Wednesday, December 31, 2014

On Hobbits

It has been a couple weeks now, and a lot of people have talked about it, and our group has weighed in on it, including our resident Tolkien expert, John Rateliff. But be warned - this has spoilers within, great and small, regarding the conclusion of The Hobbit films from Peter Jackson, The Battle of Five Armies. Some you've seen before, elsewhere, from others, but these thoughts a mine and belong to me. And in general, I liked the film.

There, I think I've gotten past the amount that gets cut and filled for other platforms. Let us get down to business.

1) I think it is pretty clear that Movie 2 (Desolation of Smaug) and Movie 3 (Battle of Five Armies) should be viewed as one film. One 6 hour film, where you get to get to break for lunch in the middle of it. You are dropped into the middle of a film - no background, no flashbacks. Smaug is descending on Lake Town and Gandalf is held prisoner by the Necromancer. Boom. There you are. If this is your first Hobbit movie, you'll be more than a might confused. And that's OK, as long as you know what you're getting into. We don't get an expositional character summarizing the story so far or a narration. I'm good for that.

2) By the same token, you do feel like you've come into the films a couple reels in. The pacing is definitely that of the middle part of the movie, that the characters are established, the basic goals and motivations are laid out, and all that results are pulling off the reveals and resolving matters.

3) And to that end, Smaug dies fifteen minutes in. I did mention spoilers, didn't I? Yeah, it fits with the timeline for the book, but after two movies of how powerful Smaug is, he's not even the big bad for this one. Sort of a Boba Fett ending for him. You never get the feeling he lived up to his potential.

4) And speaking of big bads, who IS the bad guy of this film? The Necromancer, who is chased off about half-way through the film? Or the two orc leaders, Sword-Arm-Orc and Orc-with-Metal-Plate-In-His-Head? The sense of greed that turns Thorin against the others?

5) Taking down my copy of the Hobbit, Movie one was about 100 pages, Movie two was 100 pages, and this movie covers the last 50 pages. Yeah, we're looking at padding.

6) And you can see the padding. There are a lot of repeated sequences (Bard rescues his family, Thorin yells at people trying to help him, Bard gives Alfrid a task, and he immediately shirks it). And the battle sequences of "character-facing-certain-destruction-but-suddenly-someone-you-had-forgotten-about-arrives-to-rescue-them" actually get wearing after a while.

7) Let's be frank - most of the movie is the battle, and staging a single battle is tough - a lot of sides, a lot of protagonists. Let's give points for the attempt. But one of the reasons for the frequent swoops into Thorin's mindset and comic relief, and Bard's family is to make it more than just cgi animation of orcs and elves fighting. But it feels weird to have so much of this happening in the midst of battle.

8) The bulk of the film feels like a game of Warhammer miniatures. Part of that is because of some of the visual source material - in the early seventies, Workshop was selling LotR miniatures, and the tall-helmetted, metal skirted elves were part of the look. So yeah, this is part of the Tolkien property but it feels like Workshop. At least the orcs weren't green, but that may be Warcraft thing these days.

9) Yeah, the whole pacing of the battle does feel weird, but remember that Tolkien passed over much of this by keeping the focus tight on Bilbo (and Bilbo unconscious for part of it). We have the dwarves in the mountain. Then the humans reoccupy Dale Town. Then elves show up, surprising both groups. Then the dwarf army shows up, surprising the elf army. Then the goblins show up from underground, surprising all previous groups, then the Gundabad orcs show up to hammer the exhausted allied armies, but THEN the Eagles show up to handle the orcs.

10) But I will admit it makes me amused to see that Radaghast gets the final "And then a new group comes to rescues the others" sequence. He's like the final closed parenthesis.

11) Did it feel like Dale Town got bigger in its architecture as the movie went on? It was ruins, but it seemed to get taller and more impressive over the course of the attack.

12) I've got a new game, called: "What can Legolas ride?" Can he ride a shield down the stairs? Yes he can. Can he ride a manbat of Gundabad? Yes he can. Can he ride a siege troll? Yes he can. Can he ride a disintegrating tower? Yes. Yes he can. Is there anything this elf cannot ride?

13) Oh, and elves are apparently stronger than stone itself. Tauriel takes a battering but survives. Legolas literally smashes apart the tower in his battle. This may be the original source of the problem between elves and dwarves. The dwarves wanted to use the elves as battering rams.

14) Orcs, on the other hand, are 1 minus 1 HD. Bilbo could take them out with a rock. With. A. Rock. But apparently they level up fast.

15) I know this is a minor point, but where the heck did Thorin and company get the battle rams? I know that's a gnat to strain at when, moments before, the dwarven army, driven to the brink by the orcs, suddenly gets rallied by the appearance of twelve reinforcements. But it was a big question in my office.

16) And the entire Dead-Orc-Beneath-The-Ice sequence? Did it remind anyone else of Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction?

17) Tauriel lives through the film, which surprised me at first blush, then made sense. We had Fili and Kili dying from the book, their deaths being a big part of the movie. We needed someone to directly morn them. One of our group mentioned that they could do the "ongoing adventures of Tauriel" as a result, but I think that unlikely.

18) And let me give Jackson points for wrapping things up with one ending. Even with previous movies in the series, I figured it would end two or three times before it did. This one ends when it ends, even if it does have to do a tie-in to the later LOTR. OK, Jackson gets that one.

19) And there was a character named Tosser Grubb in Hobbiton, according to the credits. No relation.

20) And when is all said and done, I think would like more Hobbit in my Hobbit. Bilbo sort of hit his high point in the last film, and is reduced to worrying about Thorin and delivering warnings here. In the book as in the film, he is knocked out a critical moment, so in the novel we don't have to work through all the boring parts of a battle. Of course, we the viewer still get to be a part of the battle in the film.

In the end, I enjoyed it, but it was tied to the fact the I had to rejigger some initial assumptions that were pretty clear at the beginning. This will probably fit better once everything is on DVD or viewable as a single experience, but as a film itself, it was a perfectly fine ending for the series.

More later,