I am by no means a Tolkien fan-boy.
I have never been able to make it past around page 200 of Fellowship of the Ring, I have never read the Silmarillion, and I am pretty sure all swords in the universe are an ancient elvish blade. However, I love Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, I have made it all the way through the Hobbit, and I have enjoyed the first two installments of the movie franchise thus far. I have never expected them to surpass the originals with which I fell so madly in love. But, I was beyond excited for The Battle of Five Armies that premiered last week. The Hobbit trilogy had been following the template set forth by the original trilogy. The first one painstakingly lays all of the foundation that you could possibly imagine. The second one has amazing fight scenes, and sets the stage for the final blow that will be nothing short of spectacular. In the words of the newly castrated Thorin, “I have never been so wrong in all my life.”
Spoilers will probably be ahead. In my frustration, they are probably gonna slip, but I will try to be tame.
This was simply put, a very frustrating experience for me. Middle Earth movies have never been about the fights for me. I did not realize that sentiment until seeing this movie and watching the marathon of a fight scene that possessed this entire movie. I have read it timed out at around forty-five minutes, but someone could have told me that it was twice that long, and I would have accepted it as fact and been none the wiser. I could rattle through the hundreds of nit-picky problems that I had with this movie, but that seems counter-productive and none of it changes the fact that when Bilbo — who had gotten what seemed like about ten minutes of screen time until the end of the movie — returned to the Shire, I was swept away in a river of emotions without an amazingly sturdy barrel to keep me afloat.
My tormented love affair with this movie began when the first trailer was released at this year’s Comic-Con. Snippets of the fight scene, and pretty much all of the movie’s dialogue was woven together with Pippin’s song from Return of the King. If their is one way to pull at my heart strings, let loose that beautiful eerie falsetto verse, and you’ve got me hooked. Dang. I just watched that scene again. It is perfect.
So, kudos to the marketing department for this movie, because that piece of fan service got me good. However, I did not realize that was going to be a major selling point of the movie. When dwarves, elves, men, and orcs weren’t beating each-others brains in with every bit of flair and creativity imaginable, Jackson was reminding us of what trilogy for which this movie was blazing the trail. Take this next sentence seriously, because I am a Marvel fan-boy (a franchise that has made fan service its lifeblood): I got sick of all the tips of the hat to the original trilogy. Whether it was Thorin “Golluming” over the Arkenstone, Galadriel screaming “You shall not pass!” (at which point I almost left the theater), or Thranduil telling his son Legolas to go look for a young man who goes by “Strider.” According to every timeline I can find, Aragorn was born in 2931, ten years before the Battle of Five Armies, and seventy years before the events of Fellowship of the Ring. Now, this brings forth a whole host of problems I have with how long people are living in this universe, but never mind that, did this Ranger have that big of rep at age 10? That’s some crazy street cred for a dude who can still sing in key with Carrie Underwood. Not to mention, Aragorn ends up dying at 210 years old. I’m gonna pretend that means all aspects of aging are slowed in Middle Earth, and he was the equivalent of around four or five years old at this point. I’m probably gonna get a lot of hate for that, but I’m just trying to express my frustration at some of the junk that was thrown in the this movie just for the hell of it. The story of the Hobbit is obviously not as epic or amazing as that of the Lord of the Rings, but it certainly does not need the latter as a crutch for success. This is a very interesting story that teaches the dangers of war and greed, and it became a final cashing in of all the success or a completely different tale. I was excited to see this movie become successful in its own right, and it simply cannot stand alone.
This lack of independence could probably be blamed on an utter lack of focus. The previous two movies had done their job in laying a foundation for the climax of this tale, delivering us several well-established characters, however the complete lack of a plot and reliance on characters who we had not received any information about up to this point made the movie seem haphazardly thrown together. The best example of this was the amount of screen time that the comic relief, Alfrid received. The cowardly second-hand man to the quickly dispatched master of Laketown received a shocking amount of time to prove over and over that he was a coward. The shtick was run into the ground incessantly and I had grown tired of it by about the second or third iteration. However, Jackson was undeterred, and continued to give him more and more screen time reinforcing how out of touch this movie seemed to be with the book or any of the previous installments in the series.
And, what of the characters that we know, love and craved more of? Uninspired performances unfortunately riddled the headlining cast. Most regrettably, it seemed as if Ian McKellan was fatigued beyond return. His performance held none of the quirk, knowing calm, or passion that had been such a staple for so long. Don’t get me wrong, I honestly don’t think it was his fault. Every character with any amount of grit and conflict was neutered to make more time for the monumental bar fight. Thorin’s internal conflict was solved by a psychedelic run-in with a floor of gold. Smaug’s treachery was brushed aside with frighting ease, and with an unsettling lack of fanfare. Jackson squeezed just enough Bilbo in the movie to still call the movie The Hobbit, and Legolas was in the movie only to show us that despite all of the advances in CG and special effects, they can still be butchered and overdone with ease.
While the lack of passion and plot made Five Armies cringe-worthy at points, the part about this movie that displeased me the most is how I hated myself for hating it the entire time. So many times I thought, “Don’t be so critical. What is missing? It has all the pieces of a great Middle Earth tale.” And that is the crux of my disappointment. The exoskeleton was perfect for a movie in this franchise. Beautiful spans of New Zealand landscape. Check. Meticulous attention to detail in the armor of all parties involved. Check. A love story that goes to prove that all male elves are pretty damn racist. Check. Inconveniently long hair. Check. It felt like it should have been a home run. Even so, I did not get the intangible excitement that has always been present as the movie stumbled on. All of the good felt redundant, and all of the new felt ludicrous.
Despite all of this, as the fight ended and the dust settled, we returned to the Shire. Oh my goodness, if this had just been the entirety of the experience. As the camera panned across the familiar rolling hills, and the classic whisper of “Concerning Hobbits” played for a final time, I was reunited with something that felt real. Oh, would you look over there, those darn Sackville-Bagginses are at it again. We made our final crawl through the halls of Bag End, and then, alas, to finish off the trilogy we were brought back to the writing desk of a Bilbo Baggins that had seen his best days pass long ago. As Ian Holm scampered off to answer the door for Gandalf, it was as if all was right in the world. It is moments like these that I will remember as a part of my romance with Middle Earth. It doesn’t make the break up easy. I will wail the words of Evangeline Lily’s Tauriel, “Why does it hurt so much?” And then in his omnipotent wisdom, Lee Pace will whisper, “Because it was real.” And then I’ll give him a good punch to the gut, because that’s a stupid line anyways.