The Battle of the Five Armies: my response

Note: the following is a copy of a post I made on www.hobbitmovieforum.com after seeing The Battle of the Five Armies on its first full day of release in the United States. I have not edited this because I feel the loose style (in part because I was ill at the time) gives a better approximation of my feelings about the film when I first saw it.

I’m too tired and sick to give a real review like I did for AUJ or DOS, so here are some stream-of-consciousness impressions.  I doubt I’ll feel up to writing a lengthy review of the film tomorrow or later since the main point of these response posts (for me) was to record my thoughts and feelings in the (more or less) immediate aftermath of having seen the film.

– It really should have been half a movie at most, but at least it was better than HP-DH2 [Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2], which in a just world wouldn’t have even been a third of a movie.

– There were a lot of parts, especially in the end, where it felt like they had a lot of material that they were deliberately saving for the EE in order to keep the running time of the theatrical cut low enough to satisfy critics.  I’m not sure whether this was a good decision or not.

– The opening scene of Smaug destroying Lake-town was really good.  Luke Evans impressed as Bard and whatsisface did a good job as Bain, too.  Arguably the highlight of the movie right off the bat.

– I agree [with another poster] that Bilbo got more attention here than he did in the theatrical cuts of either AUJ or DOS (at least after the first half of AUJ), which was very nice to see.  Freeman felt more Bilbo-ish here, too, despite the facial expressions.  I was glad he only had one brief montage of stabbing that I can recall offhand.

– Speaking of the battle though, I’m pretty sure it made up like two-fifths of the movie’s running time, so they really have no excuse for it being impossible to follow.  Bungo mentioned the geography being weird (and I think that Bilbo’s “which was is north” line was a very self-conscious insert), but that just scratches the surface.  The geography of the Erebor area doesn’t match the map that they showed in AUJ and again at the end of the film.  It seems like everything is “north” from Erebor even though that doesn’t fit the maps shown elsewhere in the series.  Erebor is not strategically located and has fuck-all to do with Rivendell, especially when Sauron had control of Dol Guldur.

– Dain was useless.  Forget the complaints about Beorn (though I still maintain that they should have cut him from the whole trilogy since PJ clearly had no use for him).  I can only imagine that they’re saving a scene or at least a mention of Dain becoming king for the EE, but it feels like his only purpose in the movie was to scream stereotypically Scottish slang.  Also, why is a guy who’s nickname is “Ironfoot” the only person in his entire goddamn army who rides into battle?

– I have mixed feelings about the dwarvish deaths at the end.  On the one hand, it’s nice to see a movie that has the balls to actually allow its characters to get hurt, much less die.  However, after all the ludicrous shit that the heroes survived up until that point, I couldn’t shake the feeling (even when watching the scene, with the music swelling up) that the only reason Azog was suddenly an effective fighter was authorial fiat.  It felt completely unearned; I’d say “out of the blue” except we all knew it was coming from the book, which I’m pretty sure is the only reason why PJ had those characters die.  Even though it didn’t mesh with their changed roles in the rest of the trilogy.

– Nuclear Galadriel Redux in Doggledoor probably annoyed me the most out of anything in the movie.  Forget how goofy it looks (though honestly; it makes her glowy moment in FOTR look perfectly tame).  I’ve maintained for years that including the Necromancer plot in The Hobbit marginalizes the main plot because it highlights how much Smaug and Erebor are ultimately a sidebar to the main historical thrust.  The movies tried to ameliorate this by making up ways for Erebor to be important and by giving the Dol Guldur stuff so little screentime, but this only obscures the odd questions, it doesn’t answer them.  But the trickiest issue is a problem entirely of their own making: how do you maintain tension in the outcome of a battle that’s taking place after the Big Bad who instigated the conflict already got kicked out of his HQ.  Previously, I speculated that the filmmakers might depict Dol Guldur and the BOFA as taking place concurrently, but instead they took the easier and more predictable route and just completely ignored the question by giving no mention of Galadriel and almost no mention of Sauron after their confrontation early in the film, even though both of them had been hyped up as major players in Middle-earth, and despite Legolas saying that everyone who was anyone was gonna pay attention to Erebor after Smaug’s death.

– I dunno.  There was plenty of good stuff in the films: mostly technical, though the music has grown on me a lot since AUJ (still doesn’t hold a candle to LOTR in my eyes, but it’s hard to compare it objectively due to the feelings attached to certain pieces of music).  The reuse of lines and musical cues from LOTR is pandering bullshit, though fortunately it didn’t seem to happen as much here as in the first two.  Almost all of the dwarves blend together: this time around Thorin, Balin, Dwalin, Fili, and Kili are the ones who get lines, the rest are almost completely indiscernible.  Yes, there was no easy way around this, but still; the filmmakers foisted those ridiculous costumes on us in the name of individualization, so they could have at least tried to do the same on the writing front.

– There were several moments where I did feel genuine emotion creeping in, though it’s hard to say how much of that was the film itself and how much of that was because of my investment in the source material and in the feeling of the “passing of an age” for the fandom, which has been a huge part of my life for the past six years.  I actually wasn’t latching on to that many stupid plot points as I was watching, although more are coming to mind now that I’m thinking about it.  I’m trying to not be unfair to the movie; for example, I really liked the opening scene, but I did roll my eyes at Bain dangling over the edge of the tower because that trope had been so overused in AUJ.  And you can’t really judge a film like this as a stand-alone work when it is, by design, so dependent on previously released films for any sense of identity.  For as interconnected as the LOTR films were, each film felt unique in its own way, but I didn’t really feel that about TH.  It really did just seem like one movie that was arbitrarily broken into multiple installments.

– Honestly I left the theatre feeling pretty positive, but if the pattern from the last two years holds, I will be considerably more negative about the film when I watch the EE in a year’s time, even if the EE brings with it numerous improvements.

– So yeah.  The Hobbit is now officially a thing that happened.  There was a while there in like 2010 where I didn’t think it would ever actually be released.  I’m glad it did though; not only did it help the forum grow, but it’s removed a lingering what-if that otherwise would have been eating away at some of us for decades.  As the release hype fades away and the pendulum of public (and fannish) opinion swings further and further away from PJ’s favor, I’m sure some people will try to argue that it was inevitable that TH would be a disappointment, just because it didn’t have the novelty factor that LOTR did.  To which the reply is and always should be: that’s only a problem if you try to make TH be as similar to LOTR as you can.

– I suspect that in 10-15 years, some teens and twenty-somethings who are too young now to have really paid attention to the movies will argue that there isn’t really a big difference in quality between LOTR and TH, just like some people currently argue that about the Star Wars prequels.  I hope that I will be able to engage in such discussions with grace and not just be an obnoxious grumpy old man.  But seriously.  The movies went out of their way to remind us of LOTR at nearly every turn, and they just don’t measure up.  I suppose that’s still a subjective opinion, though.  At least PJ’s statements that he doesn’t really care about the book have helped bring the argument about faithfulness into a grey area between opinion and fact.

– And now it’s over, probably not for the rest of my life, but quite plausibly until I’m well into middle age.  Even having known this was coming for years, I’m not sure I was ready for this.  Fuck.

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