(Note: The Silmarillion chapter notes are held-over for this week while I work through my impressions and thoughts about “The Hobbit: The Battle of The Five Armies”)
- Marathon. 3D Dolby ATMOS
- 3D HFR
There’s definitely visual quirks in 3D, and 3D HFR (have not seen it in conventional 2D yet). Generally, HFR ftw if 3D, but HFR also has a very digitised feel in dark scenes, and where there’s a lot of CGI work/details. For example
- Nuclear Galadriel looked very oddly tacked on, and flat
- Some action scenes, especially the initial Elves and Orcs action looked really odd too
- Thranduil on his Elk in that the frontal shot of them watching his army file past as he spoke with Bard looked very 1D
Scenes in natural light look beautiful though, especially the epilogue of the Shire.
This is such a mixed bag. I am wishing I had Will’s purse with me, its dictation could fill in for my strained wrist, but the typing must go on.
I WANT to fall head over heels in love with BotFA, I really do. It is the “Defining Chapter” after all. But I just can’t take the plunge. I like some parts but not others. There are too many loose ends hanging, the editing is too tight, so tight, beginnings and ends of scenes, and sometimes character moments, seemed to have been snipped in the interest of time. And yet there are elements that are superfluous and lingered on overlong.
I even made the effort to to be at the only marathon to take place here, 17 Dec 2014, (on a worknight, mind, and make the necessary arrangements and be prepared to go home in a cab during the wee hours of the night), and was all ready for the great buildup and to be wowed by the (expectantly) grand climatic end.
But what I felt was ambivalence after it was over. The visuals were a treat, and as expected: Peter Jackson’s ability for imagery, and scene composition were top-notch. But the story-telling and some of the plot and creative choices just did not sit right with me.
My second viewing took place earlier today. Unsurprisingly, it got better overall with the second viewing. Some things though, aren’t as bad only because I’m squaring with myself to accept what’s been done. My sister, who is not a book-reader, though a fan of the franchise, was just taking whatever’s dished out with (almost) perfect zen. Oh, to be a non-book reader, without expectations or pre-conceived opinions.
I believe I need to look at this from 2 perspectives, 1 being that of a movie-goer, and the other being a fan of ME.
As a movie-goer, the visual spectacle was fantastic. It felt like there’s all these amazing sequences that happened to feature the same characters and happened to be edited together as a through-thread, and all that mattered was “ACTION”/”LAST-HURRAH”. Peter Jackon has said in an interview he tries to shoot scenes from the perspective of what the audience would want to see and enjoy. Kudos on that but he’s got half the equation, imo. Because I want visuals, yes, but I want visuals that has the context of the story and narrative relevance and transitions. And I want the director to tell the story, and move it along.
BotFA was a visual treat, a pictorial that actually suffers from a lack of narrative continuity, to which the audience is expected to go read and watch interviews, and the WETA books to connect the dots. This is ad nauseam but scenes often felt like the beginning and end were cut off to make way for time and the segue to the next similarly truncated scene. BotFA felt, to this movie-goer, like there’s a story in there but the movie had been edited by committee with a list of checkboxes.
And therein lay another gripe: Extended Editions (EE), to me, are to enhance and add on to an already cogent story I paid money to see at the theatre, and for which I am willing to pay again for delighters in the extended version. With the TH trilogy, I am increasing feeling the cop-out of look to the EE for unresolved plotpoints. I am still anticipating the EEs, but as a movie-goer, I do feel short-changed.
And as with the universal fandom hope for the EE to answer and address niggles, I hoped my second viewing will improve my feels for BotFA, being cautiously optimistic as ME movies do seem to require and demand multiple viewings. I am not sure why it should matter. Perhaps I am too invested as a fan of Tolkien’s world in both mediums, but it was a relief the second viewing did redeem the movie (somewhat).
However, as a book-fan, I am perplexed at some of the directorial and creative decisions made as well. These are pointed out in my random list of Observations, and Questions (born of patchy notes from a sleep-deprived, progressively degenerating mind, with BotFA starting at 10 mins after midnight on a workday, and subject to leaky memory retention).
The frustrating thing is, with such a stellar, and often perfect cast, the loving attention to details, and epic and defining MOMENTS that did make it to the screen, the shortfalls are still glaring enough that I just can’t embrace BotFA wholeheartedly. But I am hopeful things will change when I have a chance to view all six movies as they’re meant to. Some things will not get better, I’m sure of it, but I will be better able to accept what has been done, take it well, and move on.
My preamable is done here. On to the details.
Standouts for me were Lee Pace’s Thranduil (no surprise there, considering the pre-existing enormity of my Thranduil
thraldom geekdom). Even though I have problems with the characterisation (or lack thereof) Elvenking’s onscreen avatar, his Thranduil is the best realised Elf! of Tolkien’s world irrespective of my bias for the character. And to get across those senses of perfect swag, regal aloofness and yet believable pain and vulnerability as the story demanded, these are the telling marks of a real actor. Despite not getting his hero moment or demonstrating the game-changer cred of his reputation as the greatest warrior of Middle-earth, nor those character moments that should be in the movie, the movie-verse Thranduil still clearly is an intriguing character commanding attention and interest. For example, in his grand entrance atop his elk, and bringing aid to Dale, he announced as such to Bard. But when Bard expressed his thanks, Thranduil stopped him and disabused him of any notion of pure altruism in bring aid on his part. “I came to reclaim something of mine”, he simply stated. The steely zeal with which Thranduil says that is a bit frightening with its intensity, and yet there is no doubt he brought aid, unconditionally, even if it was a cool offhanded by-the-way. Au contraire!
Members of the principle cast and some of the supporting ones who deserve a shoutout: Richard Armitage (Thorin), Mr Baggins (Martin Freeman), the stoic Dwarven Elder Balin (Ken Stotts), the Dwarven warriors, kin and trusted aides of Thorin: Dwalin (Graham MacTavish), and Fili (Dean O’Gorman). Ian McKellan of course is Gandalf. Even good old Bard, tenderised and glamourised from the book, was a pleasant surprise and thumbs up for me. It was good to finally see character development for Legolas (Orlando Bloom) too, simply because I can’t shake the feeling a part of him was carved out so the writers could flesh out Tauriel. And of course both Legolas and Tauriel were given time that should have been Thranduil’s.
I am probably influenced by my dislike of the unnecessary and, frankly, pointless romance subplot, but I am impressed by neither Tauriel nor Kili (who I also think took time away from Fili). I have tried to go into BotFA with as an open mind as I can, in the hopes of being pleasantly surprised by what the writers were going to do with the whole thing, because the whole “thing” since DoS is as messy and confusing, to me, as the Tauriel-Thranduil confrontation.
Simply put, I’m disappointed. The problem is Tauriel is a trope is a trope is a trope despite the writers’ claims otherwise. In general, paragon of perfection in female characters in the name of female representation is such a tired trope that I am disappointed to see it being trotted out as a reason for Tauriel to be. It begins with feeling the need or want to create a female character with justification. To me, it is sad that certain pre-conditions has to exist before someone would consider patronising a creative venture, or be thought of as needing to be pandered to with those pre-conditions. This one’s for the girls? Not this ol’ gal.
But back to Tauriel. Her age, her styling, everything speaks to trying to capture specific demographics to me. And her actions are just out of character, with regards to Elves in general, and what we’ve been impressed with in Desolation of Smaug. This is based on my impression of her atop-a-pedestal role of moral conscience, sense of justice and self-sacrificing-me-at-the-front (and sometimes rash) heroism. Clearly her concern in the confrontation with Thranduil was that the Dwarves might die, never mind the clear evidence she’s just ridden through of Elves, her people, and Men already dead and dying.
Captain of the Guard of Thranduil’s realm, and yet she’s almost at the lowest generic Elf ability level when Bolg came on scene. Compare this to how almost every Dwarf who went up against Azog or Bolg held up better and longer than this lethal Elven killing machine in DoS. Not to mention her classic damsel-in-distress role when the real action starts. To steal a quote which summed up my thoughts of Tauriel’s arc through TH: “A bipolar Prozac deprived Elf”.
Where’d Tauriel’s fiesty self-assurance and fighting mojo cool from DoS go? The way she confronted Thranduil just made me wish they’d added Thranduil’s wife instead of making up a female character that logically, is not going to change his mind with the wifey-like drama when she’s not even close to being a moral compass to him in any capacity. That, plus the feeling I can’t shake of them having carved up Legolas’ character to make her. But no, Thranduil’s wife probably would not check all the checkboxes of the profile that’s been determined by some higher powers that decreed the mandate to “have one for the girls”. Bleah, the epitome of the evil reach of marketing and pandering to demographics.
The full list of my randomised list of thoughts and questions below.
Observations and Questions
- First: Thranduil! SQUEE! THUD!
- Smaug and Lake-town’s desolation was awesome!
- Bard’s escape was cool, and dished out some perfect kismet
- Suddenly Tauriel is not the gungho emblem of I-will-save-the-world female empowerment, but prudent, play-it-safe member of the team? Oh, the power of love!
- Bain and Bard working to take down Smaug – thumbs very up! Indeed a pleasant surprise. Windlance schwindlance!
- Smaug’s death was the perfect kismetic bookend to Bard’s escape
- When did Legolas grow into his nobility? Suddenly, Tauriel is respectful and obedient?
- Tauriel and Kili… just cringe. I feel for Tauriel as an invented banner character for the girls Philippa Boyens was thinking of though. All that precious time ceded from actual canon characters to set up and showcase her CoG awesomeness in DoS and yeah!girlpower, and she’s not the one wearing the trousers in either relationship in BotFA. Great.
- Too much Alfrid though
- Thorin’s descent into madness was perfect. But that trippy self-realisatiom sequence was trying too hard to be Inception clever
- Fili did not deserve to be an almost non-entity. The look he and Thorin had was precious in his last moments. There should be more moments like that between the scruffy triumvirate of the Hairs of Durin
- Thranduil! His entrance was GRANDLY FABULOUS.
- Like how he disabused Bard of pure altruism on his part in bringing aid right off the bat. Noteworthy that Thranduil did not hand Bard a bill for the supplies despite that.
- Dain and Thranduil trading insults need to be a feature in itself!
- Bilbo and Thorin’s scenes were moving
- How was it not the Elves who connected the dots about where the orcs were getting their instructions from?
- Why did Thranduil’s war-elk have to die?
- How is it ok for Tauriel to actually aim an arrow at Thranduil and mean it? Or even to order him to stay and fight? Way too out of line even for an Elf who’s different from the usual. Love is blind, but this is swinging Tauriel’s character too far the other direction. And how is it ok for Legolas to side with her? Blind loyalty. Legolas forgot to whom he owed his allegiance. Tsk.
- LOVE Thranduil’s condescension towards Gandalf in the tent – a bit reminiscent of Saruman’s attitude yes, but I would imagine that Thranduil’s is rooted in practical military experience and I’m sure the were-worms were a surprise that quickly changed his opinion of Gandalf’s Chicken Little moments.
- Oh, and were-worms…. really? Transplanted Sarlacc? Or those stinkies from Tremors?
- Like Thranduil calling Gandalf out on making messes too. Don’t think anyone else has the gumption to tell it like it is with such elegance to the old coot before
- Not enough Thranduil’s characterisation bits. Where’s the parts showing the change in Thranduil in all these scenes: His army actually collaborating with Dain’s horde to face the orc army, Thranduil leading the charge to return to Dale’s defence, Thranduil being at Ravenhill, Thranduil sympathising with Tauriel
- Thranduil’s fighting! But wait, where are the big showcase moments of Thranduil’s rep as the greatest swordsman of Middle-earth?
- Thranduil’s awesome war-elk!
- Thranduil’s cool twin-swords! But where did sword 2 come from? Where was he stashing it?
- Loved the scene but Dwalin’s strangely melon head syndrome took me out of the moment he had with Thorin though.
- Like the nod, I’m presuming, to Thranduil’s note to Bilbo in the book about him probably understanding Dwarves better than Bilbo when Thranduil was responding to Bard’s plan about brokering peace with Thorin
- Ravens… does Thorin has raven telepathy then?
- Elven army!
- Though did WETA forgot to special effect Bilbo’s descent from Erebor? Or was Galion and the Keeper of the Keys tippling again while on duty? Cos Thranduil did order his boys to shoot anything that moves
- Random Elves were cool! Special shoutout to Feren
- Bilbo’s every moment was great!
- Thranduil and Bard’s cooperative relationship was cool, and as expected.
- The defining moment of Saruman’s career aspiration
- Galadriel’s entrance and orc blasting in DG was awesome
- Her going nuclear to expell Sauron was nicely done, but it diminishes her second go-around on Frodo
- Elrond’s moment!
- Whatever happened to Radagast?
- Loved Bilbo’s meeting with Thranduil
- Thorin was a complete jerk about the Jewels of Lasgalen. Perfect!
- Was the Elvish detour to Gundabad necessary?
- Thorin’s misplaced trust was heartbreaking for both Bilbo and him
- Loved Bilbo’s conflict about how to help Thorin
- LOVED especially Bilbo and Balin’s exchange, especially with Balin’s obviously cognizant take on what to do.
- Loved Thranduil’s reaction to the Arkenstone
- I get that Alfrid is meant to serve as comic relief, but really, there’s such a thing as overdone
- It’s really a strange feeling to realise Tauriel and Kili was really just the setup for Legolas to showcase his gravity defying Mario Brothers awesome
- Legolas stole every action-moment WOW, even from his awesome dad. But meh. He’s burning the candle at both ends
- Bard’s noble sentiments. Great but I’d like to see some fallacy in his character. He’s overchannelling Aragorn. That uber reluctance going to be an awkward thing to get over for Bain to become Dale’s ruler
- Bard’s so perfectly pacificist he tarried over war in Thranduil’s stead. Frankly, that overdid the Movie!Bard for me. And smooth-planed another dimension of Thranduil’s arc. I had high hopes the tarrying would still be Thranduil’s to do given that look of his leading up to the uber cool orc beheading in DoS, and add an interesting side to the Elvenking for the uneducated masses
- Too much screaming Bard’s girls. So much for catering to the girls. This girl is embarrassed actually, thanks.
- And speaking of Aragorn: [bookspoiler] Was Thranduil deliberately misdirecting Legolas in their last scene together? Cos Arathorn’s gone, and the wife and the young Strider (all of 10 years old and yet to start on his rangering ways) would be guesting at Imladris at this point [/bookspoiler]
- Did I mention too much Alfrid?
- Lack of resolution: Burials of the scruffy triumvirate, Jewels of Lasgalen, cleanup in Dale and Erebor, settlement of contractual obligations and terms
- Oh, and where’s the psychological thriller vibe?
- Suddenly the ghost of Legolas’ mother looms large where there was nary a pip about her before BotFA, and is a huge influence on matters between father and son, and even the problem between Elves and Dwarves.
- Love the ending sequence in the Shire
- Lobelia SB ftw there
- The other members of the Dwarven company were short-changed
- The Tauriel Kili thingy does reduce the uniqueness of what Galadriel and Legolas were going to have with Gimli in LotR, separately of course!
- In relation to the above: Cringey last dialogue between Tauriel and Thranduil
- Thranduil’s every moment was beautiful, whether elegantly fighting, smirking or judgmental doneness for all and sundry, or dealing with paternal disappointment. Love that he’s not the wafting perfection we’ve come to expect of the movie Elves. He harkens back to the FA Elves and that vibe of the antagonistic and arrogant aloofness is perfection. And yet, he does what is right, regardless, as would the Wise
- Thorin’s portrayal was wonderful, but I content (and probably am going to get shot for this) that it was par for course. Thranduil’s was the standout delight, for all that he was so memorable, aside from his visual perfection, despite the strange creative and directorial choices made about him and his backstory, and the lack of screentime for him through the series due to over-emphasis on other Elven situations and plotlines that turn out to be non-events, imo
- Given how the Elves were supposed to be withdrawing from the world, I find in retrospection, Elves at Helm’s Deep diminish somewhat the awesome of Elves in BotFA. In reverse, nuclear Galadriel and Elf-Dwarf romance do diminish the Elf-Dwarf relationships in LotR
- Where’s the Battle involving five armies? Seemed more like scrimmages of various factions in the same theatre. Again strange narrative choices.
- The sudden mention of Thranduil’s wife, when there was nary a hint in the preceding two movies is just bizarre.
- BotFA is edited too TIGHT! Yup, look to the EE! … and the accompanying BTS
- Now to brace the self for a) face-palm moments of coming across instances of Bilbo/Thorin, Thrandui/Bard shipping and any and all combos imaginable and some unspeakable ones in the next months, b) GIFS and screenshots from TE home release
- Oh, in case anyone has any doubts: Not enough Thranduil!
- Eru, does Thranduil look perfect every which way, regardless of the mess he’s in.
- Elrond and Saruman’s weapons are able to connect with the wraiths with no problems
- Re point 30 in previous list: “Though did WETA forgot to special effect Bilbo’s descent from Erebor? Or was Galion and the Keeper of the Keys tippling again while on duty? Cos Thranduil did order his boys to shoot anything that moves“. This time, I got the impression Bilbo was already on his way when Thranduil gave the order. Still think the sequencing could be better executed though. Not every movie-goer is going to sit through more than 1 screening for the opportunity to “get it”.
- Fili is really the stoic, quiet one. Too stealth-like that he flies under the radar alot. Though he does sort of stick in the mind. I found I actually knew where to look for him. But then I’m one to complain when I much prefer Show over Tell. Still, again, not every movie-goer is going more than once.
- Above on Show over Tell applies to Thranduil too. There’s a lot of subtlety in his characterisation. (re points 61, 62 is previous list)
- Thorin sheds all Dwarven King accessories, even the whole suit of armour after he overcame his dragon-sickness. Quite the literary device, but not so prudent, but it made a complete divorce from his addled-days.
- Dain readily accepts and even backs Thorin as King as the Company rushes out. Quite the about-turn from the gathering of the Seven Dwarf Kingdoms that preceded Thorin’s meetup with the Company at Bilbo’s.
- There’s a fair number of hand close-ups: still ain’t no one who more beautiful hands than Thranduil
- Nuclear Galadriel… much prefer her look in FotR. Probably she had time to get her act together in the intervening decades?
- No Elven blade glowed blue throughout the movie even when in close encounters of the first kind with Orcs
- Still got chills with Saruman’s “Leave Sauron to me.” Slippery slope instead
- Moments of pleasant surprise with the classic not-as-expected bits: Thorin with Bilbo and his acorn, Galadriel leaning on Elrond for support, Saruman’s “Leave Sauron to me” being the end of the scene, not the lead up to a mano-a-mano
- Azog has wicked underwater refraction correction vision
- Re point 38 of previous list: There is Radagast! Bringing the heat, and even Beorn!
- Elven blades are quite something else – Orcrist was driven through Azog at least 50cm into the ice, and yet the surface view showed it’s probably extendiing at least another metre or so into the sky
- Lobelia’s love affair with Bilbo’s silver spoons definitely started early
- The concept of goblin mercenaries boggle the mind. Where else could they conceivably find employment in the Middle-earth scape?
- Thorin looking through another medium at his personal demons and facing his nemeses: ghost of Smaug in the gold pond, and of course Azog through the ice
- Thorin’s disregard for life during his scene with Dwalin, with the security of the gold his prime concern VS Thranduil’s prime concern for his people’s lives, and willingness to withdraw from the war and leave mortals to their fates
- Siege/Orc overrun of Dale VS Minas Tirith
- Kamikaze Olympic athletism among the armies of evil: Olympic torch bearing Orc blowing open the Deeping Wall, vs Battering-Ram head Ogre at Dale
- Bilbo returning to Bag End’s dishevel VS Erebor at the end
- Ironically, Tauriel is the voice of reason. It’s your king’s command, she reminded Legolas when he replied to the messenger sent to fetch him VS her rejection of return to Legolas when he met up with her after her MIA in DoS
- Making peace in dealth: Boromir/Aragorn VS Thorin/Bilbo
- Dad/Son moment. Thranduil and Legolas last scene seem to be a very sideways approach of making peace with each other. There does seem to be a parallel Thranduil drew here with the mention of Arathorn as a good man and the potential of his son growing to be a great one. Also, with my second viewing, I noticed Legolas’ tacit acknowledgement/nod that could be a response to this parallel.
- Yup, the same niggles about the the romance sub-plot persists: So it’s ok for Tauriel to want, even will Thranduil to stay in the fight just cos the Dwarves might die, never mind the cost to HER people.
- Where/When did Legolas lose his other white knife?
- How is Ravenhill in the north?
- Isn’t Arnor to the West of Erebor?
- How did Azog managed to get up there and set up his command centre without anyone noticing?
- What happened to the Warg hordes Azog was leading?
- Azog’s host could travel in the light. So Saruman’s special edition of Uruk Hai in LotR was not anything special then?
- Also, the specimen size of Azog’s host – again, trumped Saruman’s Uruk boys.
- When did Legolas get his neurology certification?
- Re point 51 from the previous list. Memory tells me in movie-verse, Aragorn’s age had been advanced by a decade or two. So Thranduil wasn’t giving a misguided suggestion to Legolas. But Aragorn’s existence is clearly more open than secret even under the circumstances. Still, this implies Thranduil is not quite in the boondocks. I surmise Thranduil knew of Arathorn, but not on a personal level. Unless he had a penchant for travelling, or attending TWC meetups. Having said that, I do believe that, unlike conventional book-fan perception, Thranduil is not a two-bit petty ruler of a backward realm. Because Isildur’s Heirs were precious, and actually, if memory serves, even before Arathron’s time, the successors were sort of incognito. With Arathorn’s death, more drastic measures were taken – can’t remember if it was Gilraen’s initiative or TWC or whoever, but Aragorn was effectively safehoused and hidden in Imladris. With all the protective measures in place, there would literally be just a handful who really knew who the Heirs were through the ages and where they were. That Thranduil was even privvy to the information, to me, means acknowledgement he’s accounted one of the Wise. And that implies being privvy to information known to members of TWC, who is Arathorn and Strider.
- So while LotR movie canon adding a decade or two to Aragorn’s age validates Thranduil’s suggestion to Legolas to go find him at this point in time, what about Legolas and Thranduil’s own age? Again, per LotR movie canon, Legolas is supposed to be about 2930 years old, so it jives with knowing or encountering Angmar/The Witchking during the earlier half of TA. But Thranduil is 3000 years old? Unless Peter Jackon has revised canon (again), Elves gain majority at about 100. So was Legolas an accidental result of *cough*the Elvish version of teen exploration of the birds and bees*cough*?
- Still on Elven age. Tauriel and Legolas are supposed to have grown up together, but Tauriel is only 600? Still, at 600, she would have known from contemporary history about the Witchking through his latest shenanigans in/around Gondor in the recent decades past at/just before her birth?