The other day, director Peter Jackson officially announced that the title of the next chapter in ‘The Hobbit’ has been changed from ‘The Hobbit: There and Back Again’ to (spoiler alert?) ‘The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies’. The third and final chapter to the series will be released later this year, most likely around Christmas time, following suit of the two previous films. With this latest bit of news, I think it appropriate to look back on what we’ve been given so far, and see what we can expect from this next installment.
Reflecting back on it, I sincerely miss the days of ‘The Lord of the Rings’. Naturally, I have each of them in the old DVD collection, and so I can revisit them whenever I please. My point being, I miss the days when I actually cared for the fate of Middle Earth and that of it’s characters, a world that Peter Jackson brought to life over ten years ago now and wiith the latest trilogy of ‘The Hobbit’, we had an opportunity to return to our beloved Middle Earth, something I was incredibly looking forward to. However, upon the release of the first two movies of what is blatantly (and universally agreed) an unnecessary trilogy, such enthusiasm has dwindled. It is clear that any sincerity, heart and soul that went into the previous series has gone, and has since been replaced over time and technological advancement with an apparent lust of bombastic visuals and uninteresting characters.
After various delays and conflicts between studios, and a shift through directors (Guillermo Del Toro was once attached to the helm), when they finally announced that the inevitable Hobbit movie was to be made and directed by Jackson, I was ecstatic. What could be better than having the original director return to complete the story? As movies go these days, it later became too predictable that this one movie turned into two movies, and subsequently into it’s own trilogy. A money grab if ever there was one, and with this latest announcement, along with the resulting two installments we’ve seen so far, there’s proof of it. First problem.
Part one of the story, told in ‘The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey’, was an unwelcome disappointment. The movie sets about the tale of a young Bilbo Baggins (an able, but nothing special Martin Freeman), along with thirteen dwarf companions and Gandalf (Sir Ian Mckellan, in typical good form) embarking on a quest to reclaim the Lonely Mountain from the dragon, Smaug (that’s Sm-ow-g, not Sm-aw-g). Though the movie certainly brought about feelings of nostalgia (visiting the Shire, Rivendell, familiar faces, hearing Howard Shore’s score, and so on), on the whole it was one bloated, distracted mess following a journey with seemingly little direction. Where ‘The Fellowship of the Ring’ was able to not only convincingly create a new world, but introduced a number of characters (namely the Fellowship) that we were instantly interested in and ultimately cared for, with AUJ I could care less. The fact that the best scene in the entire movie is the riddle game between Bilbo and Gollum (with a most welcome return of the ever great Andy Serkis) says a lot.
Aside from Bilbo and Gandalf, along with other familiar characters, I can scarcely match the names of any of the dwarves to their faces, as the only introduction we really had was Gandalf listing them off by name. These are the characters we’re supposed to care for? The only dwarf one can recall is Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage), the leader of the bunch, but even he isn’t interesting enough to keep my attention as he is usually being just a bit of an asshole. It’s not necessarily the fault of the cast, actually I’m certain it isn’t. Everyone fits their roles well, they’re just never given a chance to shine; any opportunity to develop their characters are quickly dissolved into yet another action sequence. That’s one of the key problems with ‘The Hobbit’, is that being two movies in and we still haven’t been given a reason to care for a majority of the characters as they’re so poorly developed. I won’t even get started on the unnecessary “love interest” between Tauriel (made up character and Liv Tyler look-alike, Evangeline Lilly) and Kili (Aidin Turner). I’m all for inter-species relationships, but come on, this is fucking ridiculous, the worst part being that, once again, we’re supposed to care.
As far as returning characters go, their appearances merely come across as crutches, or lures if you will, as if to say “don’t worry guys, it’s still the same story, same world, so you should care”. Yes, we get Gandalf, and he comes and goes, getting swept up into a side plot that seems more forced to set up the link between the two trilogies than actually adding anything to the story. We get a pointlessly drawn out introduction from the original Bilbo and Frodo (Ian Holmes and Elijah Wood), a few brief scenes with Galadriel (Cate Blanchett), and a sad appearance from Sir Christopher Lee who just looks like a walking, talking photoshop job. In the second chapter, ‘The Desolation of Smaug’, we get the triumphant return of Legolas (Orlando Bloom, with really blue eyes this time, # continuity) who, along with Gimli, in the previous films was a monument to some occasional acts of badassery. Here he’s just a tool used to drag out the already dragging action sequences, and get’s thrown into some more unnecessary side plots. In fact, when the marketing for ‘TDOS’ began and the trailers were released, anyone would have thought that Legolas was the main character.
This brings me to one of my biggest gripes with these movies, which is it’s excessive use (or abuse) of visual effects. Granted, since the days of the LOTR there have been great leaps as far as CGI goes, but to use it requires a certain amount of finesse that is clearly lacking here. The journey through the Goblin city in ‘AUJ‘ is a perfect example. There is no clear vision when these action sequences are just scrambling images running amuck. Indeed, there are even a number of key characters that are completely computer generated; seriously, who honestly gives a shit about the White Orc? He’s more like the fly that won’t fuck off, as opposed to the ongoing threat as they keep posing him as. It’s no wonder that Ian Mckellan had that notorious break down on set as a result of acting to a green screen and no actors. It’s noticeable, distracting and lazy, when a good ol’ make-up job would have done the trick and looked a million times better. Where CGI works and is necessary in some instances, as it was in LOTR (The Balrog, the Pelennor Fields), and here for cases like Smaug (who I’ll get into more here shortly), the rest of the time (a majority), it just takes away any authenticity, and just shows a director getting carried away. How many different ways can an orc have it’s head chopped off? The possibilities are endless apparently. Sadly, in this case, the only thing that comes to mind in comparison is what George Lucas did with the Star Wars prequels (though, to be fair, this isn’t nearly as bad). It’s all visual, and no substance.
While all of this may sound like bitter ramblings, I must admit, it isn’t all bad. AUJ had it’s one saving grace that I mentioned previously, and I stand by that as it is literally the only thing I took away from that movie. Gollum is also one of those rare examples where the CGI is actually effective and necessary, no doubt thanks to Serkis’ performance (he also directed the scene). With TDOS, there seemed to be a slight turn in the right direction. The excessive action is still plentiful, but there’s a bit more fun to be had. The barrel ride down the river for instance, was over-the-top and yes, a drawn out affair, but I must admit I had a big grin on my face and found myself rather enjoying it. We do finally get to go to some places and meet characters that show hints of something we’ve been longing for. There’s the Bard (Luke Evans), who plays almost like an Aragorn character, but is good in his own right. He stands for Laketown (a welcome place reminiscent of the old films), and in so doing gives us a cause to get behind and somebody to root for (finally). There’s a small, but fun addition with Stephen Fry, who fits like a glove into the Middle Earth realm as the Master of Laketown. And then, of course, there’s Smaug: the reason why this whole bloody mess started in the first place. Was he worth the wait? From what we’ve been given so far, I’d say so. Played by Benedict Cumberbatch with a delicious smugness, Smaug is grand to behold, especially on the big screen. I’d say the whole journey was almost worth it just to see him… almost. Just as he presents himself for the very first time, Smaug oozes his way through his scenes with a most delightful air of villainy, all the way up to the monstrous (no pun intended) cock tease of a cliff hanger.
There will be many I’m sure who will deem it unfair of me to keep making comparisons between the old and the new. My response to that would simply be how can you go back and revisit a world, setting up what is principally a prequel, and not expect to be compared to the previous series? Especially when it’s involving the same people who made it such a success the first time around. I’m just sorry that they can’t live up to their own standards that they created, a challenge that’s seldom met in movies these days. It has become painfully obvious that three movies should never need to exist for such a small story as ‘The Hobbit’, especially when all they’re filling the time with is a visual royal rumble. Yes, there have been some good moments, and some cool characters, but unfortunately, in this case, the bad outweighs the good (pretty much an entire first film wasted). There is a glimmer of hope, following TDOS, and it’s enough to keep me continuing on with the remainder of the journey.
So what can we expect from the final chapter of this seriously misguided series? Well, thanks to the title, TBOFA is sure to offer just as much drawn out action in what is sure to be a visual mess of five armies clashing together for a cause that’s held together by cheap thrills and dull characters. We’ll see a conclusion of Smaug’s story that I sincerely hope is worthy of his introduction. And Bilbo, after having made it there, will surely make it back again.