Friday, December 12, 2014

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

I wasn't really going to blog about this - well, I tell a mistruth. I have been conflicted about doing so, but after a dozen dozen tweets sent at Adam of The Wertzone and upon reading his review, I think I have to. The film, the sixth and final of Peter Jackson's Middle-Earth adaptations, released today in the UK, and it's been on my mind most of the day.

Of course, there will be spoilers ahead.

On the whole I thoroughly enjoyed watching The Battle of the Five Armies, perhaps even moreso than The Desolation of Smaug (in its theatrical form!). If Adam's comments about it being the shortest are true, well... I have to say it doesn't feel like it! This may have been in part to the ignorant-as-heck couple in the row in front of me who couldn't stop muttering for longer than five sodding minutes - ahem, apologies - but on the whole I think the longer scenes did tend to drag out a little much. In particular, there's a scene with Thorin walking across the Implausibly Implausible Solid Floor Of Gold from the second film as his mind rallies against the 'dragon sickness' he has contracted from all of the gold, and it just went on too long. There's only so much of Thorin staring into the camera you can stand before getting bored (though your milage may vary on this).

I would like to tackle Adam's points about the battle sequences, if I may. I honestly found The Battle of the Five Armies itself to be as striking and as exhilerating as the Battle of the Pelennor Fields from Return of the King, though sadly it lacks the I AM NO BRO moment that I love so much. I felt this is where WETA were at their best, with a glorious amount of relatively gore-free fighting going on. The Elves of Mirkwood jumping over the backs of the Ironfeet soldiers of Dáin, Thranduil beheading six orcs with one swing of his sword, the almost machine-like movement into formations by the Ironfeet, the sleek and efficient movements of the Elven warriors - even the Obligatory Comedy Cave Troll whose sole purpose is to take the phrase "use your head" too literally. All of these drew me in, irrespective of how implausible it would be, because that is what action sequences are meant to do. They're meant to get your attention, hold it, sustain it and make you gasp. And I did all of that. I would be lying if I said I didn't love it.

I do agree with Adam on the sections revolving around the assault on Dale, however. This is where I get my most critical about the film. I think there was a lot - maybe too much - of Bard running around for his family. It seemed oddly selfish for such a selfless man, but then again defense and love of one's family seems to be a very strong theme in Tolkien's world, and it lead to some fairly interesting sections, though it seemed like this is where even the implausible was overlooked for the entertaining, and even then it wasn't particularly entertaining. But there was a bigger issue running around Dale...


You remember the weasel from the second film, lackey to Stephen Fry's utterly abominable performance as The Master of Lake-Town? Yeah, well, he gets promoted to Comedy Vehicle in this, and does an awful job at it. Alfrid's main role in the last half of the film is to get in the way, sneer at people and think he's better than he is. He bosses people around, he lies, he looks out for himself and he generally disobeys orders. And this isn't the worst of it! A short while after being told to help Bard's son get all the women and children to safety, he does these things:
1. Pushes some disabled characters over and shouts something like "Abandon the cripples!"
2. Disguises himself as an old lady
3. Discovers and tries to steal loads of gold
4. Drops his gold as he's about to be attacked, and then picks it up and carries it in the ONLY WAY POSSIBLE if you are a male character in disguise as a woman - yes, he stuffs it into his chest. This is completed with a "plumping up" and exaggeration/cupping of the pseudo-breasts in a jovial manner.
As point four is over, Alfrid runs away, only to be collared by Bard, who shouts "Alfrid? Your slip is showing!". I thought these whole sequences were utterly appalling and added nothing to the film, nor did they do anything except reinforce the lack of women in The Hobbit (it says it all that the third most prominent character in women's clothing was Alfrid) and to further perpetuate the Man + Women's Clothes = FUNNY. What makes this even more striking was the fact that just before point 2 happened, some of the women picked up improvised weaponry and prepared to help fight against the invading orcs.

The last big point I'd like to pick up on is Adam's discussion of the number of armies involved. I've made a case on Twitter that there are four by Tolkien's counting, and Adam reckons six or more. I think I can easily make five, and my blog allows for a more eloquent argument. Absent from the book is a fifth army - the wolves (who ally with the goblins) - and that leaves us at four. So how do we make five again? Adam suggested counting the orcs and goblins as two separate armies (which makes sense), though one could easily argue that they're still one as their commander is shared - Azog - and they are fighting under overall leadership from the Necromancer (i.e. Sauron). His other point was that the bats were presented as another, but I disagree with this. The bats cannot be as they have very little input in the combat (less than the various types of troll/ogre and perhaps less than the Great Eagles), so I would put them to one side. Simply, the best way to make five is this. The 'Heroic' side is Thranduil's Elves, Thorin Oakenshield's Company and Dáin's Ironfeet Dwarves (considered as one), and finally the Men of Lake-Town, lead by Bard the Bowman. The 'Evil' side would be the Goblins and the Orcs, both fighting under Azog (and Bolg). The Eagles, the Trolls and the 'Bats' do not count as armies for this reckoning, simply as if you count every species and small faction, you end up with something like The Battle of the Five Armies and Their Friends and Two Wizards and a Hobbit and the Sandworms from Dune and Some Other Stuff I Guess.

I did really enjoy The Battle of the Five Armies, but it would be a lie to say it was perfect or only had a few flaws. It continues the utterly awful CGI people, the scenes where your eyes can't focus properly because of the frame rate or the resolution or both, and many many scenes are simply talking heads. The Master and Alfrid's presence continued to drag the film down - yes, Stephen Fry is barely in it and he shat all over it - almost literally, as one of his lines is something like "I'm trying to evacuate myself!" and his character's death is a fist-pump moment until you realise there'll probably be more of him in next year's Extended Edition. But it still manages to be an exciting and fun film when it gets momentum, and for all of its flaws, I have enjoyed this trilogy - but will it be as important, as loved and as long-lasting as The Lord of the Rings has been?

No, it won't.

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