Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

Although The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (2014; dir. Peter Jackson) preserves many of the major plot points, it diverges significantly from the latter portion of Tolkien’s novel in tone and nuance.  Bombastic and overdrawn, its main focus falls on the king of the dwarves, Thorin Oakenshield, who is so overcome by greed once his band recovers the dwarf kingdom and the dragon’s hoard that he loses his grip on sanity.  He doubts the loyalty of the other dwarves and orders that Bilbo be thrown over the walls when he learns that he had taken the Arkenstone.  While a major battle takes place outside the walls of the citadel, Thorin sees no reason to fight alongside the people who had been his allies.  He sits in the citadel and guards his treasure.  The central question is whether he will come to his senses.  He does, at the right moment, but his transformation from greedy demented king to bold leader, as the film portrays it, makes little sense.  It just happens.

Although Bilbo Baggins is ostensibly the main character, he seems largely superfluous in the third film, appearing now and then to throw stones at goblins or to deliver messages or try to convince Thorin to be reasonable.  The film overlooks his importance.

Director Jackson owed no bond to the text of Tolkien’s novel.  He was free to make whatever decisions he needed in order to produce a good film.  In his Lord of the Rings films he managed in a general way to preserve many of the most compelling aspects of Tolkien’s trilogy—the range and depth of characters, the humor, the aura of myth and legendry, the adventure, the magic.  He recognized what was special about the novels and successfully conveyed it in the films. With the three overly complicated and bombastic Hobbit films he abandons the modest and quaint virtues of the novel and creates instead overlong battles, loud noises, and flat characters.  The Hobbit films are a major disappointment.

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