Sunday, June 14, 2015

The King under a Mountain, or The Hobbit reviewed part three

With the passing last week of Sir Christopher Lee, it seemed fitting to mark the event in some small way by viewing one of his films. Of his large and impressive rap-sheet I only have The Wicker Man, and so Mrs Simian and I spent our Saturday night knocking off another milestone - we finally watched The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies.

Let me say in opening that this is not a good movie to watch if you're after classic Lee. Much of the great man's role was filmed in isolation, and vastly supplemented by distracting CGI and an obvious body double keeping his face out of shot (a pause to recall the fate of another great cinematic Dracula actor may or may not be appropriate here). Unfortunately, the appearance, scripting and execution of Lee's role in Five Armies sums up the maority of the movie to me, also.

I went in expecting to be mildly disappointed, but came away just feeling cross. This film has no heart. It's cluttered, over-saturated, poorly-edited, narratively confused, and bogged down unnecessarily with future continuity. Throughout the production of this trilogy the spectre of Lucas' Star Wars prequels was frequently invoked, and despite my doubts, I think those naysayers were pretty bang on. 

The horse is some way back - it's a metaphor!
To me this movie's greatest failing is as an adaptation. A straight conversion from book to film was never going to be on the cards, pre-existing Rings trilogy or not; and yet as I mentioned in my review of The Desolation of Smaug, the result waters down the core of Tolkien's story with unnecessary diversions. Jackson, Boyens and Walsh's insistence on turning the story into an ensemble piece of elven, human, orc and wizard leads longside its titular hobbit and his dwarven counterpart makes the series title almost redundant. The tragedy of Thorin gets a good covering here, but it's delivered with a hammering home of other things - a made-up blood feud with a character from Tolkien's Rings Appendices; an elven-dwarven romance, Laketown refugee politics, Sauron's gambit with Smaug - also from the Appendices (the reason of Erebor being a strategic stronghold seemed a weak and unconvincing explanation given the movie's confusing geography), the fate of the elves (again) and the all-important scene-setting for the Rings movies.

On paper these additions don't look so bad - some even compliment the sketchiness of the original book in detail. But their execution here is just shoddy, and underline to me how in selling the Laketowners, Legolas' parents, Dol Guldur and Dain short on detail, the great Professor did better service to Bilbo and Thorin as characters. Here it's almost the reverse.

The extended edition is yet to come, of course. I say Enough! 

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