Monday, 20 June 2016

Film Round-Up #15

The Hobbit (2012 - 2014)
Directed By: Peter Jackson Starring: Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, Benedict Cumberbatch, Orlando Bloom, Evangeline Lilly, Lee Pace, Luke Evans, Ken Stott, James Nesbitt, Manu Bennett, Sylvester McCoy, Billy Connolly, Cate Blanchett, Ian Holm, Christopher Lee, Hugo Weaving, Elijah Wood, Andy Serkis

Certificate: 15 Running Time: Approx 474 minutes


I am often asked what my favourite film of all time is. There are many contenders, but my answer lies with a series that has had a bigger emotional impact on me than any other. And that's what films are all about, right? Making you feel stuff, whether that's joy, sadness, fear, anger, or simply making your heart fill up like a balloon (to quote another of my favourite films) for no apparent reason. That's what happens when I watch The Lord of the Rings. I don't just sit there gawping at the TV - I actually feel invested in the adventure; in the characters, even the 'evil' ones. So, as I often find myself saying, if I'm allowed to choose a trilogy as my favourite 'film', it would have to be that one. Imagine how ecstatic I felt, therefore, to hear a few years back that we would have the chance to return to Middle Earth in the form of a new trilogy which was on the way too!

Well, when I say 'new', that's not strictly true I guess, for this second trilogy would be an adaptation of Tolkien's earlier work, The Hobbit, which of course saw 'the most famousest of hobbits', Bilbo Baggins, tricked by Gandalf into partaking in a grand adventure to the Lonely Mountain. Explaining to us beforehand by way of his book we saw in LOTR, this mountain, also known as Erebor, once housed a great Dwarvish kingdom. During their most prosperous era, they stored their immense riches within the mountain while Dale, a city-state of Men, also thrived nearby.

That was until a foul dragon called Smaug arrived. Attracted by the gold and gems as apparently dragons are, he destroyed Dale and ousted the Dwarves from their stony halls, taking up residence, and it's there he remains to the present day. Well, present day in the film of course, which is still some years prior to the events of LOTR. It is at this time a company of Dwarves led by Thorin Oakenshield, determined to reclaim his birthright as King of the Lonely Mountain, sets out to slay Smaug and rebuild his people's lost kingdom, and he wants Bilbo's help.

An Unexpected Journey (2012)

The first part of the story begins as gently as you might expect it to as we're introduced to Thorin and his many bumbling friends as they arrive, apparently invited, at a bemused Bilbo's house. Before long however, they're on their way to the Lonely Mountain. Unsurprisingly obstacles soon rear their heads in the form of a giant angry bear, an unpleasant trio of trolls, a horde of ghastly goblins, and a small group of Orcs led by the mighty Azog who has a long-standing beef with Thorin (and vice-versa without any question!). It's only the first film though, of course, so despite all of these woes the group of stumpy oafs don't yet reach the Lonely Mountain by the time the credits roll, but we do get an enticing preview of what awaits them.

There are several spectacular set-pieces on this first leg of their long journey too, including Rivendell which has never looked better, and a great sequence within the Misty Mountains with the flabby Great Goblin. Soon after the party got on their way, though, it did kind of seem like a succession of special effects extravaganzas, and overall I found it somewhat disappointing. Perhaps too much was expected after the wondrous LOTR but I didn't find many of the characters very engaging. It's great to see Gandalf again though, and there are some wonderful moments, most significantly Bilbo's encounter with Gollum whose enchanting golden ring has found its way to a new owner, and it's still an enjoyable film without doubt... 7/10

The Desolation of Smaug (2013)

As promised by the title, however, the second part of the saga does see our brave Dwarves reach their crumbling former kingdom and, after a bit of trouble with the rear entrance (childish snigger), they find themselves face-to-face with its gargantuan occupant who isn't eager to transfer ownership of the glittering contents. The route to its barren caverns included some time in Mirkwood where they find themselves 'guests' of the grumpy elvish king, Thranduil (who counts our good friend Legolas among his subjects, as well as the lovely Tauriel), but elsewhere in the vast forest Gandalf investigates suspicions first roused in the previous film of the return of dark powers to Sauron's former fortress of Dol Guldur.

Aside from Smaug himself who has been portrayed stunningly, there are lots of other great scenes in this chapter too. Some highlights include an attack by a 'cluster' of ghastly giant spiders (eeeek!), shooting the rapids in barrels while being pursued by nasty Orcs, and the introduction of Laketown and its possibly-heroic bargeman (and smuggler), Bard. There's definitely more going on this time and the excitement duly builds as the stakes increase, which they do on more than one front as Gandalf gets himself into a pickle back in Mirkwood too, and the tension is built for the third film superbly, culminating in a highly ominous closing scene. "What have we done?", Bilbo asks himself in horror, and well he might. Foolish Dwarves... 8/10

The Battle of the Five Armies (2014)

As you might imagine, the next film picks up immediately where the previous one left off. Namely, with an irritated Smaug heading directly for Laketown as Bilbo, Thorin, and the rest of the Dwarves look on helplessly. Far from springing into action to warn or help the poor residents, however, an increasingly erratic Thorin, now afflicted by the 'dragon sickness' (i.e. angry and greedy) instead orders the newly-beastless Erebor to be sealed off to prevent the gathering claimants from obtaining the treasure they believe they own and/or are owed. They include an Elvish army headed by Thranduil, a rabble of Orcs headed by the fearsome Azog, and the people fleeing Laketown with whom Thorin had previously agreed to share the treasure.

On top of that, a second Orc army has been summoned too - oh dear! Luckily a 'legion of Dwarves, fully armed and filthy' arrives to help out, headed by Thorin's cousin Dáin, and sure enough, it isn't long before that battle of the title has begun. And, aside from a scene in Dol Guldur where Galadriel, Elrond and Saruman arrive to help out the hapless Gandalf, that's about all the film is - a giant (and lengthy) battle! I guess that was inevitable though; we knew it was coming and were most likely looking forward to it. Indeed, giant battles can be very entertaining, but when they form nearly the entire basis of a 2½ hour film they kind of lose their impact a bit, especially when even their creators seem to lose track of what's going on.

That was kind of the impression I got anyway - the action flits back and forth between characters but also seems to forget about entire armies at some points. That's not to say it isn't a thrill to watch for much of the time though - the special effects are as exceptional as we're used to and there are some superb shots and set-pieces, not least of which is Thorin's final showdown with Azog which doesn't disappoint. It also ties up the various stories nicely and, in a couple of cases, ties them into LOTR as well. It is basically a long, slightly muddled action film though, and fails to engage the emotions as much as it should. Is that what we wanted from the (probably) final Middle Earth film? I can't help but feel we deserved more... 7/10

Final Thought:

Although lightning can strike the same place twice, the odds of it actually happening are minuscule, and so is the case here. The Lord of the Rings was an amazing - but also rare - success. As a trilogy it was nearly perfect, benefiting from exceptional direction and production, stunning sets and costumes, ground-breaking effects work and masterful acting, and even a little luck with the fantastic chemistry between the well-chosen cast, all in addition to the gripping story written some 50 years earlier.

The latter point also applies to The Hobbit of course, the production values are as flawless as ever, and special mention must go to the casting of Martin Freeman who is perfect as younger Bilbo, but it just doesn't have that same magic. Some blame the story itself. The stakes are certainly not as high as they were in LOTR - how could they be? - but most blame the decision to split it into three parts as opposed to the planned two. I initially applauded this decision - the more time we get to spend with the wonders of Middle Earth the better, surely? But perhaps it would've been better as a two-parter, or even one (long) standalone film.

I suppose it's a bit pointless to ponder what can't be changed though, and the fact is, The Hobbit, as a trilogy, is far from a disaster. Expecting it to live up to LOTR was always going to be asking too much, and even if nothing else, it's always great to visit Middle Earth again. Revisiting some of the old characters and locations really is wonderful, like seeing old friends again for the first time in years, and it's also great to meet some new characters and see new locations too. The films might have failed to live up to most of our lofty expectations for the most part but they are still very enjoyable to watch too, and I'm sure I'll return to them again some day.


 

2 comments:

  1. Nicely told, although an overall score would be appreciated! I read The Hobbit in my childhood years, and remember being completely absorbed and excited, addicted to reading "just one more page".

    The fact is this was made into 3 parts for financial reasons alone. This spoilt the experience, as there isn't enough material for 3 films. So we suffered from laboured scenes, and little of interest occurring (or said) most of the time, in stark contrast to the book!

    As you said, the 3rd film is just one never ending (and thus boring) fight, which is about one and a half hours too long. Still, I'm grateful this finally made it to film, and really look forward to the 3 hour re-imagining "There and Back again".... :D

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  2. Cheers man :) I like the films, particularly the second, and I'm sure they would've been stunning if it wasn't for LOTR. That was a mighty tough act to follow though, and the story and characters just weren't as interesting in my opinion. I guess they did compensate for the increased running time by adding some stuff not found in the book but they probably should've just adapted the book and possibly made a separate, standalone film from the other stuff they added. Oh well, hope you enjoy the much-shortened re-edit. I sure did :)

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