The Hobbit was my introduction into the realm of Middle Earth. In Fourth Grade my very good friend Mark and I had been reading the Redwall series, and he suggested I read The Hobbit. I had no idea what a Hobbit was and I was initially not very interested. When I finally got around to reading it, my mind and heart we captured by what I read. Tolkien, this weird guy with three initials for a first name, took me to a world where fantastical beasts, epic journeys, and magical rings abounded. There were orcs, goblins, trolls, dwarves, skin-changers, big spiders, scary wights, and other things that exploded any category for fantasy I thought I had before. Shortly after that I read The Lord of the Rings and my world was never the same again.
Peter Jackson’s adaptation of The Hobbit was met by me with cautious optimism. The Lord of the Rings had been so good and been cinematic perfection. The Return of the King is by far one of the best movies of all-time. When The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey came out, I liked it more than I thought I was going to. I was introduced to all my favorite dwarves and they were given faces and cool outfits and Bilbo was funny and witty and reluctant. I could have done without all the added Azog stuff, but I actually liked the side story of Gandalf and the Necromancer, since I had always wondered and longed for that story to be fleshed out. When The Desolation of Smaug came out, I began to worry. Why was the movie not about Bilbo? Why is Legolas in his movie? Who the crap is Turiel and why is she falling in love with Kili? Why were the Beorn scenes so short? What I read in the stories and what I imagined it being like began to diverge greatly with what was being put on the screen. I was still optimistic that the main story could continue and the thread of what Tolkien wrote would remain.
I hoped The Battle of the Five Armies, a battle which was mostly up to Jackson to portray since the book does not focus much time on it, would be a climax that we could all appreciate and love and would tie up new and old storylines in a satisfying part three. This is the cautious optimism I continued to carry as I drove to the theater to see the movie. I don’t think I could have been any more disappointed. It was bad story treatment, terrible direction, and disinterested acting. My heart grieves writing that sentence.
*minor spoilers for those not sending me hate mail*
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies starts up with Smaug attacking Lake-town and absolute chaos reigns. Turiel and a few of the Dwarven company are desperately trying to escape the carnage, as is Bard and his family. I won’t spoil exactly what happens for those of you who have not read the books, but let’s just say that Smaug will not be participating in the Battle of the Five Armies. After that ten to fifteen minutes in Lake-town, the title credit rolls and the movie kicks off as forces amass from different directions and there is growing contention over the treasure inside the mountain. Elves, Dwarves, and Orcs, oh my! We’re treated to tons of visually stimulating CGI effects and some battle scenes that are intense and have some cool moments.
What I was not prepared for was how much I absolutely HATED this movie. I’m sorry to those of you who have seen it already and like it, but all the problems that I had with The Desolation of Smaug are only compounded in this movie. First of all, the story treatment. Yet again, “The Hobbit” is more like a secondary character in the film and had important parts, but it is NOT about him. It makes me so sad but it is keeping with the “LOTR’ing” of The Hobbit. The whole tone of this trilogy is wrong, in my opinion, and misses what The Hobbit was actually about. There was opportunity to dig so deep into the characters of Bilbo and Thorin, but instead we trade all that for a couple major sequences of Bilbo and a lot of Thorin growling and mumbling about gold and the Arkenstone. So unbelievably frustrating!
Second, the filmmaking. Lazy, lazy, lazy! The fight scenes had some good parts, but mostly in was unbelievably boring and seemed pointless. Even the editing seemed off and really made the whole battle sequences (which honestly lasted most of the movie) seem off kilter and non-sequential. It’s probably why there was a bunch of characters narrating the action beats so that we didn’t lose track of what the crap was going on. What was even dumber was how a BATTLE of FIVE ARMIES devolved into a bunch of hero battles that do not fit the narrative of the battle, at all. It was like all the characters were fighting for screen-time and got equal treatment or they were all so boring they had to keep cutting to a new dwarf/elf/human. And why do you start a movie with the end of the last one? And then ushering out the awesome character of Smaug in such an unceremonious fashion? It needed to be a lot cooler than it was.
Lastly, the acting, the sheer agony of the characters, and, oh yeah, the acting! It jumped the shark for me when Turiel spit out a line that seemed straight out of George Lucas’ second draft of the Revenge of the Sith script. It was at that moment that I wrote, “Turiel is the worst.” And as I mentioned previously, Thorin just seemed to growl and tried to be channeling Gollum? It was incredibly confusing and the complete wrong direction for his “dragon sickness”. Not sure if that is a script problem or an acting issue, but it was bad. Every elf seemed to be trying to channel Hugo Weaving as Elrond but none of them could pull it off, not even Orlando Bloom, who probably got to hang out with Hugo Weaving a lot in the LOTR movies. Did I mention there were 13 dwarves and I can still barely tell them apart? *groan*
The Hobbit had such an opportunity to be a story about adventure, heroism, life, death, greed, forgiveness, justice, tyranny, tribalism, and more, but it fumbled at almost every opportunity. I can now see why Tolkien’s son and grandson have basically described Jackson as raping and pillaging Middle Earth to tell his own story. The problem is that the story Jackson told us was bloated, watered down, and tonally off-putting. The Battle of the Five Armies happens to be the full blossoming of everything that is wrong with Jackson’s trilogy.
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies is in theaters starting today, December 17th.
Directed by: Peter Jackson
Starring: Ian McKellan, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage
Rated PG-13 (for extended sequences of intense fantasy action violence, and frightening images)