Tales of Rings & Hobbits

The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies (Peter Jackson, 2014)

Its hard to put into words great filmmaking because you feel that any description our mere mortal languages could use to describe it wouldn’t do justice. Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings Trilogy is, at least in my estimation, the greatest trilogy ever put to film. it was shot continuously, one chapter after another, and released in 3 years (2001 – 2003). Tolkien’s masterpiece novels had come to life on the screen with imagination, haunting atmospherics, brilliant visuals, incredible music by Howard Shore, and a cast of actors who were absolutely perfect for their roles. It wasn’t just a directorial feat, there was a genuine construct in the creation of Lord of the Rings which brought all the right pieces together at the right time. One of the most important questions any film director should ask him/herself is “Why this movie now?” There seemed to be a legitimate answer to that for Jackson’s trilogy because every working part fit in with everything else. All the gears, the nuts and bolts were in place and the mechanism churned beautifully. It was as incredible a feat of teamwork, engineering, and technology as it was an incredible feat of art.

This begs the question, what could possibly have been a sufficient answer to the question “Why this movie now?” for Jackson’s The Hobbit Trilogy? Or, rather than emphasizing the now, we need to emphasize the WHY. Why did this need to be three movies? Why did they need to bring back Legolas? Why did there need to be a romance between the elf (Tauriel, who doesn’t even exist in Tolkien’s world) and dwarf Killi? Why in 3D? Why such awful dialogue? Why stretch the storylines to such thin lengths? These questions are inevitable because Tolkien’s “The Hobbit” was just one book. Moreover, it was written as a bedtime story for children. Imagine somebody taking “Jack and the Beanstalk” and trying to make three 3-hour movies out of it. Hold that thought… I think I heard Pixar’s writers whispering and nodding to each other.

The authenticity of Jacksons creations became strained, uninspired, and un-genuine with the Hobbit films. The goal was no longer bringing Tolkein’s creation to life. The goal became bringing money into wallets. There is a reason why people respected the idea of Chris Nolan being only interested in making a single trilogy for his Dark Knight films, it brought a sense of genuine interest from the filmmaker himself in the project. With restricting himself to 3 films and developing them through a deep-rooted thought process in the mythology’s origins and politics, Nolan made something special. Jackson did too, when he made Lord of the RingsThe Hobbit was something Jackson was sort of consorted into. There were several other filmmakers interested in the project, but a fan-poll online and several petitions coerced Jackson into considering himself as the eventual helmer. Since then the series went from 1 film to 2, and then finally 3.

The Hobbit Trilogy is good in parts, it shows creativity and ingenuity in taking dark subjects and translating them into a more kid’s themed ride. Desolation of Smaug was for me, the best of the trilogy because it employed what Jackson does best… action set pieces, adventure sequences, and one on one battles. The entire movie worked as a roller-coaster ride and much of the emotional cheesiness was left out. For Lord of the Rings, dialogue and emotive sequences between characters worked because it was based on the depth of Tolkein’s mythology and his character interplay. In The Hobbit novel, the dialogues are sparse and the narrative moves rather quickly, so to fill sequences with characters talking to each other in the movies would be repetitive filler. This is where Battle of the Five Armies falters for the most part. Much of the movie is taken from ideas outside of the book. Most of the dialogue and the narrative in general was simply a combination of Jackson’s own filler material and something the studios taped together to make a “riveting finale”. It was clear from the get go that there wasn’t really enough material left for the filmmakers to make something dense, so instead we get a string of inspirational speeches, characters just looking at each other with big beady eyes and fight scenes. The fight scenes are the only thing out of these which felt authentic in any way, but even as times passed and I had to sit through endless sequences of literally the same thing happening over and over again: somebody drops their sword, about to get killed, but boom… another character comes in to save them at the last second. Who the hell is ever surprised by this anymore? Who finds this exciting? I was surprised myself to find a film with such a hyped up and large battle scene to be a chore and a slog to the finish line.

In the end, it was clear with Battle of the Five Armies that Jackson had no other goal than to make this another Lord of the Rings trilogy, when it was clearly meant to be something else. He tried to make a 5 course meal out of ingredients from a vending machine when really, this would have worked better as an afternoon snack. Makes you wonder how good The Hobbit could have been if it were just ONE movie.