One Last Time

MAJOR SPOILERS for The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, both movies and books.

CORRECTION: My apologies for getting the subtitle of the first movie wrong. What can I say, there were a few iterations during production, and I’m a forgetful old lady. That part’s been removed.

 

The subtitle for the second Hobbit movie made no sense. The Desolation of Smaug didn’t happen in that movie. But The Battle of Five Armies is aptly named. The battle is the movie. The whole movie.

It’s to Peter Jackson’s credit, then, that despite all that (great) action and all those (great) special effects, this was really a character movie. This is what I was missing from the second installment: it rang a little hollow, because it was just a bunch of action scenes mashed together without enough room for the actors to, you know, act and stuff.

That doesn’t happen here, and ultimately, it’s Jackson’s cast that carries this trilogy to a triumphant end. So I’m going to say nice things about them first, before I do any scolding.

Among some very stiff competition, Luke Evans and Richard Armitage were the standouts. Armitage played Thorin’s descent into madness beautifully. Sure, Thorin was a bit over the top, but if you haven’t come to expect that from Peter Jackson’s direction by now, you haven’t been paying attention. And it was the quiet moments, the flashes of the real Thorin coming through, that made the whole thing work. Armitage is what I always think of as a face actor; his performances are as much about his expression as the delivery of his lines. And when you can pull that off under all that hair and makeup, that’s saying something.

Luke Evans, on the other hand, actually manages to deliver a performance with restraint in a Peter Jackson movie, which is also saying something. He hits all the right notes with Bard, without ever crossing over into melodrama, and gives us an understated hero who despite his unlikely acrobatics and even more unlikely, for a fisherman, weapon skills, is completely believable.

And speaking of face actors, Dean O’Gorman is an unsung hero of these movies, because Aiden Turner’s Kili (also well played) gets all the spotlight in that brotherhood. But Dean O’Gorman? Is awesome. Peter Jackson is a great storytelller, and watching Fili and Kili growing from immature, innocent, plate-tossing goofballs into brave and battle-hardened men (or, well, grown dwarves) has been one of my favorite stories to watch.

The dwarves in the book aren’t really characters, except for Thorin (who himself only has one note, and that note is jerk). The others are largely indistinguishable from one another, a string of funny names. It’s quite an accomplishment for the writers and the cast that they managed to create thirteen actual, distinct, sympathetic people. I will never again read the Moria scene in Fellowship without tears, because Ken Stott made Balin real. Also a special round of applause for Graham McTavish, who succeeded in making me see Dwalin again, when I was pretty sure I’d only be able to think of him as Dougal from now on (and thus want to punch him).

It’s always, always a pleasure to see Ian McKellan and Cate Blanchett. I’d watch them read their grocery lists and be riveted the whole time. I can’t with this weird Gandalf-Galadriel thing, but still. Nice to see you guys!

And then we have Martin Freeman. Crikey. I really think this is the single best piece of casting across all six movies, and this performance right here is how you take a movie full of pointy elf ears and swords and dragons and make it real for people. And incidentally, while I got emotional several times, I did not cry until Bilbo started crying over Thorin’s body. (Then I cried the whole rest of the time.)

Okay, enough gushing. I have a bone to pick. There’s pretty much no point anymore in book comparisons. The Hobbit movies especially are more “inspired by” than “based on,” and that’s okay. Unlike a lot of other book fans, I like Tauriel just fine, and I like Evangeline Lilly in the role. But all that said, the worn-to-death star-crossed lovers routine is, frankly, a piss poor replacement for how Fili and Kili really die. It’s just one little line in the book:

Fili and Kili had fallen defending him with shield and body, for he was their mother’s elder brother.

But that image of them, fighting to the death over the mortally wounded Thorin, has stuck with me since I was seven years old. Because all that courage and loyalty and sacrifice make a tragic, fitting end to the House of Durin. And it’s so much more compelling than what we got.

I’ve expected to have my heart broken by their deaths since they first came to dinner at Bilbo’s. But, nope. I was properly shocked and dismayed by the abruptness of Fili’s, but Kili’s was so strongly telegraphed, and in such a cliched way, that when it finally came it was almost a relief. I was sorry they were dead, but the actual deaths did not make me cry. And they should have. That should have been one of the most memorable scenes in all six movies.

On a lighter note for the darkest of the Middle Earth movies, it’s clear to me that either Peter Jackson, or someone on his team, plays Word of Warcraft. First they put dwarves on rams. Then Beorn does a textbook bear bomb. Coincidence or conspiracy?

I’d like to end with a hat tip to the genius who came up with the “One Last Time” marketing campaign. Because I spent the last, I don’t know, maybe twenty minutes crying, and by the end it had nothing to do with the story and everything to do with my knowledge that we were leaving (movie) Middle Earth forever.

Only the rights to The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings were ever sold, and if memory serves, Christopher Tolkien has been very clear that he has no intention of selling the rights to any of Tolkien’s other work, ever. Peter Jackson already did some mining in the appendices of Lord of the Rings for the Hobbit movies, and I don’t think there’s much more story to be wrung out of the material he’s allowed to use.

Then again, “not much more” isn’t the same thing as “none,” is it? #OneMoreTime?

7 words on the street

  1. Never Say Never Again. Oh wait, wrong overcinematized book series.

    What more is there? The Silmarillion has some neat stuff, what I’ve read of it, but to most people it amounts to yet another book of ancient myths, and I don’t see anyone lining up to film Bulfinch’s Mythology. A little Farmer Giles might be fun, but.

    But yes, yes, yes, I loved Bard (and his family) and Thorin’s emotive depth, and Bilbo’s very un-Hobbit-like courage mixed with his very Hobbit-like practical sense. I’ve seen enough of Gandalf getting all dew-eyed over the ways of Hobbits, and was frankly confused by the wizard battle against the Nine for not being able to figure out what sort of blow does damage and what does not. But in all it was a worthy expenditure of my cinema dollar.

    • The Silmarillion is off limits, more’s the pity. Beren and Tinuviel’s story would make a GREAT movie in PJ’s hands. (And, meaning no offense to Mr. Tolkien, a less dry telling than they get in that book.)

      Agree that there wasn’t much for McKellan to do in this movie, and the fight was weird. Galadriel seems to have a lot more mana than Gandalf does.

  2. Very evenhanded — thank you! I like the point about the way that Kili and Fili died in the book, although I also liked the way that the film did it. Provokes me to reflect about how the book conceptualizes honor and family somewhat differently from the way the movie did it. (hmmm. maybe I should post about this.) I cried, too, from Thorin’s death to the end.

    • I think part of it is that there was, even for three films, a large cast of characters, making time for minor ones in short supply. I still think they should have stuck to the book version of Kili and Fili’s deaths, but, I think fully conveying the importance of family, and the specific ways in which it’s important to dwarves (and what a big fat deal it is for the House of Durin to become extinct), would have taken more time than they could allocate for a subplot. And without that, perhaps they thought the audience wouldn’t be sufficiently invested for the book death scene to have their desired effect.

      On the other hand, forbidden romance is something the audience can pick up and get behind quickly, without a lot of subtlety or backstory or context. And the fact is, a film audience, especially for a blockbuster, will insist on a love interest. (Which means one must be made up or exaggerated–Tolkien, for all I love him, had limited use for female characters.) She had to be fit in somewhere, and it would have been a crime to give one to Bilbo or Thorin. Once Tauriel was established, that changed the trajectory of Kili’s story completely.

      • Interesting — [keeping in mind that I hated Tauriel, and I have close to zero investment in Tolkien purism]– all the arguments I heard for Tauriel related to her representative qualities for women / identification for female viewers. I hadn’t thought about the romance aspect. Not that it made her better for me but it explains a bit more about the film. And good point about that changing Kili’s story.

        Maybe I’ll post about this because it’s something I’ve found myself thinking frequently while watching the film (it’s just not closely related to Richard Armitage, who is my priority) — the book itself is a neomedievalism but in this kind of element, the importance of family, it is *very* close to medieval. Those notions of both family and romance don’t square well with how we see those things in the 21st century. It tends to make watching medieval theme films hard for historians.

  3. Pingback: Jen finally gets around to seeing The Battle of the Five Armies | Me + Richard Armitage

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