Yes, computer artisans rendered this animal, but it was Jackson who held their reins.
Until Bard the bowman (Luke Evans, power mullet) twangs into Smaug’s heart the Dragon-Armor-Piercing arrow from the Plot Convenience Warehouse.
Bard’s son turns up to help him, against Bard’s warnings. He gets his wish, as Bard uses Son’s shoulder as the fulcrum upon which to balance the giant Dragon-Armor-Piercing arrow. Now it’s all very cinematic and poignant, but as Bard is aiming at the advancing dragon, all I could think was, Y’know, the tail stabilizers for an arrow that size would have to be so large and firm, they would take half of Son’s cheek off when Bard fires the arrow. Is this a “Sophie’s Choice” scene, where Bard must either save his son or save the town?
Uh, no, as the arrow is fired with nary a ripple in the boy’s Braveheart poo hairdo. And finds its mark. Against all the odds of having no tail stabilizers.
With Smaug dead, his stolen mountain of gold under Erebor is for the taking. Which Dwarf leader Thorin (Richard Armitage) immediately claims for himself, barricading this ancient Dwarf stronghold from the outside world. His contingent of waddling Dwarfs reluctantly humor his delusions of grandeur, whilst at his behest, searching in vain for one solitary jewel amongst the hoard, called the Arkenstone. However, Hobbit Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) has it in his Pocket Which Things Never Fall Out Of, and uses it as a bargaining chip to get more screentime. Thorin swoons over his gold, forsaking those less fortunate and condemning to death anyone with the bad taste to not be rich like him (aka Dragon Sickness, aka Mitt Romney Sickness). But… uh… guys, you’re sitting on a literal mountain of gold… with no dragon to guard it anymore…
Any wonder everyone wants a piece of that bitch?
1) Bard the dragonslayer, who comes a-knockin on Erebor’s fortress, seeking his promised recompense on behalf of Lake-town, for giving the Dwarfs haven. Also needing those riches to rebuild, not that it’s anyone’s fault the Dragon fried their homes (cough–totally Dwarfs’ fault–)
2) Supermodel Elf king Thranduil (Lee Pace, whose character name is Elvish for “Men will be strangely attracted to me”) wants his share to buy hair products for his army of blondes.
3) Dain (Billy Connolly) a Glaswegian Dwarf who leads an army of drunks that just want a pint and some bangers. Dain’s specialty is shouting and headbutting, which is no acting stretch for Billy Connolly, as I’m sure this was a regular occurrence backstage after many of his standup shows.
4) Azog the Annoying, who leads the Orc army of Special Effects and wants to kill everyone just because.
5) Bolg, Azog’s ambiguously gay Burt Ward, who brings his psycho circus of goblins from Gundabad (which is the sound a Russian makes when he sneezes), and wants to kill everyone else. Just because also.
AS ONE MIGHT GUESS… the focus in this movie is completely off the title character and the One Ring he secretly carries in his pocket, that will cause so much agita a short time hence… Aside from a couple of plot points, Hobbit Bilbo Baggins is forgotten for the most part. But I’m not complaining, just observing a fact. This is a differently toned movie from its predecessors. Fer cryin out loud, it’s called THE BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES – and guess what happens? Five. Armies. Battle. No false advertising, no bait and switch. And the most amazing part: it never gets confusing. The director tracks all the action with a jeweler’s eye. Liam Neeson battles five guys in any TAKEN movie and our eyeballs spin at the try-hard directing. Here, five armies are pitted against each other and we never lose focus. Peter Jackson helms this sprawling battle atlas with an iron fist (with good ole Andy Serkis (Kong, Gollum, Caesar) as 2nd Unit Director!). And he is well aware that the gung-ho is only exciting because we care about all the characters stressing for oxygen within its framework; in, around and through this mighty fracas, each character’s emotional arc is given weight and played out artfully.
Thorin, steeped in madness, connects with Bilbo in a beautiful moment of clarity, where Bilbo pulls out an acorn, which he will “plant when he gets home,” so that every time he looks at that tree, he will remember his adventures. At this stage, Thorin is so insane, we imagine he might blame the acorn on the Democrats winning the White House in 2008 – but the barest of smiles crosses his lips, and we see the handsome king that Thorin truly is, underneath the Obama Derangement Syndrome.
Director/co-writer Jackson and writers Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens and Guillermo del Toro insert many such moments, tugging at our hearts and tear ducts. These many character embellishments separate FIVE ARMIES from the average B-movie dustup. What could have devolved into fighting-as-padding is truly a movie of pure moments interspersed with eye-candy choreography.
The badass Legolas returns!
Though Legolas (Orlando Bloom) does not appear in the book The Hobbit, we have seen him portrayed in these HOBBIT movies unlike the Legolas we grew to man-love in THE LORD OF THE RINGS movies; here, he is merely the clinical archer, with a cold affection for Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly) and a penchant for weird contact lenses. But that square-jawed swinger that brought down the elephant in RETURN OF THE KING (2003) is back! When he is not cockblocking Kili (Aidan Turner), he is swaggering through action sequences that make us braid dandelions through our hair. He is at the top of a tower overlooking a chasm that he needs to breach. No problem, as he characteristically squares that jaw and leaps onto a giant troll, shish-kebabs the troll through the top of its head and “guides” its stumbling death throes to head-butt the tower, which falls across the chasm and bridges it! What a badass!
Anyone with a smidgeon of evolutionary knowledge will wonder at the Disneyfied “love affair” between Tauriel (an Elf) and Kili (a Dwarf). Firstly, these are not biological “humans” – their differences are not analogous to, say, Chinese and Russians; Elves and Dwarfs seem separated at a higher taxonomic level, more along the lines of Rick Santorum’s man on dog analogy. And if so, they cannot interbreed. If their chromosomes are incompatible, they would not even be attracted to one another. (Their attraction should thus be classified as “deviant.” Ask Rick Santorum. But he probably loves these movies, which shows what an ignorant hypocrite he is.)
If they are on the same species line, then sociological aspects would come into play: the female is larger and a fiercer warrior than the male, so she doesn’t require him for protection; she is self-sufficient, so doesn’t require him as provider; she is prettier (only just!), so no leaning on him for visual status, and even if she looked to him for social status (he is ascendant to the Dwarf throne; she a lowly silvan elf), she couldn’t possibly benefit from his throne as he would be kicked to the Mirkwood curb if he took a she-elf for a queen. How could this possibly be a two-way street? It would seem natural that HE would lust after HER greenery, but why on Middle Earth would she crave his stubby knob?
And even if we accept their unnatural, irrational attraction, why would Tauriel weep so inconsolably over Kili’s death, when they had never taken it to the next level – never taken it to any level other than sensuous whispering? Yet even through this weeping scene, which bleeds naiveté, we perceive the grand storytelling arc that was achieved. Thranduil had earlier mocked Tauriel’s “love” for the Dwarf, almost messing up his hair in his anger. Now, as she laments, “If this is love, I don’t want it! Why does it hurt so much?” his reply shows his heartfelt realization, “Because the love was real.” A recant of his earlier stance, and a testament to his understanding hair.
The badass from all the other Middle Earth films, Gandalf (Ian McKellen) has no such scene-stealing here, and suffers the same fate as the underused Hobbit. Galadriel (Cate Blanchett) shines as a powerhouse, repulsing Sauron from a rocky knoll, along with Hugo Weaving (hero angles) and Christopher Lee (Famous Last Words).
2 hours, 20 minutes long, yet before we know it, FIVE ARMIES is rolling through its three endings. One very emotional, one very connected to LORD OF THE RINGS, and one very Thranduil.
I got one question for J.R.R. Tolkien: Why the hell are there giant Eagles in Middle Earth? Except to use as deus ex machinae whenever Tolkien runs his heroes into a dead end. As in all Middle Earth movies, the Eagles suddenly turn up before the three endings and wipe the floor with everyone who isn’t a good guy. In three seconds flat. Why don’t they turn up when they’re needed most – like before the battle starts? Before all that blood and gore? Before cities fall and towers topple? Why don’t they ever fly our heroes all the way where they need to go? And what the hell could be SO IMPORTANT to keep these hubristic birdassholes from doing all of the above?
Are the Eagles aware that Gandalf and his charges are trying to make Middle Earth a better place by warding off evil? Their role has always been portrayed as a simplistic Get Out Of Jail Free card – and not one jot more. A whole book needs to be written on why the Eagles are so unutterably lazy – or maybe I’m missing the bigger picture. Maybe such powerful beings – let’s face it, THE most powerful beings in Middle Earth – are busy conquering evil at their higher level of power. And we can only imagine what world-crushing forces keep them from flying Thorin’s Dwarfs all the way to Erebor, hinder them from saving Helm’s Deep, or providing a round-trip first-class ticket for Frodo and Sam to Mount Doom. Can we even imagine the intensity of the creatures they must be battling? Fiercer than Nazgul and bigger than Balrogs, city-sized dragons and soul-destroying demons— what? Just lazy? Hanging around watching cartoons all day? Birdholes!
I still remember a time when the likes of Peter Jackson’s series of films (which have miles more credibility than the HARRY POTTERs or TWILIGHTs, and are far removed from the STAR WARS prequel debacles) would have stunned audiences into lauding him as a Kubrick; instead, the democratization of the interwebs has given the snivelers, the ungreased wheels, the platform to spew their faux-sophistication in unbridled ignorance. With unconscionable spelling. I don’t remember a time in history when such a great film was lambasted with such vitriol for no good reason. I would say to the snivelers what Emma Stone tells Michael Keaton in BIRDMAN: You’re doing this because you’re scared to death, like the rest of us, that you don’t matter. And you know what? You’re right. You don’t.
My final recommendation for the majestic epic THE HOBBIT: THE BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES: Don’t see it. You’ll just complain.