The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (Film)

The third and final part of the film adaptation of The Hobbit was out over Christmas and we managed to get to the last 3D showing in Ipswich before it went 2D only. Normally I’m a fan of watching films in 3D where possible (not that I see many films …) but in this case I think I might rather’ve seen it in 2D. There were several scenes (including some right near the beginning) where the action seemed to be moving too fast for the projection to keep up – particularly apparent when there were close-up shots panning across lots of people rushing around. And some of the subtitles felt out of focus. So that was a shame. I’m not sure if that was Ipswich Cineworld being crap or a fault of the film itself though.

I’m not going to put a spoiler cut – I think it’s been out for long enough by the time I’m writing, and I suspect by the time this post goes live it won’t even be on at the cinema any more. So this is your warning not to read on if you want to avoid spoilers. The rest of this post is not so much a review but a collection of thoughts about the film.

I continue to think they’ve done a pretty good job with these adaptations. I suspect I might not be quite so in favour if I’d read the book more recently, or more often when I was a kid, but to me it feels like they have the overall plot that I remember plus a flavour of the Lord of the Rings films and so it works for me even when they’ve made changes. The most obvious change that even I notice are that there are some speaking parts for female characters. It’s a shame that Tauriel was mostly there to be the love interest, but at least she also got to kick ass 🙂 In fact there was a bit of a sub-theme of “never piss off an elfwoman” in this film, when you think about Tauriel & Galadriel’s scenes.

I really liked the way they portrayed Thorin’s slide into gold-sickness and madness, particularly the reusing of lines that Smaug had also used. And the way the other dwarves are so visibly caught between knowing he’s off his rocker, but still feeling loyalty and duty towards him as both King and friend. Also good were the few quieter moments where you felt like Bilbo might almost be able to talk him out of it – which means his epiphany about his behaviour later doesn’t come out of nowhere. All those scenes also showed how much Bilbo had changed – whilst he always had a moral compass, you can’t quite imagine the fussy, somewhat prissy hobbit we first met would put himself in danger like that for the sake of doing the right thing. I mean, he’d still’ve known what the right thing was but he’d’ve had some rationale for why someone else needed to do it.

I really liked the way they did the compare and contrast between the dwarves and the elves, I thought there was a real sense that despite their differences there are a lot of similarities between the two races. Like the two juxtaposed scenes of the leaders losing their mount and attacking the surrounding orcs, where there’s a lot of similarity except that Thranduil moves like he’s dancing and Dain headbutts his opponents. (I’d forgotten Billy Connolly was cast as Dain so that was an entertaining surprise.) The film also emphasises that their differences complement each other making them a good team if only either side would see it. Like when the orcs first attack and the dwarves form their shield wall and the elves come charging over to take the orcs by surprise.

I guess the elves/dwarves at loggerheads thing is part of a general theme running through all the films (and perhaps the books too, it’s been a while since I’ve read them): true evil works together towards the common goal (presumably because of coercion) but those who oppose it not. Free will means not everyone is going to choose to do the right thing, but it wouldn’t mean so much if it wasn’t something one had to choose? Not sure I’m articulating that well, but hopefully the idea comes across 🙂

On that sort of note – I saw pointed out elsewhere that one of the threads running through this film is people standing up to their (respected) leaders when they were doing the wrong thing. In stories it’s easy to show people as heroic by making them face off against “the bad guy doing the bad things”, but several of the moments of heroism here are someone going to someone they like and respect and saying “no, this time I think you’ve got it wrong” instead of giving them a pass because they’re normally right.

For the ending – I knew Thorin died from my memory of the book, but I wonder how many people who hadn’t read the book (recently enough) got faked out by the bit where the orc is under the ice? I’d forgotten Fili & Kili died though, so that took me by surprise. I felt a bit sorry for Fili – the other two got a proper death scene with at least one person mourning, Fili just gets chucked off the tower & forgotten.

Kinda sad there’s not going to be any more films (or at least I’m assuming that’s extremely unlikely!). But then again, there’s going to be new Star Wars films soon, so that probably fills in my “one film a year” slot 😉

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Just before Christmas J and I went to see the new Hobbit film. The rest of this post is pretty spoilery (and doesn’t include a plot summary so may not make much sense if you haven’t seen the film yet). The unspoilery version is “it was good! you should probably go see it! (providing you like such films)” 🙂

SPOILERS AHEAD! Hover mouse over text to read, or read on post page:

I’ll start briefly with the techy side of it – this time we saw the high frame rate 3D version, rather than the IMAX one. When we saw the first Hobbit film (post) it was a little spoilt by us being seated right under one of the rear speaker stacks, so that was part of why we avoided the IMAX showing. The other reason was that during some of the faster moving sequences in the last one like the goblin sequence we thought it was a bit blurry. That wasn’t an issue with any of the bits in this film, so I think the HFR version was worth going for. Although it did look a touch unreal – I’d forgotten that was a common thing said about HFR films, so it was niggling at me during the film, but J said he got used to it pretty quick (given he was expecting it). It still niggles at me a bit coz it doesn’t make sense that it should look unreal but there you go.

Moving on to the film – the dragon Smaug was awesome 😀 I particularly loved the scene where Bilbo is in the hoard and first figures out just how big Smaug is. Some of the chase segments afterwards did feel a bit contrived, but I think I buy into the idea that the dragon was playing with his food – he did seem to have that sort of personality, particularly after the “you can’t fool me” conversation with Bilbo in the hoard. I did wonder what the dwarves were thinking, trying to kill a fire breathing dragon with molten gold – surely neither heat nor gold should cause him a problem. Maybe they hoped he’d drown? Maybe they were just clutching at straws …

I guess one of the tough things about adapting the Hobbit for a modern audience is that Tolkein didn’t bother to write any female characters into the story, and Peter Jackson et al have clearly decided not to gender flip any of the existing characters. So for the last film Galadriel gets a speaking part so there’s at least one woman, and in this one we have Tauriel the wood elf. In some ways it’s a shame she gets tacked on as “the love interest”, but I don’t think it’s entirely as shallow as it seems on the surface. She’s the only elf we see that sees past her people’s prejudice against dwarves to treat any of them as people, and I think blindness/seeing is one of the things this part of the story is about. She also isn’t a damsel in distress needing rescuing – she’s the one who goes out to shoot the orcs threatening the dwarves, and not just in her own lands but chasing them across the route the dwarves travel. She saves Kili’s life, rather than him rescuing her.

I think Gandalf (again) gets one of the lines that states a theme of the film – “We have been blind, and that has let the Enemy come back” (possibly not the exact words, I’m writing this a week after seeing the film). He says this just after he and Radagast realise that the Necromancer is more than just a rumour, and just before he goes into the orc stronghold that’s under a spell to cloud one’s sight. But it fits into a wider context than that – he also says it after he’s not followed up on Bilbo being awfully … odd about something he found earlier. We know it’s the Ring, and Peter Jackson et al have the advantage here in adapting the Hobbit as a true prequel to the Lord of the Rings rather than retro-fitting it into the story like Tolkein did. We know what that ring is, and we know where this is going – and in not following it up, going instead to do “more important things” is Gandalf being blind again, and allowing the Enemy another step on the way to victory. And to narrow the context again – even in this film alone we see Gandalf setting things in motion (setting Thorin off on this path, leaving the dwarves & hobbit to their own devices) that ultimately end in Smaug waking up and flying off to burn Laketown. Bilbo, of course, gets the final word on that – “what have we done!”.

I think Thorin gets fewer framed hero shots than before, and his flaws are highlighted more than I remember them being in the first film. He still believes (mistakenly) that he’s the hero of this story, and we see where that gets him – he’s too proud to bargain with the wood elves, he’s willing to dangle promises in front of people to do what he wants even when it’s not in their interests. He sends others in to do his dirty work, or sends them away if they’re not useful any more, without caring about them as other than tools. If it wasn’t for Bilbo he wouldn’t’ve got anywhere, let alone as far as he’s got – but when Bilbo’s running from Smaug all Thorin cares about is whether he’s got the Arkenstone. (We don’t see if he did or not, so I’m assuming he did – he never tells Thorin he doesn’t have it, he just doesn’t tell him he does).

It’s been a long time since I last read the book, so I can’t really remember what’s been changed – though I’m told that it’s rather a lot. Other than Tauriel I did notice that Bard gets more (any?) of a role at this point of the story, rather than appearing after Smaug has been set free. And the sequence with Beorn wasn’t quite what I remembered either. Still I’m not so attached to the book that I mind it being retold in a different way 🙂

As I said at the start of this post – it was good! 🙂

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Here be spoilers! Read at own risk 😉 It also probably won’t make much sense if you haven’t seen the film yet, as I’m not doing a plot synopsis.

J & I went to see The Hobbit on Tuesday evening & it was rather good 🙂

SPOILERS AHEAD! Hover mouse over text to read, or read on post page:

I’ll get the negative things I want to say out of the way first, as they’re not about the story. We went to the Imax screen in Cineworld which has assigned seats and ended up with seats nearish the back at the side (row P in screen 6 if you’re local to Ipswich and want to avoid this) – which put us right underneath one of the rear speaker stacks and as a result the sound was appalling. I was wondering during the trailers/ads if I needed ear plugs and whether I was going to come out of the film with ringing ears. Thankfully it was less over-loud during the film itself (or maybe there were just more quiet bits to recover during), but it was still loud enough to be distorted at times and the “background” noise drowned out the voices at more than one point. Another time we’ll go to a different showing if those are the only seats left.

I liked the use of 3D – most of the time just adding depth in a fairly subtle way, with the occasional thing popping out to good effect (the butterfly that flew away towards the back of the cinema, and some flaming pine cones that made me duck are the things that have particularly stuck in my mind). But I did think it looked blurry when panning across a scene – I’d wonder if it was artistic choice if it was just the fight scenes (the chaos of war or something) but it was even when panning around scenery with no or few moving things. We were watching the 24fps 3D version, and I do wonder if the 48fps version would look better for those bits – I should’ve looked that up before we bought tickets I guess, I just didn’t think it’d make that much difference. (Screen 8 in Cineworld Ipswich is doing 48fps apparently, if you were going to go see it.)

OK, now I’ve got my grumpy old woman bit out of the way what about the film itself? 🙂

I enjoyed it 🙂 I think they did a good job of weaving in the things that were in the book and the things they got from the rest of Tolkien’s world. And presumably some things were additions of their own, but nothing stuck out like a sore thumb. I had read that they’d given Galadriel a role in the story to have a female character with a speaking part in the film – in some ways making some of the dwarves female might’ve been the better answer (and is probably what would be the case if this was written these days), but that would require changing things too much for most people’s tastes (I can imagine the explosions about how they’d “ruined Tolkien’s story”). When I’d read about it I’d worried it might feel tacked on or shoehorned in to tick some boxes, but I thought they did a very good job. The scene itself didn’t just work in the context of the film, but also in setting up Saruman’s turning to evil in the Lord of the Rings films.

I don’t think Saruman is supposed to’ve already gone over to Sauron at this point, but I think you can see he’s starting to slide down the slippery slope. The petty dismissal & belittling of Radagast because he doesn’t meet some arbitrary standard of acceptable behaviour & appearance. The lack of empathy towards the exiled dwarves. The way he seems more concerned that things should be done the “proper way” rather than with considering what is the right thing to be doing. And I particularly liked the way the film makes it explicit that everyone else is just tuning out his ranting by fading back the sound and having Galadriel & Gandalf have a mental conversation while Saruman drones on.

I also liked the way that while they do state a couple of the themes of the film in the dialogue they don’t belabour it. So Gandalf says the bit about “true courage is about knowing not when to take a life, but when to spare one.” but when it comes to the point where that matters we aren’t beaten around the head with why Bilbo shows mercy or that this is a Significant Moment, we’re trusted to realise that for ourselves.

And the other is when Gandalf is talking to Galadriel about Saruman and says “Saruman believes it is only great power that can hold evil in check, but that is not what I have found. I found it is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay… small acts of kindness and love.” (Quotes taken from IMDB btw, they do look about right but the wording might be a little off as I think they’re user submitted.) And really that’s spread through everything that happens in the film. One of J’s colleagues pointed out there’s a lot of shots of Thorin as “The Hero”, backlit and/or in slow-mo. As Anna points out this is mostly when he’s being talked about by the other characters, when they’re telling stories about him and his deeds, it’s about how the other dwarves see Thorin. But I think it’s also that he’s the character who should be The Hero, he’s the one who is the last of the line of Durin going to take back his home from the dragon, the prince of the blood, the trained warrior, the man with the blood feud with Azog. By all rights this should be his story. But it’s not, it’s the story of our homesick fussy little hobbit who unexpectedly & out-of-characterly went on an adventure. And over the course of the film he looks at one terrible & scary situation after another and summons up all his courage and does what needs to be done even tho he’d rather be back home & comfortable, warm & dry. Like when they meet the Trolls, there’s Bilbo – first trying to sneak in to get the horses back, then trying to talk their way out of being eaten. And most obviously when Thorin does his Hero thing and runs down the tree to fight his sworn enemy, but fails – it’s Bilbo who saves his life by rushing in, not fearlessly but because it is the right thing to do. And then after that the rest of the dwarves come, and Gandalf’s summoned rescuing eagles arrive. But if Bilbo hadn’t done what needed to be done, then the story would be over.

I liked Radagast – at first I thought he was a bit over-done with the eccentricities but he’s clearly not just a foolish old man talking to the animals. He’s got power, and he’s got courage – going to the fortress tracking the spiders, for instance – and he’s paying more attention to the world about him than Saruman is. I guess that’s one of the other themes of the film – don’t go on superficial appearances. Like Saruman’s distaste for Radagast, like Thorin’s dismissal of Bilbo.

The dwarves were cool – I thought the film handled the mix of slapstick and seriousness well. And actually getting some of the songs was neat (and didn’t feel musical-ish with the songs part of the production rather than the world inside the story, it felt like these actual characters would burst into song in that way). Although of course I’ve had “Time passes. Thorin sits down and starts singing about gold.” running through my head ever since. I can’t remember who I was talking to about it recently, but we concluded there’s a generation of us who will immediately remember the game that came from 🙂

I did think there was a bit much of the “run through the goblin caves killing goblins” scenes. But then it culminated in the line that made me laugh the most so I’ll forgive it 😉 That being the bit where the goblin king says “So now what are you going to do?” and Gandalf slices him open, so the goblin king looks down and says “That’ll do it.” and dies. Made me giggle, the timing was perfect.

I’m sure there was other stuff I thought I wanted to comment on, but I think that’s enough for one post 🙂