The Hobbit: TBotFA, Second Impressions

I went to see The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies again last Friday. It was a different experience. Though it did nothing to change my criticisms of the film, it definitely tempered them in a way such that I did enjoy/appreciate the movie this time around.

The major cause of this change, was largely a change of perspective. I came to the movie the second time with (unbelievably) even lower expectations, having seen what had been done. I also came prepared, knowing this last movie epitomizes the Hollywood blockbuster fantasy adventure: little substance, chock full of over-the-top action. And ultimately, that this was not Tolkien; which only makes the few subtly adapted scenes the harder to bear because the vision of what may have been is clear.

I left the theater more conflicted than before, if that is possible. Though I had found the key to enjoying the film, it meant eviscerating it of its heart and source. I left deeply saddened. I also left relieved, knowing this is the end of the movies, and thankful that the Tolkien Estate is vehemently (rightly so!) opposed to selling further film rights. It is sad our film journey has ended. But with the mauling The Hobbit has endured in this adaptation, I am glad it is over, so that minimally the compulsory cycle of one-up-manship which has occurred is halted.

That obsessive need to compete with The Lord of the Rings film trilogy, and even The Hobbit‘s preceding films, is the root of all that is wrong with TBotFA, and even the entire Hobbit franchise.

Given that, as a film it works, and is even highly enjoyable. My mom went with me for this viewing. She’s read the book once, so she has an overall sense for what should occur, but was not perturbed when the film strayed. Interestingly, she also found the movie at times overly sentimentalized, though she really liked the idea of Tauriel and Kili’s relationship. In her view, it was nice to see a cross-racial, cross-culture, contra-enmity relationship formed. In particular, as I came to see discussing it with her later, this love proves to be a great foil for Thranduil in his lovelessness and   callousness towards non-elves. As discussed in previous reviews, it seems likely, with this film, that the target audience has largely shifted towards favoring the film-fanatics rather than the Tolkienites (who often are film fanatics as well). That being said, many issues raised in my previous reviews make sense from a purely cinematic angle, as they are a pragmatic means to an end, requiring no knowledge of the legendarium.

For someone with that knowledge, however, such moves ring false. In the early Hobbit films, and definitely in the original Lord of the Rings film trilogy, the movies stood in tension with the text. Sometimes they faithfully followed the lead of the written word, sometimes shortened it, sometimes extrapolated from it, and other times followed flights of fancy. More often than not, where distortions, additions or changes occurred, however, they still were in service to the story at large (both cinematic and textual), challenging the viewer to more fully contemplate the choices made. This has worked so successfully though because the film-makers/writers never lost sight of either the film or the text, keeping the two in balance. That balance has been tipped further with each Hobbit film, and finally capsized with the final.

From the beginning, I have said that Howard Shore’s score is the heart and soul of the films. For The Hobbit trilogy, his music has not seemed as powerful as in the original LotR trilogy. Watching TBotFA again, I’ve come to realize why. To an ever increasing extent, the score is subverted by the action. Little time is given over to the development of the music as was done in the original trilogy. It is a problem which has grown worse as each film has come out. I can remember vividly the music throughout the LotR’s films. Often times, they evoked goosebumps or even tears.

In original film trilogy, the score is essentially through-composed. Where there is silence, it tends to be brief, or even work as a musical pause creating tension before the onslaught of the next theme. An Unexpected Journey has a few moments of soaring music, as does The Desolation of Smaug, but the score is generally only given its legs during large set pieces to introduce a travel interlude or new location (barring a few exceptions). It is rarely allowed to reach beyond the establishment or repetition of a leit-motif. The Battle of the Five Armies is worse. There are significant portions of the film with no music at all. Where is the score comes through, it is exceedingly brief, allowed almost no time whatsoever to establish itself. In other cases it is consigned to the background, barely present.

This is not a criticism of Shore’s work (which is brilliant, heard in the soundtracks), but rather how it is used. There is a radical difference in how the score is used between The Hobbit films and The Lord of the Rings. In TBotFA especially, the music usually expresses itself in the pauses between action, between speech, between places. Very rarely does it occur during. Two moments came close to the evocative power of the original films: the armory scene in Erebor, which develops the Esgaroth theme (from the liner notes: combining it with Bard’s theme, the elves’, and the Mountain’s), and a brief horn call after Thorin’s death, which evokes a sense of Siegfried’s funeral march from Gotterdammerung.

As I had questions still about Galadriel’s actions in Dol Guldur, I paid particular attention to those scenes this time around. When Galadriel first arrives at Gandalf’s side in Dol Guldur, Sauron is heard invoking a portion of the poem of ring-lore,

Three Rings for the Elven-kings under the sky,

Seven for the Dwarf-lords in their halls of stone,

Nine for Mortal Men doomed to die,

One for the Dark Lord on his dark throne

In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.

One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them,

One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them

In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.

-Lord of the Rings, v

The implication, therefore, is that the power shown from Galadriel is from her ring: Nenya, the ring of Adamant. Seeing the film a second time, I’m not sure if this is the case or not. There is no attention drawn to the ring itself during Galadriel’s banishment of Sauron and the Nazghul, but rather all to the Phial and the light of Earendil’s star, it is possible this is an unintended correlation. There is the oddity of Galadriel’s change of appearance, which visually relates to her look when tempted with the Ring by Frodo in Fellowship. This would appear to indicate some use of Nenya, which would also explain the slight differences. Again, the Phial makes sense, use of the Ring does not!

In the end, seeing it again did not effectively change my opinion. The issues I discussed in my first reactions remain largely unchanged. I have found enjoyment in the film, though. I am saddened by the lens I must use to do so.


3 thoughts on “The Hobbit: TBotFA, Second Impressions

  1. Nice. . .your second paragraph really hit the nail on the head: you described the self-defense technique that true Tolkien admirers (both the man and his creation) had to employ to enjoy the Jackson movies; we all had to repeat over and over to ourselves, “this is not Tolkien, this is not Tolkien”—interestingly enough, I had less overall problems with the LOTR films—it really seemed with LOTR that Jackson was intent on staying true to the book when possible. But the Hobbit trilogy went sprawling off course immediately; like I mentioned on another blog, I never got over the look of the dwarves in the Hobbit movies—at least nine of the thirteen were not dwarves at all. I’m not sure what race they were. However, I enjoyed the Hobbit movies; even with the inaccuracies and problems, I don’t believe they made Tolkien roll over in his grave. In the late 60’s Tolkien sold the rights to the LOTR to be made into an animated film. Though a master fantasist, this man was aware of reality: if he had no problem with the changes that animation would bring to his baby, then I certainly have no right whining at Peter Jackson’s changes to Middle Earth. I’m just glad that more people are being made aware of Middle Earth, and maybe, just maybe, some will be inclined to pick up the books. Besides, just think of the healthy chunk of cash that the Jackson films have brought the Tolkien estate!!!

    • I also have enjoyed the films. It’s just taken various contortions to be able to do so. I think ultimately Tolkien would have largely endured the films. From his letters, it can be seen his problems in adaptation lie most explicitly with character realization. He would have had a major problem with what has been done from that angle. At the same time, also in the letters, he is intimately aware of the necessary change adaptation requires…so who knows?

      I also have thought the same of the dwarves. I think there was too much of an effort to ensure there would be “pretty” dwarves…they ended up with a few dwarves and many strangely proportioned humans.

  2. I am honestly jealous that you were able to bring yourself to enjoy these films. I have not. While much of what was done I can overlook, I can’t overlook the implausible relationship between Tauriel and Kili. That destroys my ability to suspend my disbelief beyond hope of redemption. Not just the fact that they are two species that Tolkien himself never endorsed as being able to be sexually attracted to each other (Gimli’s regard for Galadriel doesn’t count, it was platonic, plus he respected her) but that the relationship is so shallow and unhealthy, and absolutely lacking in any real love. Kili makes it very clear (at least it is clear to me) that he doesn’t have a smidgin of respect for Tauriel. And I know from personal experience that you can’t love someone unless you respect him or her. In the extended edition of AUJ, from what I understand, Kili shows that he has an elf fetish. Tauriel isn’t special to him; she’s just the first female elf to give him the time of day. He’d be saying fancy words to any female elf that gave him a chance. And he says those fancy words not because of a change of heart, but simply because he can. If Jackson had shown a more platonic friendship across species, that would have been more plausible and palatable, and organic to me. The “romance” though, didn’t show any boundaries being crossed, or effort being made. It showed Kili sexually harassing Tauriel, and Tauriel caving to it, for no other reason but that the makers of the movie wanted her to. She didn’t seem like a caring, opening minded person for falling for Kili after he asked her to look down his pants. She seemed like a goofy adolescent who was caving to a guy’s cheep pick up line, simply because it was the first time a man had aggressively shown interest in her. Which showed to me that her chasing after him wasn’t because of any real nobility or altruistic feelings or a desire to honestly help others, it was because she’d developed a rushed infatuation. After all, they were in each others’ presence for less than 48 hours in the whole course of the movie. Real and honest love takes much longer to develop than that.

    I’m not explaining myself very well, and for that, I’m sorry. And I’m certainly not trying to argue with you. So much of what you’ve written, I heartily agree with! It was very refreshing to read!

    I think I explain my feelings a little better in one particular blog entry:

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