The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies (SPOILERS)

Warning: spoilers present in post and welcome in comments!

I understand critical response is muted/mixed, but I found it an emotionally satisfying end to the trilogy of films in a “the films are what they are” kind of way. Dwarves are silly. Physics is entirely optional, as are military tactics. Bilbo/Thorin is not very subtextual.

SADNESS: NO GOLLUM, PRECIOUS.

Wondered about/worried at!

  • The Battle of Five Armies is a skirmish of five armies. There’s no encampments, no supply lines, no reinforcements, no expectation that the battle might last more than an hour or two. Dain marched his people from the Iron Hills for this? (My fellow movie viewers noted to me that Thranduil is expecting to win bloodlessly by overwhelming display of force, but, confidential to Thranduil, you’re laying a siege. Bring some food and tents and maybe siege engines.) The Paintball of Five Armies.
  • Only the Orcs get some credit for tactics/preparedness. They have a command centre with good lines of sight, agreed signalling, and a general who doesn’t lead from the front. (Heroic to lead from the front, yes, sensible, no.)
  • Everyone else in is the tactics doghouse. I’m giving the Men of Laketown a pass: they lack tactics and preparedness because they are a desperate, starving, group of refugees. OK. The Wood Elves, on the other hand, have no such excuse.
  • How are there so many Wood Elves, anyway? Is this not the dawn of the Age of Men? I realise they’re mostly Silvan elves, but still, there are thousands and thousands of them and they’re highly disciplined warriors. Why are they not taking over the world? The Age of Elves, we could make this happen.
  • The Orc-ish forces are hugely overpowered compared to The Lord of the Rings movies: the earth-eating worms and the monsters that can head-butt their way into fortresses really seem like they should have been useful at Helm’s Deep (in The Two Towers). Saruman seems like the type who would have used them too. (And why did he bother breeding a more battle-hardy breed of Orc anyway? The Angmar version seem pretty decent.)
  • The Orcs start to lose some credit with the Thorin-Fili-Kili death sequence though. Why were the Orcs trying to trap Thorin (or, I guess, Dain, who seems as Gandalf says, more hot-headed) into single combat with their general, exactly? Of what possible tactical use could it be? Surely such a well-organised outfit has good enough intelligence to know that Thorin is on decidedly shaky ground as the King Under the Mountain (remember how he was under siege by another army?) and morale may not suffer as expected when you kill him?
  • In book canon, I believe the attack on Dol Guldur has Sauron merely pretend to fall before the White Council, as he is in fact ready to re-occupy Mordor but doesn’t want it to immediately be attacked. That would make more sense here too, but if so, we don’t see it. And Galadriel is evidently grievously wounded, but… this has no implications for anything in the future whatsoever?

One thing did sting my heart a bit: Bilbo seems to be setting off either before Thorin’s funeral, or just after it and before his wake. This seems to be a reversion to his self at the beginning of the trilogy. By this stage, it would be nice if Bilbo knew how to party or was willing to try. At least at highly personally and culturally significant moments like that one. (If nothing else, The Lord of the Rings kicks off with Bilbo throwing the party to end all parties, he has to have acquired the taste for it somewhere.)

There’s also a lot of loose-ish threads. Movie!Legolas is, it seems, off to play the role of Elrond’s sons Elladan and Elrohir (who do actually also exist in the movie canon, but not to any great effect): essentially Elvish Dunedain, and likewise motivated by an Orc-ish injury to their mother. Movie!Legolas, it seems, doesn’t even have a resolution to his mother’s story. All the more reason to go Orc-hunting! But how is that going to work out for him? If I recall the Council of Elrond in the movies right, Legolas and Aragorn don’t behave like comrades-in-arms who have seen each other recently.

Meanwhile, Tauriel is last seen grieving Kili with her status as an exile unresolved, likewise Legolas’s unreturned feelings for her.

Am I right in thinking that in this cut, the Arkenstone vanished into Bard’s coat never to be seen again? If there’s one thing that stands out to me from the book, it’s Thorin’s burial with it on his chest.

And above it all, movie!Angmar is by no means defeated. Is Jackson setting up a third trilogy without a book source (other than the Appendices) to cover the time between The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings? Or is that all video game canon?

I feel like the extended edition is going to be called on to do a lot of world-building work here that the cinematic edition sacrificed for pacing. Honestly, I think a lot of this will still be loose: there just won’t be screen time in that cut either, assuming that even the original scripts answered my questions.

Ahem. So… what did you think?



Categories: arts & entertainment

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4 replies

  1. Elsewhere: Kate Nepveu at Tor.com, with whom I substantially agree.
    I think I have something of a talent or anti-talent for a separate emotional relationship with the movies (as in “they are what they are”) for someone who has spent periods intensely engaged with Tolkien’s Middle-earth.

  2. I didn’t watch any of the Hobbit movies, but I did see the trailers, which basically convinced me I didn’t want to see the movies. (Trailers seem to do that to me….) I did see the Fellowship of the Ring, which I hated, and it looked like this was more of the same, just with (if it’s possible) even more Middle-Earth equivalents of car chases and shoot-outs.
    My problem with the movies, and with most of the fantasy genre that is somehow inspired by Tolkien, is that they take Tolkien’s scenery and make that the entire play, so to speak. Ya gotta have Elves, who have to be noble and eldrich (whether you know what the word means or not), ya gotta have other weird “races” (IMHO, a rather revealing term) to act as walking talking stereotypes, ya gotta have armies (again, “races”) of gross monsters who personify evil (orcs), and an Evil Overlord(tm) or two to make defeat seem inevitable, etc. It’s basically fan fiction, and has the usual weakness of fan fiction: the elements that in the original were there to support a story now become the story.
    It doesn’t help that, though I love LotR and The Hobbit, a lot of what’s in them and is in Tolkien’s work in general bores me to tears. I read books and watch movies to experience ways of being human, and Tolkien’s elves, in particular, have had all the humanity leached out of them to make way for abstract Nobility and Heroic-ness, as does Aragorn a lot of the time. I found Tolkien’s orcs only interesting to the extent they seemed human (granted, humanity at its worst, but human nontheless.) What saves LotR and The Hobbit for me is the presence of the down-to-earth, normal-human-like hobbits. Wherever they appear, the other “races” end up being forced to be more human, and when they’re off-stage, those “races” go back to acting like faceless NPCs (“Non-Player Characters”, a term my game-obsessed kids have taught me.) This may be why I found the Silmarillion so excruciating that I’ve never been able to read more than a few pages.
    I’ve also never liked the battle scenes. I’ve recently reread some Homer, whose decriptions of battles are far more interesting. I think it’s that Tolkien’s battles are all basically two archetypes slugging it out, whereas Homer’s combatants, on both sides, are people. In Tolkien, there’s always one side whose extermination you are supposed to whole-heartedly rejoice in, whereas in Homer, you get the feeling that it’s tragic that they’re trying to kill each other at all, a tragedy that the ancient Greeks could only explain by invoking gods.

  3. Only the Orcs get some credit for tactics/preparedness.
    I found myself almost rooting for them; they really earned a win there.
    Meanwhile, Tauriel is last seen grieving Kili with her status as an exile unresolved, likewise Legolas’s unreturned feelings for her.
    I was a little put out by the amount of needing-rescue they managed to pack in for her during the battle.

    • I was a little put out by the amount of needing-rescue they managed to pack in for [Tauriel] during the battle.

      Yes, me too. Sure, she did some rescuing as well, at least at the start of the relentless secondmost-badass orc’s attacks on Kili, but then she just got beaten down so swiftly to reactive survival mode compared to Legolas’ elegantly agile interventions. If the intent was to highlight that orc’s badassery by showing how quickly he overcame such a gifted warrior as Tauriel, then they forgot to have a strong scene for her earlier to re-establish just how badass she could be, and that’s one hell of a narrative oversight. This was also yet another writing choice that showed Legolas to be so very inhuman that it was hard to have much emotional sympathy for his lovelorniness.

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