Thursday, December 18, 2014

The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies [2014]

MPAA (PG-13)  CNS/USCCB (A-II)  ChicagoTribune (2 Stars) (2 1/2 Stars)  AVClub (C)  Fr. Dennis (3 Stars)

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (J. Mulderig) review
ChicagoTribune (M. Phillips) review (S. O'Malley) review
AVClub (A.A. Dowd) review  

The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies [2014] (directed and screenplay cowritten by Peter Jackson along with Fran Walsh, Philipa Boyens and Guillermo del Toro) is the final part of a three part series of films based on J.R.R. Tolkien's [IMDb] novel The Hobbit [Amazon] released over the past several years.

The near universal critical opinion of this project has been that the source material, a single 300 page or so book (shorter than any of the three part Lord of the Rings Trilogy [Amazon]), was simply too thin to justify a three part film.  Yet, as I wrote in my review of the first part of this trilogy of films, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey [2012], those viewers who were "at all enamored by (or perhaps more fittingly here, enchanted by ;-) the LOTR series, [will probably] just bask in the opportunity of spending a few extra hours in the 'Middle Earth' of these films because the New Zealand location, the CGI and the cinematography in general are once again simply AWESOME."

Some nine hours (!) of three Hobbit movie(s) later, my own patience has admittedly worn thin as even MOST TEENAGERS could probably READ THE BOOK in shorter time than that need to watch the three movies ;-).  Still, I suspect that many fantasy role-playing gamers (and I would count myself as a lesser one among them) will probably find the extended (and I mean extended, perhaps 2/3 of the current movie) battle scenes between the promised five armies -- dwarves, elves, orcs, humans (Laketown refugees) and (once sleeping cousin) dwarves and/or orcs again (I lost count / got confused after a while ;-) -- quite AWESOME again ;-). [Note here that the book posits the Battle of Five Armies to be between dwarves, elves and humans (said Laketown refugees) on one side and "goblins and wild wolves" on the other (pg 281 of 305 in my Kindle edition).  While goblins do certainly make a brief and identified appearance -- "Look, there!  (A rather small detachment of) Goblins!" --- the primary enemy in the film would appear to be orcs].

The battle scenes are filmed then made "close-up" to show various individual hand-to-hand battles, as well as well "from a distance" to give a "bird's eye view" (which actually proves important because as in the book, the battle finally comes to an end with the arrival of Eagles ... ;-) who swoop down to take care of the remaining goblins (or orcs).

Now why was there fighting at all?  This is where IMHO things get interesting from my perspective (writing this blog) as well as that of Tolkien fans who've ALWAYS understood his works to be more than "just fantasy" but rather fundamentally allegorical in nature: Arguably The Hobbit is an allegorical presentation of World War I: 

The Dwarves (little people) whose mountain kingdom was stolen from them by the Dragon Smaug "centuries before" perhaps represent the "little kingdoms of the Slavs" and/or various other "little kingdoms" of Eastern and Southern Europe which had been swallowed-up by some of the larger countries in the region.  The Elves (living mostly "in the woods," and who _didn't particularly like the Dwarves_...) could have been the various Germanic peoples (with their own little / magical kingdoms).  The Hobbits, "living quietly in the Shire" would have almost certainly been "common English folk."   At the beginning of the story, the Hobbit Bilbo (played throughout by Martin Freeman) gets recruited by the Merlin-the-magician-like wizard Gandalf (played by Ian McEllen) perhaps representing British "high aristocracy" (or "all that is/was good and true in ancient / modern Britain / Britannia") to join the fight _of the dwarves_ TO REGAIN _THEIR_ (mountainous) HOMELAND (Note that with the exception of Poland, itself bordered to the south by mountains, the whole of Central and Eastern Europe is one mountain or mountain range after another).  Bilbo's initially quite skeptical but does ultimately join The Cause.

But as soon as Bilbo and the small party of Dwarves drive the Dragon out of the Dwarves' Mountain (their ancestral homeland) ALL SORTS OF PROBLEMS BOTH ANCIENT and NEW APPEAR.  Among the ANCIENT PROBLEMS that (RE)APPEAR are those pesky Orcs/Goblins who had seemed buried (or at least out of mind) before.  Among the NEW PROBLEMS that APPEARED was the destruction of the previously PEACEFUL TOWN OF "LAKE TOWN" (Flanders??) whose residents were now Refugees as a result of its (unwanted) battle with (and ultimate defeat of) the Dragon Smaug.

Then finally, the Dwarves, PITIED AT THE BEGINNING OF THE STORY (for having lost their homeland centuries before as a result of the BEASTLY DRAGON SMAUG) TURN OUT TO NOT BE ALL THAT "GOOD" AS SOON AS THEY REGAIN THEIR MOUNTAIN KINGDOM.  Their "king" Thorin (played throughout by Richard Armitage) turns out to be quite greedy / self-interested as soon as "he gets his gold back."  Thus, he proves NOT willing to help the Laketown refugees, who after all, were the ones who ACTUALLY DEFEATED THE DRAGON (the dwarfs just chased him out of their mountain ...) and then he didn't even want to pay Bilbo his promised share for having joined their expedition to begin with.

It's fascinating, but a lot of Englishmen _could have felt similarly_ like Bilbo or the Laketown people after World War I (then The Great War).  Millions of Englishmen died in The Great War, for what?  Okay, the Central Powers of Europe (Imperial Germany, Austria-Hungary and the Ottoman Empire) were defeated / destroyed.  BUT the resulting tiny countries that reappeared all quarreled with each other and many/most probably didn't even appreciate how many Englishmen died in that War that didn't really give England all that much as a result, except PERHAPS the sense of "having done the right thing."

The story today could remind us that even "just causes" have unexpected consequences and even the leaders of various just causes, when in power, could end-up "like the Dwarf King Thorin," that is, "problematic."

Still, Bilbo (and Gandalf) "did the right thing" and certainly Bilbo got an Adventure that he could talk about "in the Shire" (where "nothing ever happened") for the rest of his life.

Hence the book (or the THREE movies) gives one much to think about ... the value / pitfalls of setting out on a "Grand Adventure" even when "the Cause" is Just.  (Yes, it's still worth it, but ... not without its Disappointments).

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