So I finally got around to seeing The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies. As is my custom with movies that are currently in theatres, I’m going to skip the full review and just give a few comments and observations.
Now, despite the fact that the movie is based on a book that’s 77 years old, and the outcome has to be essentially the same for the original trilogy to work, I’ve received complaints about spoilers while discussing this movie among my friends. To avoid that with y’all, the comments and observations will begin below the fold, in no particular order.
1) As one of my friends with whom I saw this movie observed, this was far and away the best of the three. If they had edited the first two movies into one and then released this one, there would be far less hate for the prequels.
2) I was a bit annoyed that Astrid, the Laketown Weasel, got neither comeuppance nor redemption. I thought he’d just got away with it all. Then I was reminded of the fate of the Master of Laketown in the book. Note that as he loads himself down with gold and heads off into the Wild, he packs no food or water…
3) Another interesting observation from the friend with whom I watched the movie: in The Hobbit, the orcs and goblins have their own nations, kings, mercenary companies, etc. In The Lord of The Rings, they’re undifferentiated cogs in Sauron’s machine. The Shadow destroys everything…especially its followers.
4) Another thought in re. the orcs: this trilogy, especially this movie, did a very good job of making the orcs hateful and villainous in their own right, rather than merely being the pawns of greater forces. Personally, I can only think of two orcs that stood out at all as individuals in the first trilogy – Lurtz in Fellowship, and Gothmog in Return of the King. Lurtz, you almost admire for his sheer badass. No other single orc was even close to a challenge for our heroes in the entire rest of the series, and he got to pull a lot of stunts that are usually limited to protagonists. Gothmog didn’t have nearly the same personal power, but he was the kind of guy who waited until the last second to step out of the way of a catapult-thrown boulder, then spat on it. They tried to make us hate him by having him stab Faramir’s aide de camp while the man was lying helpless on the ground, but honestly, that was nothing more than a coup de grace. He was a dead man anyway. Rather merciful for an orc, really. In contrast, Azog and Bolg’s sadistic glee at killing their victims in front of helpless loved one’s eyes made you want to see them die a lot. This was necessary, really, because they were the only true villains of the piece. Smaug, for all his cruelty and greed, has no agenda. Intelligent or not, he’s still just a monster. Sauron is too much of an impersonal force of nature to hate properly. In the end, it’s Azog’s schemes that drive the plot.
5) One final thought re. the orcs: it’s interesting to see how Tolkien orcs are different from their literary descendants in that they are not stupid. The weapons and armor they forge are high-quality, the “medicine” they pour down Merry’s throat in Two Towers really is just that (and effective, too), and in this movie Azog is not only a good strategist, but develops an ingenious system for signaling to his officers in the field. To say nothing of the trap he lays for Thorin & co. Fortunately, his berserk aggression betrays him more than once. Imagine if he’d had the sense to wait until the humans, dwarves and elves had depleted each others’ numbers.
6) …which leads me to another thought. Gandalf mentions several times the strategic importance of Erebor, and it does prove to be key to the War of the Ring. I’ve often considered just how fortunate the free peoples were that two of the most powerful creatures of Morgoth remaining in Middle Earth were killed before they could come into play. Imagine how the War of the Ring would have turned out if the Balrog of Moria had still been alive to serve as a general for Sauron, and Smaug as a living siege engine.
7) The Battle of Dol Guldur was one of the best parts in the movie, to my mind. It’s awesome to see some of the most powerful Big Goods in Middle Earth turned loose to show us what they can really do. Should have stayed dead, indeed. Saruman once again demonstrates, as Gandalf so regularly does, that the Istari are angelic spirits in the shape of old men, not actually burdened with the Doom of Man. They did a reasonably good job of covering up the fact that, for most of that action, there was a stunt double standing in for Christopher Lee (who is, after all, an actual old man – though he could’ve done great things with that scene in his youth).
8) It looked beautiful, but the elves really would have been better off shooting over that dwarf shield-wall instead of jumping over it. All that beautiful discipline on both armies’ parts, and they throw it away to dive into a melee where the orcs have the advantage.
9) Thranduil gives us a good example of how an eternally youthful being can become a bitter old man. Interesting thought: other than the facial burns, Elrond has suffered losses and hardships very similar to Thranduil’s without allowing himself to become so hardened.
10) *Azog and Thorin fight.* *Thorin pays attention to his surroundings while Azog loses himself in a berserk rage.* *Thorin stops fighting.* *Thorin steps back.* *Azog goes into the lake.* Too bad that canon decrees Thorin had to die, or that would have been just too perfect.
11) A funny story from a friend who also saw the movie recently: Nerd Parent Moment #45640 – Christmas Week, we all went to see “The Hobbit – The Battle of Five Armies”, (her daughter) included. When Radagast the Brown showed up the first time, (she) screamed quietly, “LOOK! LOOK! – It’s Sylvester McCoy – The Doctor is SAVING GANDALF!”
Bless the child.
And that ends the era of Tolkien Cinema. It’s a pity that it had to end on an “Eh, good enough” instead of an OMGAWESOME, but it could have been so much worse. I give it a 7/10. See it in the theatres, because some scenes need to be seen on the big screen.
Now let us all make our offerings to the Cinema Gods that they don’t try to do remakes.