The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies

I saw The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies last Saturday. I wasn’t disappointed by any means, although my personal reaction was somewhat bittersweet. In my opinion Jackson’s The Battle of the Five Armies tells a more compelling and better crafted story for the conclusion of The Hobbit than the book does, with all due respect to Tolkien. I wasn’t bothered by the addition of Tauriel and what happens emotionally between her and Kili–I liked it, in fact. It was forgivable at least, and think that it ultimately made for a more interesting tale. Also, the fuller development of Bard’s character, again for me, made for a better film–and also in my view a better story overall. Otherwise, the action was well paced. The choreography and CGI of the combat scenes and battles were topflight. The sets and monsters were well realized. The light bit of comedic fluff added via Alfrid’s character did no real harm; to add counterpoint to the heaviness of story was okay. All the performances were rock solid. In the book the lengthy standoff between the assembled armies is actually a weird and anticlimactic mess. So I think Jackson did a fine job of reworking and revitalizing it.

But for my own reasons the film made me rather sad. The experience of watching it carried a sense of loss. An enchanted thirteen year period of seeing such a great saga brought to life, filled with such magic and the stuff of dreams, is now concluded.

I think I noticed that feeling of loss most prominently while witnessing the final scene between Tauriel and Kili (I won’t spoil by posting it but you can probably find it on YouTube by now). Again, although I may be in the minority of Tolkien fans on this issue, I greatly enjoyed what Jackson did with Tauriel and Kili. I could not help but notice that the Tauriel and Kili romance echoes back onto the relationship between Aragorn and Arwen in the LotR films. Both those relationships involve a love that seems utterly doomed from the start. The two relationships are also similar in being experienced as dream-like to the characters themselves (it is so referenced by them in both cases), and in various ways their romances involve the loss of a world. I guess the associations I’m making may be a bit loose: but the filming of Tolkien’s Hobbit/LotR saga before Jackson took it on seemed highly improbable, and until CGI impossible (something I once assumed I would likely never see successfully accomplished); and it is of course a romantic, enchanted world that Tolkien created for us. In any event, those romantic themes must have resonated with the sense of loss I’m talking about for the series of films and what it meant to me as a fan.

Ah well. But who knows. Perhaps the Tolkien estate will one day grant the rights for The Silmarillion to be filmed. I just don’t want for the experience to end. :-)

I’ll add in closing that as I write this I’m reminded of just how much I enjoyed Arwen in addition to Tauriel in these films. Both are healer and protector spirits, in addition to Tauriel being a great warrior. Arwen’s and Tauriel’s use of healing and protective magics in the films was so stirring; and the sheer music of the elven language is just beautiful. Here are my favorite scenes with those two characters (the final scene between Tauriel and Kili would be included but at this writing there is not a good quality link for it):

An addendum:

To continue with the theme of the Five Armies evoking a sense of loss about both trilogies coming to an end–and then reflecting upon the body of films as a whole–there are so many wonderful things to point out about the entire film saga that it’s hard to know where to begin.

One of the greatest pleasures of the entire film experience was the excellent casting and performances. The standouts for me: Andy Serkis as Gollum, Sean Astin as Sam, Ian Mckellen as Gandalf, Martin Freeman as Bilbo, Orlando Bloom as Legolas, and Benedict Cumberbatch as Smaug. (As mentioned, Liv Tyler as Arwen and Evangeline Lily as Tauriel are for me also in this tier.). In the next tier for me Elijah Wood as Frodo, Viggo Mortensen as Aragorn, Christopher Lee as Saruman, Billy Boyd as Pippin, Dominic Monaghan as Merry,  Richard Armitage as Thorin, Adain Tuner as Kili, Ken Scott as Balin, and Luke Evans as Bard were all wonderful. The other main character castings all felt slightly amiss for how I pictured the characters internally, even if the actors did a fine job. Although I would add that in the case of Viggo Mortensen as Aragorn, although he was very different from how I pictured the character from the books his performance did eventually win me over. Also, I would have preferred Tobey Maguire as Frodo; but Elijah Woods did a superb job. None of the dwarves in The Hobbit, including Thorin, are well defined as literary characters, so this was pretty much up to Jackson to realize according to his own artistic vision. He did it well enough.

There is so much to reflect upon for all six films as a body of work, that I could go on and on. I’ll guess I’ll just note that as a director and storyteller Peter Jackson succeeded brilliantly in this adaptation of the saga to film. The books are their own medium–and if I want to experience the story in that pristine form I will read them! The medium of film requires that adjustments be made in terms of selecting which story elements are the most important to depict (within the medium), and how to pace the action. Jackson did this about as well as anyone could hope, I think. Realistically, working within the structure of how films are marketed today there was no way that the saga was going to be filmed other than as an epic blockbuster. And working within that framework Jackson did a magnificent job.

The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies