So finally, finally, I saw it. The latest Hobbit movie, the one you guys all saw and made up your minds about two months ago. (Forgive me; I like to see these with my wife, and we’ve had a lot going on). What everyone said about it was that it wasn’t very good, and that there was no reason to make three movies based on one thin novel. In this case, everyone was right.
For starters, it’s not about a battle involving five armies. It’s about a battle involving either four, or seven armies, depending on what you call an army. Count ’em: there’s a human army, led by Bard (Luke Evans). An elvish army, led by Thranduill (Lee Pace). An dwarvish army, led by Dain (Billy Connolly). An Orc army, led by Azog (Manu Bennett). That’s four. There’s also Thorin (Richard Armitage), the dwarf king, and his twelve dwarf pals, if you want to count them as an army, plus a second Orc army, plus an army of giant eagles who show up sort of deus ex machina-y. So: seven. Four, or seven, take your pick. Not five.
But that’s only for the final battle sequence, which takes up maybe the last forty minutes or so of the movie. Up to that point, the major dramatic question asked by the screenplay was this: will Thorin, out of sheer buttheadedness, provoke a completely unnecessary war, which he will lose in about four (or seven) minutes, involving humans and elves, who outnumber him five bazillion to one, all battling for a buncha worthless gold. And which we, in the audience, don’t care about. Or the gold, or the war. Or Thorin. Or, at that point, actually, even Bilbo.
See, when last we visited Middle Earth, the big question was, would Smaug, the dragon, attack Bard’s village, and if so, would Bard summon up the strength and courage to shoot it down with a big iron arrow someone crafted specifically for that task. That was an awesome question. It gets answered five minutes into this thing. Smaug sets fire to the town, Bard shoots it down, badda boom badda bing. Lots of devastation, though, so Bard up and decides they’ll all move to this abandoned town by the dwarfish mountain stronghold. (We all saw the Two Towers, we all know that moving your town to a mountain stronghold is a bad idea).
Then we spend forever watching Thorin go all Gollum on us over all that dragon gold. Which for some reason, the humans want some of (they’re starving, what they actually need is food and medical supplies, which they can’t use gold to buy because, far as we can tell, there’s no one anywhere to sell it to them). And then the elf army shows up, wanting their special elf crown jewels, which we’ve totally never even heard of before. Then a big ol’ supporting dwarf army shows up, and all three of these armies spend some time posturing and glowering at each other. Then, finally, super-evil Orc armies start showing up, and we get to the big battle scene we’ve all been waiting for.
Which wasn’t remotely suspenseful, and was actually kind of hilarious. Intentionally? Could be; a troll head-butts a wall, and knocks himself silly–that’s funny stuff. An Orc is allowed to drown–trust me, it was funny. Legolas defies gravity again: funny. We do get to find out what happens when Legolas runs out of arrows. But that’s not actually all that suspenseful, because we know Legolas shows up in the three movies to which this serves as prequel. So we know Gandalf’s gonna be safe, and Bilbo. The real dramatic tension involves Thorin, who we, by that point, have stopped caring about.
All three movies felt padded, but this was far and away the most padded of the series. Bottom line: we don’t actually care if Thorin gets his gold. That was the driving impetus, story-wise, of all three movies, and we never did care about it. And in this movie, when he’s being such a sulky drama queen about his precious precious gold, we care least of all. I don’t fault Armitage, a fine actor, who is never unconvincing. It’s a story problem, a script problem.
What we have here is a script that never really did work, but that managed to hide that fact behind the smoke-and-mirrors of a lot of stunt-and-CGI action sequences. It was fun to visit Middle Earth again. It was fun to see Galadriel again, and Evangeline Lilly was terrific as Tauriel (though I never did manage to care about her love story), and nice to see Christopher Lee play a good guy for once. Radagast is a fun character, and they found Evans, an actor who looks a lot like Viggo Mortenson, to play Bard, who’s a lot like Aragorn. But when all that affection wears off, and all that admiration for good actors trying their best, what we’re left with is, frankly, some resentment. I didn’t so much look forward to seeing the three Hobbit movies as I felt sentenced to buy tickets to them. I will not purchase the DVDs, and I certainly won’t watch them on HBO. Peter Jackson earned a lot of good will by making three spectacularly great movies. He did, sadly, somewhat squander that good will by making three much-less-good ones.