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Non-Review Review: The Hobbit – Battle of the Five Armies

It has become a stock criticism to suggest that Peter Jackson did not need a full trilogy to adapt The Hobbit for the big screen. That said, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug was an unexpected pleasure – a movie not all hindered by the pacing concerns of the trilogy and instead interested in its own central narrative. You could cut the opening scene from The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies onto the end of The Desolation of Smaug and you would have pretty much everything that you need.

While this approach benefited The Desolation of Smaug, it puts Battle of the Five Armies at something of a disadvantage. It is debatable whether there was enough material to support three full films based on The Hobbit – even drawing from other sources in the Tolkien canon – but this is clearly not the best way of structuring those three films. There is a sense that Battle of the Five Armies suffers from the decision to extend the planned duology into a full-blown trilogy.

The not-so-magic dragon...

The not-so-magic dragon…

To be fair to Peter Jackson, he does avoid the ending issues that haunted The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. However, he does that by editing Battle of the Five Armies as a brief epilogue to the previous two films, following by a massive battle sequence. This is quite impressive from a technical standpoint, but there is a sense of fatigue to it all. As the title implies, this is a five-way battle involving thousands of participants; both organic and computer-generated. A lot gets lost in the shuffle, and the plot – as it stands – could be explained in two sentences.

More than that, Battle of the Five Armies is hindered by its status as a prequel. The fact that everybody in the audience has likely seen The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring means that they know all this spectacle is really for nothing. The first two films in the trilogy largely avoided the problem by pitching the story as a working-class version of The Lord of the Rings, allowing characters to engage in quests that are deeply personal even as they ripple to larger events.

A messed-up character orc...

A messed-up character orc…

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Non-Review Review: The Hobbit – The Desolation of Smaug

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug represents a considerable improvement on The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. Some of the same problems still lurk at the edge of the frame: the pacing needs a bit of work; the movie is about half-an-hour too long; it feels a little too consciously like one extended prelude to The Lord of the Rings. And yet, despite all these flaws, The Desolation of Smaug accomplishes a lot of what it sets out to do.

This is very clearly the same Middle Earth that viewers remember from The Lord of the Rings. Even the least obsessive viewer will still recognise the occasional familiar landmark or setting from the early film. It’s not just the New Zealand locations that shine through; great care has been taken to establish a geography of this fictional landscape. Viewers who have yet to memorise the names and routes on Tolkien’s meticulously-prepared maps can see that this is the same world.

It’s just being seen from a different perspective. The Hobbit isn’t really an adaptation of that much-loved adventure tale, at least not exclusively. It is instead being crafted as a companion piece, with the heroes’ quest providing a handy travelogue of a world in turmoil.

The gold standard?

The gold standard?

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Watch! The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug Trailer!

The latest trailer for The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug has arrived on-line. Check it out below. While I’ll concede that The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey was over-long and quite padded, I enjoyed it more than most. Part of that is down to Martin Freeman’s charisma, but also in the way that Jackson seems to relish the relatively lower stakes of this story. (Musical dish-cleaning sequence anyone?) I’ll admit that I’m curious to see what Jackson’s second installment holds in store. That said, the trailer does seem to suggest quite a lot of superfluous material – a Legolas romantic subplot? really? – but it also teases Benedict Cumberbatch as a flame-throwing pun-wielding dragon. So it’s safe to say the jury’s still out.

 

Watch! The Full 1985 Version of The Hobbit! In Russian!

Okay, since there’s no subtitles this is sort of a bit of a niche thing, but I found it and thought I’d pass it on.

Below is the full 1985 version of The Hobbit produced for Russian television. It is… a little less impressive than Peter Jackson’s adaptation, and not just because it’s in less than 48 frames per second and two dimensions. Still, I kinda admire the ambition of it, even if the results are less than spectacular. Check out how they take down Smaug, for an example, or the way that the action cuts back to the “narrator” before any expensive shots are required.

The whole thing calls to mind the sort of stuff the BBC were doing with Doctor Who at the time, and I can’t quite hate it. After all, the matte paintings are great and at least it seems committed to an idea that would have been technically quite difficult for a big-budget movie of the time, let alone state television.

Check it out below and let me know what you think!