Thursday, August 20, 2015

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

Year 7, Day 232 - 8/20/15 - Movie #2,126

BEFORE:  This one's a no-brainer, since nearly the entire cast carries over from the 2nd film in the I finish off one of the biggest non-Star Wars sci-fi/fantasy franchises.  I also may have picked up a second job, working part-time for a long-time friend who's also an animator, so I can go back up to a five-day work schedule again.  Plus I bought $60 worth of comic books for $20, thanks to a gift card I won playing trivia on Monday and my store credit kicking in - so that's a pretty good day all around, from a geek's point of view.

THE PLOT: Bilbo and company are forced to engage in a war against an array of combatants and keep the Lonely Mountain from falling into the hands of a rising darkness. 

AFTER: Much of the online Haterade directed at this film seems to come from the Tolkien purists, people who can't see the need to give a wood-elf a name, or to turn that elf female in order to set up a love triangle.  Transferring any work from book to screen is going to involve changes, some necessary and some not, but that all falls under the purview of the director, who may see opportunities to make things more cinematic.  

Comparisons to the "Star Wars" franchise were inevitable, I suppose, since both series started with episodes 4, 5 and 6 and then went back in time to reveal episodes 1, 2, and 3.  And in both cases there was a need in episode 3 to get every character (among those that survived, that is) where they needed to be in for episode 4, where they'd presumably just stand in one place and twiddle their thumbs for 15 years waiting for the events in question to unfold.  

I didn't recall much about the Battle of Five Armies from Tolkien's novel, and that's because not much happened in the book after they dealt with Smaug, other than divvying of treasure and making plans to return to the Shire to wait for Frodo (and an oak tree) to mature.  Said battle was only 1/2 of one chapter in Tolkien's book, and Peter Jackson expanded that out to HALF of this film.  Why?  Because wars look great on film, that's why.  

Debate also rages online about the identity of the five armies, since in the book it was elves, dwarves, men of Lakewood, orcs and wargs.  In this film the orcs ride on wargs, and wargs don't talk, so they can't qualify as a separate army - so it's elves, dwarves, men of Lakewood, orcs and... wait, do the eagles count?  Because if the eagles count as an army on the good side, then you've got to count the bats as an army on the bad side, right?  So that's 6?  And there are two armies of orcs, so should we count them twice?  

Regardless of all that, it's an epic visual battle.  This makes up for most of the film being dragon-less, there's WAY more Smaug in the 2nd film than the 3rd film.  So to make up for the fact that this film is batting clean-up, now it really makes sense to have given a few orcs names and personal vendettas against Thorin Oakenshield, because here's where all that pays off.  Again, it's a case where small details become turning points, small turning points become epic moments of great change.  Each little battle between THIS dwarf and THAT orc becomes super-important, but who's to say it shouldn't be that way?  Maybe Tolkien tossed away a great opportunity by just saying "Oh, yeah, and then the battle happened.  That guy died somewhere along the way."  Why aren't we harping on J.R.R. for not giving us a proper play-by-play?  

Before that, there's a bit about "dragon sickness" that seems to have pissed a few people off as well.  There are two ways to look at it - maybe the treasure that a dragon slept on and under for hundreds of years really does get tainted, and makes people act all crazy, or maybe dwarves are just inclined to get greedy when surrounded by extreme amounts of shiny things, and "dragon sickness" is just a euphemism, because calling out a whole group of people for acting a certain way seems a bit like Middle Earth racism.  

It's also the shortest of Peter Jackson's 6 Middle Earth films, clocking in at just 2 hours and 24 minutes. I'm sure there will be a longer version released on DVD, but it does suggest that he exercised at least a little restraint here.  Can't he even get credit for that?

Starring Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Orlando Bloom, Evangeline Lilly, Lee Pace, Benedict Cumberbatch, Luke Evans, Stephen Fry, Ryan Gage, Sylvester McCoy, Richard Armitrage, Ken Stott, Graham McTavish, William Kircher, Stephen Hunter, Dean O'Gorman, Aidan Turner, John Callen, Peter Hambleton, Jed Brophy, Mark Hadlow, Adam Brown, James Nesbitt, Cate Blanchett, John Bell, Mikael Persbrandt (all last seen in "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug"), Hugo Weaving (last seen in "Cloud Atlas"), Christopher Lee (last seen in "Hamlet"), Ian Holm (last seen in "A Life Less Ordinary"), Billy Connolly (last seen in "Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events").

RATING: 8 out of 10 were-worms

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