The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (2014)

...and, er, where's Bilbo, exactly...?
…and, er, where’s Bilbo, exactly…?

The problem with these Hobbit films, it seems to me, is that they just aren’t The Hobbit. Purists had problems with the Lord of the Rings trilogy, but those films were gospel compared to the liberties taken with The Hobbit in making it a trilogy. The book The Hobbit was about Bilbo Baggins and his adventure with a company of dwarves. That adventure seems almost incidental to the big wide story told in The Hobbit film trilogy.  There are whole new characters and plots and arcs that are just there to pad out the story and add ties to the LOTR trilogy; its all about making a six-film saga. Whether that’s about ticket sales or DVD/Blu-ray boxset sales, I don’t know, but I sincerely suspect its all about the financial gains rather than any artistic merit. The case of Smaug is a prime example- any dramatic weight and build-up to the dragons climactic attack on Laketown and how he is finally beaten is completely dissipated by shoving it over to the beginning of the third film rather than having it at the end of the second film. It leaves the second film with an awkward and infuriating cliffhanger, dumps the action into the awkward start of the third chapter and loses any dramatic power. No doubt it will seem okay when its all part of a boxset over consecutive nights but as far as separate movies are concerned, trilogy or not, its crazy decision-making and robs the sequence of the climactic power it should have. Smaug is such a highlight of the book, but he becomes, like Bilbo, almost incidental to the Bigger Picture that Jackson is so fascinated by.

Its such a pity, because having now seen these three Hobbit films, I have to say, there’s perhaps two great films here. Had it been a Hobbit Part One and a Hobbit Part Two, I think we may indeed have had something great- as it is the parts (and whole) are lessened considerably by going with a trilogy.

Sadly it just seems to be symptomatic of where films are going these days, drifting into a HBO-style miniseries format of episodic tales (albeit with huge budgets). That’s another problem I have with these particular Hobbit films; they didn’t need to be so huge, so spectacular. The films are at their best when they are at their most intimate. Its something that was true of the LOTR films too but Peter Jackson and company seem to have lost sight of that lesson. Instead we just go bigger, louder, as if that is inherently better, which is simply not true. The Hobbit is at its best when we have the marvellous Martin Freeman onscreen, whether he be in peril and working his way through his adventure, the films are at their worst when Martin Freeman is swamped by CGI or indeed offscreen and replaced by countless hundreds of cgi characters and creatures telling someone else’s story. Besides, I always thought of The Hobbit as a charming, simple, somewhat intimate adventure. It was never supposed to be as big or important as LOTR, surely?

These films are an opportunity lost, then. Maybe somebody will do a fan-edit one day, stripping them down somehow. There’s two good films in there, somewhere.

 

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