The Hobbit: Fitting farewell to Tolkiendom



The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

Two years ago, it was alleged that Christopher Tolkien (son of author J. R. R. Tolkien) refused to meet director Peter Jackson. It’s no secret that he considers Jackson’s movies an insult to his father’s work. “They’ve gutted the book, making an action movie for 15 to 25-year-olds.” Tolkien’s creation of Middle-earth was a labour of love, carefully crafted with a million infinitesimal details — flora, fauna, mythology, history and an astounding range of over 20 languages, each with its own grammar, vocabulary and syntax. (Tolkien was a philologist at Oxford.)

The joy of Tolkien always lay in the telling of the tale rather than the tale itself; in the journey rather than the destination. With the new Hobbit film, we have reached our destination and even though Christopher Tolkien doesn’t seem likely to forgive Peter Jackson anytime soon, the director, I have to say, pulls out all the stops and delivers a master class in blockbuster filmmaking with this one. There is no wandering or aimless exploring. The landscape is cold and drab and the action moves on steadily.

Within just the first few frames, the movie makes good on last winter’s promise of desolation. Smaug (voiced to brilliant effect by Benedict Cumberbatch) huffs, puffs, snarls and roars as he reduces Lake Town to a cinder before being brought down by a black arrow fired through a hollow in his left breast plate — his only weakness. But his death proves to be only the beginning of the trouble — his erstwhile den/fortress Mount Erebor is not only a gateway to the lands of the far North but also contains the dragon’s plunder of vast riches and gold, glittering jewels and stones (a hoard nearly as deep as the mountain is wide).

Genre: Fantasy Adventure Director: Peter Jackson Cast: Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage Storyline: Bilbo and gang must stop Smaug from obliterating Middle-earth

Battalions of orcs, elves and dwarves converge upon the mountain from all directions for the loot, and matters are made worse when Thorin Oakenshield succumbs to the Tolkienian malady of ‘dragon sickness’ — the irrepressible longing to brood over one’s glittering trinkets like a hen over her eggs. Richard Armitage plays this character with Shakespearean heft, strutting and cursing, as his mind turns poisonous with suspicion and greed. In the bargain, he first loses his mind, then his honour, then his friends; until he is left standing alone in a vast hall surrounded by piles of gold. It is only when he is about to lose his brother and fears suffering the fate of his grandfather (who also succumbed to dragon sickness) that sense dawns and he sets out to redeem himself.

An orgy of sword-thrusting and limb-flailing ensues in a climax that clocks nearly 70 minutes. This is money and time well spent — not since 300 has there been such sure-footed choreography with Jackson tipping his hat to everyone from George Miller to Akira Kurosawa. The pièce de résistance is a drawn-out dwarf vs orc duel atop a frozen waterfall — a set piece that’s every bit as beautiful as it sounds.

At 144 minutes, this last and probably final entry in the series is the shortest of the sextet. After 13 years and 1,031 minutes of accumulated runtime, Middle-earth has become a somewhat familiar world and it is hard not to feel a pang of something as it closes. The film was originally going to be called There and Back Again, appropriate in its own way. The film is as much a chance to bid farewell as it is to partake in the most gob-smacking action that New Zealand tax breaks and a fat Hollywood budget can buy.

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Printable version | May 24, 2022 4:26:33 am |