I distinctly remember my experience of watching Return of the King for the first time. As the credits rolled accompanied by the beautifully enchanting ‘Into The West’, I stood with my eyes transfixed on the screen. I had been blown away by Peter Jackson’s fantasy epic, so much so that I remained speechless for quite some time afterwards as my early teenage mind tried to piece together what I had seen. The conclusion I came to was that Lord of the Rings might just be the defining cinematic spectacle of my generation – our very own Star Wars. I still stand by my youthful opinions to this day, and I have watched the trilogy countless times, even exhausting the many discs that make up the extended edition boxset. In short, I am a fan, and an avid one at that.
Years later when production of The Hobbit was announced it was like Christmas had come early – well-known Tolkien fan and fantasy director Guillermo del Toro in the chair? Jackson producing? Two more films in jolly Middle-Earth? Well, sign me up right now! But production wasn’t kind and del Toro exited leaving Jackson at the helm once more, and two films became three, and seeds of doubt were sown in my mind. Just what were we in for? Without delving into full reviews, what we got was mixed.
After two films there has certainly been improvement, but for every excellent moment (Bilbo’s confrontation with Smaug), there seems to be a pretty poor moment (Tauriel’s unconvincing love triangle nonsense). It’s also hard to shake the feeling that both films could have benefited from a bit more ruthlessness in the editing suite. With the final chapter looming just a month away on the horizon, the main trailer was released this week. Take a look.
So what are my concerns for the conclusion to The Hobbit trilogy? I’ll do my best to sum them up under two headings.
I think you’d be hard pressed not to see shades of Return of the King in the trailer for Battle of the Five Armies; the serious dialogue, the ominous score, the emphasis on war and battle, heck even the teaser trailer used Pippin’s haunting song ripped straight from the third Rings film. There’s a sense of dread and last stands that seems to link both of them in a way that I did not see when reading the books and it does not feel right. The weighty nature of Return of the King is well justified by the story. This really is the battle for the world between good and evil, the last-ditch attempt, the ending of an age. Not so with The Hobbit, whose ending is not a climactic battle but the conclusion to the adventure of a singular hobbit and a band of dwarves.
It’s hard not to see this as anything but a desperate need to replicate the success of Lord of the Rings when the source material is not equivalent. Two films would have been fine, but the addition of a third reeks of studio greed, milking the book for all its worth and leaving it a dry elongated mess in the process. This stretching compulsion is symptomatic of this era of cinema – we’ve already seen it in Harry Potter and we’ll be seeing it soon with The Hunger Games. More films in a popular series, more money for the studios.
I’m also concerned by the similarities to Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith. The trailer promises us that this film will be the ‘defining moment in the middle-earth legend’, perhaps hinting that this will bridge the gap to Rings with the intent to have a cohesive six film saga, which again does not strike me as being true to The Hobbit seeing as it’s not a prequel. This pressure to link events has likely added to the amount of needless content being stuffed into the runtime and it’s likely we’ll be looking at over 3 hours for Battle of The Five Armies, a length comparable with…you guessed it, Return of the King.
If The Hobbit is trying to be Rings then so far it hasn’t manage to replicate the focus of Jackson’s earlier trilogy. In the midst of the chaos of war between good and evil were a few small people – Pippin, Merry, and more importantly, Sam and Frodo. These characters, though lacking in stature, proved to be the greatest part of the Rings trilogy and its very beating heart. In courage and deeds they surpassed many others and it’s clear that the trilogy is their story, from beginning to end. This was so clearly presented in one fantastic scene in Minas Tirith which you can check out below. It’s a wonderful sequence, not only because Aragorn reunites with his true elf-love Legolas, I mean Arwen, but because it brings us full circle back to the hobbits.
Just as Frodo was the focus in Rings, Bilbo is the focus of The Hobbit (so bleedingly obvious that it’s painful to point out), but he seems to be lost in the flurry of events seen in the trailer. He says one line and then fittingly disappears right at the end, which seems incongruous with the opening to An Unexpected Journey which has him recounting the whole story. Of course, this is speculation and the trilogy might still be brought full circle in its closing moments, although I’m not sure that will be enough to save our hairy-footed hero. The shifting focus seems most apparent in the change of subtitle from There and Back Again to Battle of the Five Armies, the former being part of the original book’s title. It’s a concern that in the maelstrom of five separate armies and possible CGI overload, we’ll lose sight of The Hobbit himself and his journey, and thus lose the heart of the tale, which would be sad indeed.
If you’ve managed to read this far then well done, I hope you aren’t too incensed. You might be a little disturbed by my apparent lack of faith, especially since I have claimed loyalty earlier, but bear with me for just these final thoughts. No-one is hoping that I am wrong more than me. I hope Jackson’s Middle-Earth swan song knocks my socks off like it has the potential to. I hope that all my concerns turn out to be unfounded balderdash but as of this moment, I still have my doubts.
I feel it important to talk about these and share them because as fans we should not just blindly accept the next bit of canon that comes our way but be ready to look at things for what they are. Being a fan means that we can be critical because we know there is immense potential for greatness – it’s what we fell in love with in the first place. Fingers crossed that come December 12th, we’ll all be transfixed in Tolkien-land once more.