In Review: The Battle of the Five Armies, Extended Edition

The extended edition of the third Hobbit film, The Battle of the Five Armies, continues the level of excellence of the previous extended cuts. Unlike the Lord of the Rings’ extended editions, those for the Hobbit films are seamless, beautifully integrated and often add crucial elements to the plot. BotFA EE is a great example of the extended edition done right, the additions are near imperceptible and often left me questioning if a scene was new or had been there all along. As with the two before, this is the film as it is meant to be seen.

That being said, in many cases, the problems of the original theatrical cut are similarly extended and even amplified. Most additions are a serious attempt to flesh out the events of the film and knit them more tightly together, but, as should be expected, there are moments of shear absurdity which have been reinserted much to the detriment of the action.

Now on to the specifics; if you do not wish to have the extended footage spoiled for you, I recommend stopping here. As explained above, it is likely I’ve missed many and possible invented a few which were in the theatrical cut; the scenes described below simply represent those which stood out to me at this time.

As with each of the preceding prologue scenes, this one is also slightly extended. I noticed a number of times Smaug passes over the city prior to the main attack, as well as further shots of the actual attack. Though barely a few seconds, these glimpses of the oncoming dragon help to establish the urgency of the opening scene and heighten the suspense of the inevitable attack and ruin of Esgaroth. As an aside, I still believe the inflation of the Black Arrow to a super weapon is a mistake, particularly at this moment when we see Bard shooting at Smaug with no chance whatsoever of having an effect. Though this is perhaps true in showing his desperation, it makes his heroism devolve into silliness.

The scene in Dol Guldur where Gandalf is tortured by an orc is implausibly extended by giving the orc knowledge of the Three Rings of power of the Elves. The scene further devolves by showing the Ring of Fire, leading to an attempt by the same orc to cut off Gandalf’s hand. As Galadriel enters Dol Guldur, a brief glimpse of Nenya is seen. While it is marginally important to establish the Elvish Rings and who bears them, this device (of a too knowledgeable underling) is absurd. Though it mirrors the knowledge and greed of Grishnakh in The Two Towers, it seems silly such would be allowed under the very nose of either the Nazghul or Sauron.

The scene continues with Galadriel bearing Gandalf away. He has passed out and Galadriel’s kiss awakens him. The fight ensues, with the entry of Saruman and Elrond unchanged. Radagast’s appearance is given a brief glimpse of the sled’s approach prior to arrival. Galadrial states that Dol Guldur is draining Gandalf’s life; and then uses her ‘scary voice’ to make Gandalf and Radagast leave. The battle overall is extended with more footage of fighting and the temporary destruction of the Nazghul. There is slightly more time spent with Sauron before he is banished. After which Elrond suggests that Gondor should be warned and a watch set on Mordor. Saruman more explicitly states that Sauron may not regain power without the Ring. All of this is visually spectacular, but serves little purpose; besides the last bit which should increase suspicion of Saruman (and where he stands in his fall). At Rhosgobel, Radagast gives Gandalf his staff. In a seemingly throwaway line, he explains that the top needs ‘twiddling’ in order for it to function properly as Gandalf rides away.

Brief shots and audio lend further ambience to the arrival of the refugees in Dale. These shots help to establish the dire straits they are in due to lack of food, water, and warmth. The elves arrive, and an added camera pan shows the extent of their army.

There is more explanation given on the nature of the mithril coat as Thorin gives it to Bilbo. This is followed by an expanded discussion of honor and keeping one’s word between the two of them. The conversation devolves into Thorin’s dragon sickness mutterings, of which there are more.

As Bilbo makes to leave Erebor to bring the Arkenstone to Bard and Thranduil, he encounters Bofur. Perhaps meaning to mirror the scene in the cave (On the Doorstep) in AUJ, Bofur thinks Bilbo simply desires to flee, to be anywhere else. He informs him that Bombur is next on watch, and he will take some time to wake. The scene is rather touching given the comradery which has now been established in the films. Unlike the book, in which Bilbo tricks Bombur into allowing him to take Bombur’s watch, this scene creates a brief moment of conflict and potential for regret. It poses a dilemma for Bilbo more bluntly (which has been well established in this film) of whether he betrays his friends by this action.

In the revelation of the Arkenstone, Thranduil delivers a surprising line, declaring that Ecthelion of Gondor would pay a fair price for the stone. I appreciate the name drop, but this is silliness. Gondor has been in steep decline by this point for almost two thousand years. According to the Tale of Years, they’ve been forced out of Ithilien only forty years prior to the events of The Hobbit. There slim to no chance their economy is strong enough to purchase a stone without price; particularly given the precarious military position they find themselves in.

At the final negotiation at the gates of Erebor, there is some more pacing and meaningful glances as Thorin plays for time and the appearance of Dain. From this point on, the battle of the Five Armies begins in earnest. In the extended edition the dwarves and elves actually do skirmish. The dwarves show off their cool anti-air weaponry and we get our first glimpse of dwarvish war chariots. The appearance of the were-worms ends the fighting.

The vast majority of the extended scenes used in BotFA come during the battle itself. There is significantly more fighting, and plenty more gore. In particular, there are a lot more decapitations and dismemberments, which probably account for the R rating.

There are more trolls in the battle. Thranduil actually fights a significant portion of the battle from his elk steed. The war chariots are shown to good effect; though over the top, they seem to fit. Bofur ends up riding one of the blind/chained trolls, using it as his own personal tank. Bombur’s fighting is used as comic relief. Dain and Thorin’s meeting in the battlefield is fleshed out, where they plan their next move in more detail. Getting to Raven Hill is shown to be much more of a challenge, and, thankfully, a greater and more believable distance. Balin, Kili and Fili, and Dwalin use a goat chariot to break a way through the orcs. They end up riding down the frozen river (as seen in some trailers). They are chased by an armored troll, which Bofur takes out with his previously mentioned ‘tank.’ This was unbelievable and crazy in the extreme. We get a brief glimpse of wargs chasing, before Dwalin, Fili, and Kili cut the traces and ride their goats the rest of the way (as seen in the theatrical).

Perhaps by way of apology for inflicting us with him, we are shown Alfrid’s demise. In the scene Gandalf is having trouble with Radagast’s staff, and is dutifully twiddling with the top, while confronted with a troll. Alfrid has conveniently hidden in a catapult, which fires him into the troll’s mouth, killing both. This is satisfying in a way, but in reality is a stupid waste of time. There is no need for more Alfrid!

It may be in the theatrical edition, but it bears repeating that Bilbo asks the question on everyone’s minds, “Where exactly is North?” I still hate the hack job they’ve done to the geography!

Bifur, otherwise known as the dwarf with an axe in his head, fights a large orc by head-butting. This lodges the axe into said orc, almost dragging Bifur and many of the others over a cliff. Bifur is freed of the axe in this manner. This seemed a throw-away crowd pleaser type scene, considering I had to look up which dwarf this was in the first place!

Thorin’s battle with Azog begins a little earlier, as he meets him on the stairs of Raven Hill and then fights others before the final confrontation. The arrival of the bats is expanded, showing a bit more of their role in the battle at large. Though it may seem impossible, the Legolas insanity is worse in the extended edition. As before, he hitches a ride hanging from a bat. However, as he goes up the hill, he hangs upside down, slicing his way through a column of orcs the bat conveniently choses to fly near. Tauriel is shown fighting her way up to Raven Hill. Again, the distance and the danger in getting there is fittingly increased.

As hoped, and predicted, there are brief additions to Beorn’s part in the battle, as well as the Eagles. They are two brief moments, but do establish him as a formidable foe, and actually show their arrival to be a turning point in the battle at large, as it should be.

Very little is actually changed about Thorin’s last battle. The next major addition is a scene showing Thorin, Fili, and Kili lying in state and the coronation of Dain as king under the mountain.

Overall, the extended edition of The Battle of the Five Armies does not change my overall negative feeling towards the last installment. In many ways it worsened them. However, it is a beautifully done film, which feels more complete than the theatrical version; as if this is the true movie, and that was the abridged. That is how each of the extended additions have felt for The Hobbit. They should be (and in my opinion) are the definitive editions. The wrinkles and holes in the plots of each are virtually non-existent, and the splicing between original and extended is near perfect. Though I still have many issues with the film (which for me mar it near irreparably), this is the finale the film trilogy deserves.

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In Review: No Lasting Burial

No lasting burialStant Litore’s No Lasting Burial is an amazing book on many levels. I admit I approached it with trepidation solely based upon its premise. The story expands upon the rather brief description in the New Testament of Christ’s invitation to the disciples to join in his ministry.

Shimon and Koach bar Yonah are the primary protagonists. They live in the shattered remains of Kfar Nahum, fighting for survival in a world in fear of both the Romans and the hungry dead. The community has been decimated and tremendously scarred by both. Litore masterfully weaves this history into the Biblical tale, breathing life into characters we all know, perhaps too well. His choice of use of the Hebrew names function in the same way. In each case, this provides the necessary distance to view the characters anew.

The book reads like a run-away express train. It is a tremendously gripping tale, perfect for setting your teeth on edge and reading with manic energy far into the night. This quality makes for an excellent thriller of a book, but that is not what No Lasting Burial is. It reminds me of the quality Tolkien ascribed to Norse myth: its inherent ability to ensnare and enthrall the reader upon first exposure, yet be capable of sustaining profound study. It is not the action I remember, so much as the calm (though often dark and brooding) which both precedes and follows. There is a lot of philosophical, historical and spiritual meat to be devoured, which though not always in tune with my own thought, invites profound contemplation.

It takes tremendous courage to write a book of speculative fiction centering on Jesus Christ. Though I was troubled by some of Litore’s portrayal, I greatly admire him for the effort and the intelligence shown in his choice to not place Yeshua center-stage. We all are familiar with who Yeshua is, or think he is; by making the tale center on Shimon, primarily, and the town, secondly, the reader is confronted by the same shocking strangeness which must have struck those first witnesses of His ministry. We are placed in the same mindset, slowly shown (or led through) the journey from incredulity to belief.

I did not agree with all of Litore’s choices, but they challenge us to reevaluate our own belief. In the secondary world of his first century Kfar Nahum, however, the development of Yeshua’s ministry flows logically and seamlessly to its conclusion, with many powerful applications to be found in its implications. Events, teachings and sayings from the Bible are recast as they would reflect upon the world of the hungry dead. They are made new.

This book is a tremendous vehicle for recovery, espousing Tolkien’s own theories of eucatastrophe and evangelium. There is great enjoyment to be found in it, but there is also the clarion call of challenge in it. No Lasting Burial invites us to enter more deeply into the Gospel story, to see the Truth in it, to see the humanity, and especially to rediscover the wonder and strangeness of the God made flesh. Even in those scandalous moments of disagreement, the mind is set aflame with our own beliefs and the hunger for knowledge stirred. This is the mark of not some simple thriller to be enjoyed and set aside, but a potentially life-changing novel capable of reinvigorating faith and wonder.

This is why I found No Lasting Burial both intensely troubling and sharply beautiful. I highly anticipate the opportunity to reread it to better absorb and consider without the mindless, moaning craving for resolution. I cannot say if it will stand the test of time and the vagaries of study, but it certainly will have a lasting effect on my thought and for that Stant Litore deserves congratulations.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, Second Impressions

Yesterday, I attempted to see The Desolation of Smaug a second time, only to be greeted by a sold-out theater. Instead, I watched the extended edition of An Unexpected Journey yesterday and went to see DoS again earlier today. As you may have observed in my review of that edition of AUJ, it all turned out for the best.

Seeing The Desolation of Smaug again, particularly after seeing AUJ again, I can state without qualms that it is the better movie. As a film alone, it is awesome. In particular, I noticed this time around the truly superlative acting and visuals. There is so much beauty expressed in this film; in the dark, creepiness of Mirkwood, the graceful Woodland realm, even the relative squalor of Lake Town.

I also noted many of the subtleties I overlooked in my first viewing, which are superbly done. I took great pleasure in the understated nods to the text, where lines of dialogue were lifted verbatim or even narrator exposition turned to dialogue.

One thing this second viewing has accomplished is to allow me to view the film a bit more objectively, rather than succumbing to emotion (immediately). Knowing what to expect, what I liked, what bugged me, made me a bit more contemplative and focused during these particular scenes; which in some cases has changed my views on them completely.

During Bilbo’s initial rescue attempt from the spiders, he removes his Ring and continues to hear and understand their speech. Whether this is an inconsistency overlooked or an indication of the Ring’s growing power over him is debatable. The latter possibility is intriguing, especially given the thralldom expressed by the next scene.

I continue to abhor the next scene, where Bilbo loses the Ring momentarily and brutally kills a crustacean-like creature. It still feels out of place, like a card played too soon. On the other hand, Bilbo more than makes up for this with his reaction; upon realizing what he has done, for a simple ring, he is horrified, sickened to the point of vomiting even. This is what one might expect of Bilbo, and it is magnificently portrayed by Martin Freeman.

I was again awed by the Woodland realm, which is a wonder of playful natural and slightly gothic architecture. It is stunningly beautiful, though I still think it befits the grandeur of Nargothrond, or even Menegroth, rather than the latter-day realm of Thranduil.

Thorin’s audience with Thranduil makes a lot more sense after seeing the extended edition of An Unexpected Journey. The ransom of white gems, returning what is his, makes sense, and would obviously strike a nerve with both parties. Again, why did they cut that from the AUJ prologue, especially when it was only a few seconds long? It adds such a keen level of nuance to this scene. Also of note here, is Lee Pace’s portrayal of Thranduil, which is elegant, with an undertone of regality and barely hidden scorn; he is quite aristocratic, which suits his character well.

Given our recent discussion at the Grey Havens Group, regarding gender swapping in children’s novels, Tauriel struck a new chord in this viewing. The captain of the guard is a small and undeveloped role in the novel, which expands naturally into the role Tauriel fills. It is interesting and fitting, giving her the stature and authority to function as a foil for the isolationism of Thranduil and a model for Legolas of empathy.

My view of the barrel escape softened somewhat the second time around. Though it takes Thorin’s urging to get the dwarves into the barrels, it is his trust in Bilbo that causes him to give the order in the first place. Bilbo does look to Thorin, after their initial protests, which grants further credence to this view. Bilbo and Thorin should have a close friendship, though it is often hard to see (both in the book and in the film, though more so in the film), which works to make the final acts of their friendship incredibly powerful.

After a second viewing, I have a much more favorable view of Bard. His role as the bargeman, retrieving the empty barrels of the wood elves fits him, giving a plausible way to expand his character and get the dwarves to Esgaroth at the same time. He seems secretive and crafty, but given his demotion to town scapegoat, it works.

The ‘Thrice Welcome’ scene was still a moment akin to nails on chalkboard. Bard’s role in it seemed natural, as did the Master’s, but Thorin’s is an abomination. Every word from Thorin’s mouth in this scene completely ignores all we know of dwarves or of him. Unless this is meant to be a deception, which I very much doubt, there is no explanation for Thorin giving such a speech. Given the nature of the film, something of the sort was necessary, but this is implausibly excessive. Mention of the return of the King Under the Mountain and the lake flowing with gold has been made by this point. I would think it should be fairly easy to return to the fear of the Mob instigating the Master’s action, rather than the promise of gold. It would also have been simple enough to show the scheming of the Master, planning either rich reward should the dwarves succeed or simply ridding himself of a nuisance honorably before a restless populace. Maybe something like this will be in the extended edition; one can only hope.

The dwarves knowledge of athelas also continues to gall me. If Tauriel must heal Kili, she could have shared this knowledge. Though it is still somewhat improbable, she would be much more likely to know of its existence than the dwarves. On the other hand, there is also the secondary problem that athelas is found where the Numenorean’s once dwelt, as it was cultivated and maintained by them, so it would be unlikely any would be found in this area of the world.

At the Ford of Bruinen, before falling unconscious, Frodo sees “a shining figure of white light” (LR 209). That figure is Glorfindel, revealed as “one of the mighty of the Firstborn…an Elf-lord of the house of princes” (LR 217). In The Silmarillion, the elves who have seen the light of the Trees are called the Calaquendi, the Elves of the Light, “for the light of Aman was not dimmed in their eyes, and they were strong and swift, and deadly in anger” (Sil. 106). Of Melian it is said, “the light of Aman was in her face;” and from the union of Melian and Thingol comes the “fairest of all the Children of Ilúvatar” (Sil. 55-6). The light of Aman is visible for those fallen into the wraith-world, as Frodo does. It makes sense that Arwen would appear in this manner when healing Frodo, as she is descended from Thingol and Melian and the Noldor. For Tauriel, as one of the Avari (neither she or her ancestors beheld the light of the Trees), to appear this way, however, makes no sense at all.

As for the ‘On the Doorstep’ scene, I still contend it could have been done better, though I did notice they initially do look for a keyhole before banging away. Knowing the date of Durin’s day streamlines that element of the plot, and this time around did not bother me overmuch. I think the scene could have been improved instantly by simply eliminating Thorin’s restatement of the rune letters’ clue both before and after their failed attempts. The dwarves would leave disheartened, and then Bilbo would be left alone to remember the clue and search for its meaning.

Bilbo’s purpose in the quest, namely to retrieve the Arkenstone seemed more natural this time around; largely, I think, due to watching AUJ again. It also lends credence to the idea that the dwarves would come to the mountain with no plans for dealing with Smaug. If the quest is to retrieve the Arkenstone, gain the allegiance of all the dwarves and then retake the mountain, everything falls into place. Incidentally, this also begs the question why the fool-hardy ‘let’s kill Smaug with gold’ plan needed to happen at all.

At this point, as there has been no better place before, I’d like to state that I love the way Balin has been portrayed in these films.

Bilbo enters the treasuries of Erebor, and it is somewhat gloomier than I recall. One of the benefits of the vast, cavernous nature of the Erebor of the films is that the light could be streaming in from some point above, as it appears to be, and is reflected and magnified by the gold. Though I still don’t like the overall conception of Erebor; this does redeem it somewhat and circumvent the question of how to see in the darkness without a glowing dragon, which probably would have looked ridiculous.

When Smaug initially wakes and displays himself, he actually does have a golden waistcoat. It is not as impressive or apparent as in the book. It also makes sense, given the now hard underbellies of dragons, that he would shed this coating of gold and jewels as he moves.

The dwarves’ plan is just as imbecilic as ever, and difficult to watch, though still visually stunning (particularly the visual of the gilded Smaug). I did notice an ingenious way they could have logically attacked Smaug, and possibly inflict real damage. After the forges are lit, and Smaug breaks through into the chamber, Bilbo opens the sluice gates, pouring what is likely ice-cold lake water on Smaug, before calming and powering the water wheels. At this moment, Smaug’s inner fire is visibly dimmed, steam in apparent and he is obviously (at least temporarily) impaired. This should have been the primary attack of the dwarves. In the book, Smaug fears the waters of the lake, “which [are] mightier than he, [they] would quench him before he could pass through” (TH 287). Minimally, therefore it could be argued that Smaug’s ability to breath fire should be significantly impaired by such a dousing. It may not be as visually arresting as depicted, but it could have been, with the added bonus of being clever and perfectly plausible. Why would anyone fight fire with fire after all?

Gandalf’s scenes in Dol Guldor took on new meaning in the second viewing. I still disliked much of it, but saw how it fit into the movies and easily sets things up for the final installment. If the armies of orcs, wargs and goblins originate from Sauron and Dol Guldor, Gandalf needs to be captured. The armies need to have time to reach Erebor for the Battle of Five Armies. Gandalf, conceivably, could have stopped them. Also, this gives further impetus for the White Council to attack Dol Guldor and drive Sauron out, while also freeing Gandalf. This all fits rather neatly together to build up the plot for the third film.

This time, the battle between Sauron and Gandalf bothered me even more, due to one line. Sauron says something to the effect that ‘no light can conquer the darkness,’ a statement which blithely contradicts everything I (at least think) I know about Tolkien.

On a side note, the design of Smaug’s eyes is very intriguing. They highly resemble the Eye of Sauron. There is much food for thought and debate in that visual link. I wonder if it was intentional?

  

In Review: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, Extended Edition

So the rumors are true!

The extended edition of The Hobbit: AUJ is significantly better than the theatrical release. Many of the scenes cut, though often insignificant in length, are very important for making sense of the plot in both this film, and even The Desolation of Smaug. The new scenes are stitched into the fabric of the movie beautifully, seamlessly and almost imperceptibly. A keen eye, and memory, is often needed to spot them. This makes for a whole new film, vastly superior to the theatrical, and, in terms of editing and choice of material, better than the extended editions of The Lord of the Rings.

Often, at least for the first half of the film, I was left to wonder why the scenes were cut at all, given the heavy lifting they often did. Usually in very short lines or sequences, added here and there, they add a lot to streamline the plot and characterization. To streamline through increased length may seem counter-intuitive, but here it works. Often actions and even character traits/biases seem fairly abrupt, arbitrary and out-of-the-blue in the theatrical release; not so here. While the things that bugged me about An Unexpected Journey are still present, the film is actually tighter, more enjoyable and more cohesive in its longer form.

I may have missed many of the additions, but many struck a chord and were rather thought provoking.

One thing that surprised me initially was the rapid fire tweaks and changes made in the prologue. In the homage scene, where the Wood Elves come to Erebor, they aren’t coming so much for that as for the white gems Thranduil mentions in DoS. Here, the brief allusion to the tale of the Nauglamir described at the end of ‘Flies and Spiders’, is updated to the present time, neatly side-stepping movie rights issues. In the ancient tale the treasure was largely owned by the elves, with the dwarves providing labor. The Nauglamir is also tied up in the Silmaril retrieved by Beren and Luthien. Thingol does not pay the dwarves, and imprisons them. In revenge, the dwarves invade Doriath and end up killing Thingol, which leads to the downfall of the kingdom. Obviously, Peter Jackson and Co. could not have used this information, and would have probably left most confused if they had. In the end, though a bit petty in scale, this scene worked marvelously well to establish the enmity between the wood elves and the dwarves. The subsequent abandonment at the fall of Erebor makes more sense, as does Thorin’s hatred of all elves, and Thranduils rather sudden ransom request of white gems in DoS.

After the prologue proper, which deals with Thorin and the fall of Erebor, there is a short scene at a celebration of the Old Took, where a child-Bilbo playfully attacks Gandalf with a toy sword. It is a brief scene, which yet again does a lot of work. The later scene in which Gandalf questions where the adventurous young hobbit he once knew went is clearer. It also adds wonderful new meaning to the prologue of The Desolation of Smaug, where it is evident Gandalf has a burglar in mind.

After the ‘Good Morning’ sequence, Bilbo goes to market to buy his fish for dinner. It is a great scene to see a bit more of Hobbiton, but also shows a couple things about Bilbo’s character. The way the scene is shot demonstrates the two minds of Mr. Baggins. First, there is a love or nostalgia for the Shire and a fear of being forced to leave its comfortable embrace. Secondly, there is also a sense of annoyance or boredom with the simple and mundane pleasures of hobbit life. The first is rather obvious, but at least initially, the second blooming of ‘wander-lust’ is there in the clever editing and facial acting of Martin Freeman.

Upon entering the hidden valley, Bilbo stops, and Gandalf claims he has felt the magic of Rivendel. I don’t quite like it put that way, but I found the moment intriguing. This moment is an interesting sideways reference to Vilya, Elrond’s ring. The scene is akin to the entry of Lothlorien, which makes perfect sense, as both are preserved by the power of one of the three elvish rings.

In Rivendel, there are many additional scenes, which were a mixed bag of cheap laughs, great characterization and clarified plot progression. A lot has been added to the feast at the beginning of their stay. First, Kili admires and comments on the elfmaids, noticing one attractive one, who happens to be male. It is good for a cheap laugh, but does foreshadow Kili and Tauriel’s relationship in DoS. The dinner continues with a dwarvish song and food fight. I found this completely distasteful. Yes, the dwarves are not as cultured as elves, but they are still rather stiff and proper (at least in the books). The song was somewhat of a treat, however, in that it is a reworking of Frodo’s song from the Inn of the Prancing Pony.

As Bilbo wanders around Rivendel, scenes have been reinserted which express the comfort, joy and peace he finds there. In a brief, but inexplicable, addition at the broken sword, he fixates on the Ring in Sauron’s hand. It’s interesting, but puzzling, as he would have no knowledge of it, or any ring really, at this point to know it is of any importance. Bilbo later has a conversation with Elrond, which rather beautifully portrays the friendship which would bloom between the two, Bilbo’s homesickness, and his reluctant participation in the quest.

With the dwarves bathing (which accounts for the brief nudity), we are treated to the further de-culturization of the dwarves. Thankfully, it is brief and leads directly into further great new material.

Bilbo and Thorin overhear the beginning of an extended version of the discussion between Gandalf and Elrond. This simple addition gives reason for the company’s sudden departure, which in the theatrical edition seemed rather abrupt and convenient. Here, it is seen more as a reaction to this conversation and the threat of being held back from their quest.

The White Council has also been expanded with discussion of the Rings of Power. In particular, the fate of the Seven is discussed, as well as the fate of the One. Here, we see Saruman’s emphatic assertion that it is lost forever. His recalcitrance in the entire conversation reads better with this scene, as it further indicates his own corruption. For those in the know, it may indicate Saruman’s own search is begun; it’s a tantalizing tidbit, which makes the entire Council segment feel more authentic, even with the buried witch king bit.

Upon entering the Goblin’s front gate, the dwarves check the caves. This simple gesture both foreshadows the abduction to come as well as grants a false sense of security (both for the dwarves, and the non-reading viewer).

I am unclear on how the theatrical version was cut, but it seems Bilbo here is much more visible to the goblins. He holds still, ducks down, and they pass him by. Is this to be further proof of the sneaking ability of hobbits? It felt pretty silly and implausible to me.

Though it felt largely out of place, the Goblin-King is given the goblin’s song to sing. It had me grinning ear to ear. It was delightfully humorous, while still carrying an undertone of (incompetent) menace. The entire character of this scene of the dwarves’ capture and interview is completely different. I loved it. The problem is, as stated earlier, it does not mesh as well as the other expanded scenes. Even so, here we get a sense for the difference between goblins and orcs. Goblins are described as crafty and more likely to enslave than kill. In this sense, they are not as large a threat and the silliness suits them. I do have to admit, I both winced and laughed uproariously at the “Second Age, couldn’t give it away” line, in reference to items stolen by the dwarves from Rivendel (which fact I did not like, other than it yielded this gem of humor).

In general, the bulk of the reinserted scenes are added to the prologue, Rivendel and Goblin-town. Some are throw-aways, adding cheap humor or further action, but the majority is extremely good. Barring the Goblin-king’s song (and even that segues rather well), they are seamless and beautifully integrated. Though it makes for a long movie, this is the film as it should have been. I still have significant problems with it, but some are mitigated by this edition. Forget the theatrical release. If and when I watch The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, this will be the edition I watch.

The Hobbit: TDoS Initial Impressions, Extended Edition – Bonus Commentary

For those who managed to slog through the Extended Editions (Part I/II) of my review, and maybe especially those that did not, you may have noticed some repeating elements. Writing these reviews has been a helpful vehicle, allowing me to gather and organize my thoughts as well as reevaluate my feelings.

In doing this, I am now able to discern my primary problem with the film. It is not an issue that ruins enjoyment of it, but is ultimately an obvious adaptation flaw, which we’ve seen over and over again from Jackson’s team. Last week, in preparation for the film, I took a look at Tolkien’s letters. He has some pointed criticisms and advice for those working to adapt his texts (in this case The Lord of the Rings) for the silver screen. One of his most repeated concerns is for the proper adaptation of characters; to ensure their authenticity and that they are taken seriously (Letter 210). It turns out these same concerns are my own, and define the aspects I find most troublesome in all of the Jackson films.

The apparent need to play with characterization, to demystify, to crack the armor of the hero and show their weakness and somehow make them relate-able is endemic in the films. There is also an evident desire to downplay the noble, the honorable, the wise. It doesn’t take much thought to find examples: Theoden, Faramir and Treebeard being greatest among them.

It may be argued, with good reason, that the characters of The Hobbit text are not fleshed out and so there is significant room for character development. This is very true, particularly for the dwarves, who are often nothing more than names. However, the values they do have, and the descriptions we are given regarding the nature of dwarves at large should play a leading role in that development.

Too much of The Hobbit: TDoS works towards demeaning characters, reducing their intelligence, reducing their heroism or bravery. There are few lights to shine forth as exemplars. The heroic quality of the tale is being worn away. This is demonstrated by what I like to call ‘arbitrary obstacles,’ which don’t increase tension, but slowly erode the characters. There are negative elements to each character, particularly in The Hobbit, but in almost every case, perhaps barring one note-worthy event, they are superseded by their positive character traits. In the films, however, I get the sense that each character is actually devolving, losing the battles against their inner demons, and it is this common trend that unites all five films (some are better, some worse) thus far that defines my critique.

On a side note, The Mary Sue had some interesting comments on the debate over Tauriel which I would like to comment on. In this article it is noted that Evangeline Lilly played the character as if the object of a love triangle but not participating in it herself. If this is the case, which may or may not be born out in the final film, this would actually be quite a masterful stroke. I intend to pay particular attention to this in my subsequent viewings. Seen in this manner, Tauriel becomes a sort of foil for Galadriel. Like other scenes I noted, which replicate those of LotR, this is a clear reference to the adoration of Galadriel by Gimli. If this is the sort of relationship unfolding, I could be swayed to accept even this supposed love triangle.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug First Impressions…It’s Complicated

So I’m shocked…and giddy…and outraged. To be honest, I really don’t know how I’m going to review The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, but as these are supposed to be my first impressions, I will take that as my guide. No need to worry if you have not seen it yet, no real spoilers here.

Why am I shocked? Simply because I actually enjoyed the film; I was genuinely entertained, and the two and an half hours passed like nothing. That also explains a bit of my giddiness, which I fear will wear off in time. The movie is fast-paced, beautifully imaged and generally cohesive. It makes for a great tale. It was a glossy, extravagant, action-packed adventure, which though exciting and thrilling, I still hesitate to say if I really liked it.

The trouble is the frame of reference which allowed me to enjoy it, not because it is the wrong one, but precisely because it is the right one.

The film reads well as a glorified fan-fiction, which isn’t all bad, but worse smacks of Hollywood tropes all over it. So many scenes, particularly the barrels out of bond, the wood elves, Bard, the Black Arrow, and Dul Guldor, display the excesses of a mind at play, exploring the possibilities further and further afield. Generally, these ‘explorations’ are interesting and thought provoking, but would I include them? No. The world of J.R.R. Tolkien is hard to glimpse behind the lens of Peter Jackson and Co., but as this is their interpretation I can live with it; particularly as some of these divergences begin to tie each of their films more tightly together. The world and mythology is becoming its own mythology, in many ways wholly outside of Tolkien’s.

Hollywood’s need for constant action, tasteless comic-relief, and the ubiquitous love triangle mar everything this film may have achieved. I had great fun viewing it, and I probably will again and again, but it is superficial and only skin deep. The heart and soul of Tolkien’s Hobbit is almost completely gone. Yes, there are moments that shine greatly. There are scenes I loved and felt were executed beautifully. Yet there were also entire swaths of film which could have been (should have been) wholly excised for how they pervert the story, the characters and the world.

Though the superficiality and token themes of Hollywood pervaded the film, it could have been saved if not for the last hour. So much of that had me scratching my head at the completely ludicrous nature of what was unfolding onscreen.

Did I enjoy it?

Yes, immensely.

Would I recommend it?

Yes. It’s an immensely entertaining action adventure. It brought me back to the original trilogy. I was on the edge of my seat. I was enthralled, amused and diverted.

But is it Tolkien?

I wish it were otherwise, but only just barely. In this sense the movie fails, and fills me with a certain sadness. I know the written word cannot be translated directly to the cinematic media, but the heart can…and, tragically, that was mostly gone.

In Review: The Gift of Friendship

Tolkien and CS Lewis: The Gift of Friendship“Tolkien and C.S. Lewis: The Gift of Friendship,” by Colin Duriez, attempts to tell both Tolkien and Lewis’s biographies as a single narrative, illuminating the linkages and influences they had with each other. The focus of Duriez’s writing and the events told, reflects this goal. However, to anyone who has read about either author’s life, there isn’t any new information, just different framing.

For myself, as a avid reader of all things Tokien and related to his works, the writing pertaining to Tolkien was not new…most information being available in his letters or Carpenter’s biography. So in a sense this book works more as a collection of the friendship themed bits.

I have read CS Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia, Screwtape Letters and his Space Trilogy, but not much else…and so his life was fresh and new for me. It even helped illuminate further what I know of Tolkien and his beliefs and opinions; particularly as relates to Tolkien’s faith and influence on C.S. Lewis’ conversion.

The dual nature of this book uses each author as a foil for the other, to reveal another layer of their personalities. In this sense, even though we may already know the information, “Gift of Friendship” is a success; and finds all the ties that bind these two greats together. But the fact remains that no real new information or conclusions originate in this work.