Just before the holidays, my youngest son and I performed our usual mid-December ritual: Skip school to see The Hobbit on opening day. It’s been this way for all of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings films. For one, it’s The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. For another, the films always release on or around my birthday (December 18).
The advantage of playing hooky to go to the first showing of a movie (in daylight!) is that there will be some folks in the theater, but it’s usually never crowded. Vin and I had our pick of seats and were very comfortable during the show. While I’ve seen some of The Hobbit/Lord of the Rings films in 3D, I prefer to see them in standard format (the cinematography and movement doesn’t need it, IMHO). However, I wouldn’t mind seeing The Battle of the Five Armies in IMAX—and I will be seeing it again, because I really enjoyed it and I forgot to look for Peter Jackson’s cameo.
I would consider myself a pretty hardcore Tolkien fan. Behold the rubbing I made of his gravestone:
I was excited about the films when I first heard of them, because I would have access to another Tolkien film; that’s rare. The Rankin/Bass animations from the 70s and the incomplete Bakshi Lord of the Rings hold special places in my heart, but Peter Jackson’s films feel closest to Tolkien’s vision for me. I will never forget when I first “saw” Bag End. It was an emotional moment for me because up to that point, that place had been in my head and drawn as a cartoon. Now, it is real. Here are some memorable moments from the last installment that may contain some light spoilers…
Cinematography, Design, Costumes, Makeup, etc.
Visually, the film was appropriately dark and brooding, as the scenery centered on dragon-ravaged Lake-town, Dale and Erebor, and the haunted forest of Dol Guldur. Brightness and beauty returns at the end when Bilbo goes home; the Shire is as it should be—filled with Hobbits, fine country craftsmanship, and lush green hills—but only at the very end.
The costumes were magnificent; a challenge, as this portion of The Hobbit centers around devastation and destruction. Here, you can see how the details of costume can be used to forward the plot and stir the feelings of the viewer: The heavily embroidered folksy details in the clothes of the tattered and battered citizens of Lake-town are still there underneath the rips, tears, and scorch marks. I loved that everyone was appropriately filthy. (I had a problem with this in the Eregon film.) The elves alone remained spotless despite the conflict raging around them. Thranduil and Legolas emerged with only black scratches on their faces. Tauriel was the exception. She gets bloodied during her battle with the Orcs, which only adds to her aura of being a “different” elf, living outside the tribe, doing her own thing, and being real. And then there is the armor—lots and lots of armor. The most beautiful (and what you really get to see in detail) are the pieces worn by the original 13 dwarves of the company. The knot-work patterns on the shields, helms, breastplates—all of it—is just gorgeous. I also loved that Dain wielded a Thor-esque hammer.
Weta Workshop continues to amaze with the creatures (including new steeds and the bats that make their appearance in the last battle) and scenes of destruction—of which there are many. Afterwards, my son said that he thought that Dain was completely CGI, but it wasn’t something I noticed. I’ll be paying closer attention to this when I see the film again.
The Death of Smaug
The film starts immediately with Smaug attacking Lake-town. Great scenes of the dragon swooping low, crashing into things, and setting the place on fire take up the first 10 to 15 minutes. We get a wee bit more of Ben Cumberbatch’s evil banter; this time with Bard, which differs from the book. There are more deviations in how the dwarves find out about the dragon’s demise and we also finally get to see what happened to the Arkenstone.
Thorin’s Dragon Sickness
The film had a short time to show Thorin morphing from his hard-headed (but respected and lovable) self to a gold-obsessed crazy-dwarf—and then back again to come out of the mountain to save the day and his honor. I liked Richard Armitage’s treatment of this aspect of the character. He wavered realistically several times between the Thorin we know and love, to the tyrant who you want to hate but you know that it’s Thorin inside. He redeemed himself so well that I cried in the end, even though I knew what was going to happen.
The Showdown at Dul Guldur
This inclusion of this storyline in the film was necessary in making The Hobbit a three-part series. Gleaned from other works, epilogues, and notes, it fills in the background of where The Hobbit fits into The Lord of the Rings. In The Battle of Five Armies, these scenes confirm that, “he’s baaaaaaaaaack!” Galadriel, Elrond and Saruman have a face-off with Sauron and rescue Gandalf. It was interesting to see Saruman as a good guy (even though you know what happens with him if you’ve read the book or have seen any of The Lord of the Rings films). When that segment ended, I found myself wondering if he had already started down that path, or if he was trying to be the hero and unwittingly opening himself up to his downfall. I just love Sir Christopher Lee.
Tauriel and Kili…
Until The Hobbit films I never thought of dwarves as objects of romantic affection, but Kili and Fili (and Armitage’s Thorin) changed all that for me. I admit I ate the elf-elf-dwarf love-triangle up with a spoon. I felt that Tauriel was a character that was added to the film to give it a strong feminine presence as it’s so overwhelmingly male, and to add a love interest as there is none in the book. I liked the added romance and the idea of an elf and dwarf getting together (almost a kind of foreshadowing of the friendship between Gimli and Legolas that comes later). It also provided a kind of foil to the “us versus them” theme that emerges between the various peoples vying for the treasure of Erebor.
This also had me thinking about what was going to be done with the ending of the film. If you’ve read the book, you know what happens to all of the members of the company, but this added twist had me wondering if anything was going to change on that score. No more deets as it would be a major spoiler–but I will say Tauriel and Kili’s story, like the rest of the film is song-worthy.
Orcs with Forks…
…for hands, and feet. Okay, maybe not forks, but one difference that both my son and I noticed between The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings films, and particularly this last film, was the plethora of Orcs and trolls with amputated limbs replaced by weapons. Azog was the first we saw in this film with his missing arm replaced by a spiky pike (it’s a sleek, silver blade for The Battle of the Five Armies). But suddenly, it seems that there are lots of maimed Orcs and trolls. One had both legs replaced by round-headed maces—awkward and… weird.
Afterwards, it made me think that portraying some of the Orcs and trolls like that showed how these creatures were seen by their masters as expendable: If they’re not dead, fix ’em up and send ’em back out. If you really look at it, the whole of the film shows the utter uselessness of war—that it breaks down more than it could ever lift up. Tolkien, who experienced World War I first hand, seems to have felt this way (as can be judged from his letters), though he professed many times that his stories have no symbolic or metaphoric messages in them.
“At least… we may make such an end as will be worthy of a song!”
Before a reprise of Howard Shore’s enduring score kicks in, the ending credits are backed by a song sung (and written) by Billy Boyd (along with Fran Walsh and Phillipa Boyens). “The Last Goodbye” has words that are reminiscent of Tolkien:
“…To these memories I will hold
With your blessing I will go
To turn at last to paths that lead home
And though where the road then takes me
I cannot tell
We came all this way
But now comes the day
To bid you farewell
I bid you all a very fond farewell.”
Besides being a good ending song, this seemed to me, a clear message to everyone who was involved in these films—the viewers and fans included. So many people went on the journey of The Hobbit andThe Lord of the Rings. They’ve been a part of my life and my family’s life—watching them, waiting for them, talking about them, rereading the books—for over a decade. It is bittersweet, but as the song says, worth it.
Should Kids Go to See This Film?
My children range in age from 14 to 22, and all three have read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy. I went with the 14-year-old and we were both pretty giddy over it. However, I would use caution in bringing younger children to see it. The film is rated PG-13 for violence and there a good deal of it (the film focuses on the final battle described in the book, but on steroids):
• The film starts out with Smaug attacking Lake-town. There is fire, toppling buildings, screaming people, people falling out of boats. The aftermath is realistically gruesome, with bodies being pulled from the lake. Young children might have a hard time with that.
• The Orcs, trolls, and goblins in the movie have a clear purpose: kill or be killed—and both happen. Often. Besides the violence they perpetrate, they’re very realistic, frightening to look at, and there were enough with severed appendages refitted with weapon limbs make them even creepier, if that’s possible.
• Romance between Tauriel and Kili blossoms, and it is more about deeper feelings than the flirtations of the past films.
• The film is 2 hours and 24 minutes long, which might be too long for young children.
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies is a satisfying ending to over a decade of Tolkien movies from Peter Jackson. Like the other Hobbit and Lord of the Rings films, creative license has been used to bring the book to the big screen. I felt that the film respected Tolkien’s vision and was visually stunning to watch. It is a war film and the horrors of war are captured in it. As the title suggests, the story is very battle-centered. There is a good deal of violence and even though it’s started for the most part by monsters, there are many images of the dead, of all races, and all ages. Use your best judgement when it comes to bringing younger children to see it.