Time, now, to take on the final chapter in Peter Jackson’s epic, six film series.
What’s that? Oh. The … final third of… the first book in JRR Tolkien’s epic … no, wait, The Hobbit was just one book written long before the epic that would come later. Damn. Let’s just get on with it.
Spoiler alert: this post got longer than I really intended for it to be, but I stand by all of my critiques. There’s a proper spoiler alert ahead, which makes this a spoiler alert for the spoiler alert. (This is how loopy the review gets.)
I saw the movie on opening weekend. I really wanted to see it. By the end, I was glad I had seen it, in the same way you’re glad that your long-suffering pet, who had been in pain, unable to eat or play or survive, just got put down at the vet. You’re not happy about the experience, but at least the worst is over.
Let’s start with the good (and I’ll keep this brief): the movie is gorgeous. Let’s not speak about the film being in 3d, as it’s completely unnecessary. I saw the 2d version and it was as gorgeous as you could ask for. But saying that a Hobbit film is gorgeous is a bit like saying that outer space is a little sparse. It goes without saying. Peter Jackson, level what complaints you will, knows a thing or two about presenting an epic fantasy world, and as usual, he does it proper. And the acting jobs are all pretty superb as well: Freeman is charming as ever as the titular hobbit, and all the others blah blah blah ENOUGH.
There was so much in this movie that was frustrating, I’m only going to be able to hit the high points before I need to light up a pipeful of shire-weed and rub my illustrated copy of The Hobbit on my face to dull the pain.
By the way, sound the klaxons and cover your eyes, there be spoilers ahead.
The best thing about the trilogy is over before the opening credits.
Smaug dies in the opening sequence. To be fair, he dies well before the end of the book, too. I knew it was coming, but… god, the dragon was so beautiful, so well done, and it’s there, wreaking hell and spewing death like a lawn sprinkler loaded up with agent Orange, and then it’s just dead. Yes, I know, the end of the book is not about the dragon. That’s fine. But it would have been so easy to have him dead at the end of the 2nd film. Why not have him die at the end of the 2nd film? So that that film could end on a cliffhanger, of course. Why do we need a cliffhanger ending? Why, to keep fans coming back to see the 3rd film, naturally.
But there’s a problem with that logic. If you’ve sunk your hard-earned dollars into seeing the first two films (and, let’s face it, the original LOTR trilogy, so really the prior five films), you were already going to see this movie. Cliffhanger or no. Hell, the preview could have showed Bilbo and Thorin playing Chinese Checkers and Gandalf napping in his pointy hat and we’d still have gone to see it. Ending on the cliffhanger, and thus being trapped into starting this movie in the most anticlimactic way possible, was pure cinematic masturbation. “Hey, everybody else ends films on cliffhangers, we should do it too!” Except you don’t have to. Let the films stand independently rather than stitching them together like so many random body parts with the thin thread of one stretched-out incident. Seriously. The action of this film is enough in its own right without having the death of Smaug tacked on before the opening credits even roll. I got so excited to see the dragon again, only to have my heart smashed when Benedict Cumberbatch and his smooth-as-butter digitally-modified voice exited stage left immediately. The cliffhanger sucks, and I’m not even talking about this film. It needs to be put out to pasture. And speaking of overused tropes:
Get ready for an overdose of oh-sharknado-that-character-is-dead-oh-wait-no-he-isn’t.
I hate this trope. I hate it, hate it, hate it the way I hate my oldest, ugliest, meanest cat, minus the part where deep down, I really still love the cat despite all her bullsharknado, because I do not love this trope even a little bit. Maybe, maybe this trope might have surprised people when they pulled it the first few times, what? Back in the sixties or seventies? In the worst of the worst slasher films when that was the only way left to scare the audience? Here’s a goldfingered clue to filmmakers: if a six-year-old in the audience can predict what’s about to happen, you need to do something different. Now, I saw the film almost two weeks ago, so some of the details are fading from memory I’m sure, but in this film alone, BOTH of the big baddies have that moment where, oh, the-hero-has-bested-the-monster-and-ended-the-fight-oh-no-wait-this-is-a-hollywood-movie-where-anybody-can-survive-anything-for-the-purposes-of-narrative-CPR.
Legolas buries a big bad orc under an entire freaking TOWER of some dilapidated castle (we’ll get back to Legolas in a moment) and turns his back, sheathing his oh-so-cool elvish daggers and wearing that I’m-so-cool-I-just-killed-100-orcs-and-my-elf-hair-is-still-fabulous smolder, but WAIT, the orc pops out of the rubble and attacks again. If you were surprised by the orc jumping out of the pile of two-ton bricks as if they were made of papier-mache (haha just kidding it’s all CGI you ninny), then you might also be surprised when the air conditioner clicks on in your house when it was otherwise quiet. OOH SCARY.
Moments later — sheer countable moments later, before you’ve even had a chance to wash that feeble attempt at shock and awe has even had a chance from your palate — Thorin does battle with an even bigger, even badder orc on a frozen lake, and through dwarven cunning, tricks the fiend into crashing through the ice on his way to a drowned, watery grave. Huzzah! We’re even treated to a suspicious-looking Thorin (who himself seems to know what’s up) watching the body of the monster drift away under the ice. The monster is completely still, because you know, that’s what happens when you’re plunged into icy water and you’re drowning, but then there’s a long shot as Thorin seems to decide that the baddie is well and truly dead, just in time for the baddie to erupt through the ice behind Thorin to do battle once more. It’s almost funny, really, the way it insults our intelligence (but, ah-hah, now I see it — we’re already dumb for throwing all our money down this bloated franchise… TOUCHE, PETER JACKSON). First, we’re treated to the so-overused-it’s-idiotic shot of the baddie’s eyes slammed, deathlike, closed, only for them to SLAM OPEN to the dramatic sound of a mime tripping and falling into an orchestra. And the orc shoots through the ice like he was launched out of a cannon. Like… god, just whatever. I can’t even dissect this moment anymore. I’m sad for the people that thought it would be a compelling moment.
And while we’re on the topic of things that might have been compelling but weren’t:
Hey, here’s a badass heroine, just kidding, she’s just a damsel-in-distress who can fight a little bit but still needs rescuing.
I’m going to ignore any analysis of the fact that Tauriel does not exist in the book — nor, for that matter, does Legolas — and, by extension, ignore the insulting-in-its-own-right attempt at a love story between the elf and one of the bumbling dwarves. I don’t even have to go there to tell you how badly this character gets shafted.
Tauriel is an elf. One of the only female elves, if we are to believe the films, aside from Galadriel, who is a point of analysis for another time entirely, preferably after I indulge in a little shire-leaf. But she’s an elf, and elves in Tolkien’s world are FARGOING AWESOME. They move with precision and grace! They live forever! They can defy gravity and, in fact, all of physics as they fight off hordes of evil demons with nary a scratch! And even though she’s just a girl, Tauriel can do all of that sharknado. She’s the very definition of an anti-hollywood-female-character as she slices and dices her way through the ranks of evil, defies the ridiculous edicts of the men in charge of her world, and joins the cause of the dwarves against the great evil of the land.
In the midst of the fighting, we watch as Tauriel dispatches… it’s hard to say exactly, but I’m gonna say forty or more orcs in the space of just a few minutes. She skewers them with arrows, slits their throats with daggers, runs them through with swords, tosses them from the ramparts with her dainty-yet-insanely-powerful elf arms. At one point, I think she was sipping a cappucino and complaining to her half-human friend about how the dwarf wasn’t responding to her text messages while clawing an orc’s eyes out with her perfectly-manicured nails, but I might have gotten that confused with another movie. Anyway, she’s a whirlwind of destruction, until the moment when she spies her beloved in the distance, and — gasp and egads — he’s in trouble! And in that moment, the big-bad second-in-command orc pounces upon her from behind and she’s in a fight for her life.
There’s the first problem. Because take, oh, I dunno, ANY action movie with a male heroine, show him cutting a path through his foes, let him see the inevitable love interest in danger. A foe jumps him from behind. The hero will dispatch this idiot with barely a backward glance, and then set about saving the girl. But here: Tauriel gets distracted by her man and suddenly an entire elvish life of hundreds if not thousands of years of orc-slaying training and instinct goes out the window, and she’s getting pummeled by this ONE ORC.
I’m put in mind of Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark. The Nazis have kidnapped Marian and the Ark and are high-tailing it out of town, and Indy has to fight through the crowd. He deals with some hapless denizens through crafty use of his whip and his fists, then the big bad jumps out — a turbaned, terrifying dude with a scimitar the size of El Paso. He growls. He brandishes his sword. Indy is in trouble. Except he’s not. He pulls a pistol and shoots the dude, and turns to look for Marian with boredom curling his lip. Because Indy is a goldfingered man’s-man HERO.
Then, the second problem. Legolas arrives, pulls the baddie off her, and allows her the chance to recover from the beatdown she’s just received. Does she do what a hero — or a soldier — or in fact anybody with a bit of sense would do, and help Legolas dispatch this fiend? No, she flerps around on the balcony pitifully for a minute and then goes off looking for her boyfriend. But this orc was bad enough to give you a run for your money — you don’t think Legolas might appreciate a little hand? (Let’s forget that Legolas is to this series what Conan is to Conan and therefore has no chance of dying, or in fact of being in any sort of danger whatsoever. He kills the beast as described above. But still.) No, she turns her back on a comrade and doesn’t even get the satisfaction of slaying the foe that almost bested her.
Now, again, take any action movie with a male hero. A villain is besting the hero in hand-to-hand, or sword-to-sword, or whatever-to-whatever combat. He’s outmatched. Sharknado, he’s going down! But a well-timed interruption, distraction, or anything to draw the foe’s attention for a moment will present itself and then the hero will overcome the villain himself. Allow a sidekick to strike the killing blow? NEVER.
Again, I’m reminded of Indy in Raiders. He’s on the ropes for real this time, overmatched by a burly, chest-oiled, bald-headed Nazi who has dismissed Indy’s punches without so much as a flinch and put Indy on his ass with a single well-placed jab. Indy stands no chance. But look! A twin-prop airplane is coming about right behind the villain! Now, Indy doesn’t strike the killing blow, but he’s sure as hell involved — he smiles at the guy to distract him then ducks for cover as the propeller grinds him into a fine mist. Funny, but HEROIC.
There’s more, but my fingers hurt.
This is turning into one of my longest posts ever, and I’ve only scratched the surface on this film. I’m going to cut it short here for my own sanity and yours, if you made it this far. But let me set the record straight. I enjoyed the film. It’s a fitting (if long) end to the series, and it does a good job of throwing into sharp relief the tribulations of men faced with a sudden windfall, while also providing an uplifting message about how ultimately, when the sharknado really goes down, people bind together to weather the storm. It’s a good movie. But it’s also full of some of the most head-scratching moments I’ve endured in a film I enjoyed.
But it’s all over now, and there will never be another Hobbit movie. The tale is well and truly told, which means we are now, finally, safe from Peter Jackson. Forever.
What’s that? He’s still making movies?
By the by, I was inspired to start thinking about this movie again after reading Myzania’s post on it. She’s kinder to the film than I was. Thanks — I think — for reminding me how frustrated I was by the movie.