It’s difficult to resist IMDB influence once you’ve laid eyes upon. When you’d rather not be swayed by the shiny stars from fear of professional corruption, with the possibility of compromising your own opinion to align it with the critical community, and avoid looking like a wally for saying something ‘cinematically incorrect’. I avoided other reviews for this very reason, but post-screening curiosity got the better of me.
Turns out, we all like it. Which is a shame, ’cause it’s not fun to agree with people.
Beginning literally a flap-of-the-wing later from Smaug having flown off in a fury to bring fiery judgment upon oblivious neighbours. He does so and then dies. The driving premise of the previous films was the coming confrontation with the dragon who ruined an entire city. To have it dealt with so swiftly and nonchalantly seemed self-defeating to the emotional apex the films were leading to – even if it was true to the book.
Smaug’s demise in the novel felt appropriately just and resolved. In film format, two films worth of build-up is hastily disregarded. There is danger in remaining true to something when your circumstances require otherwise. In a case such as this, breaking away from the book might have proven beneficial. Refusing to compromise can ironically compromise your own narrative integrity. It may not be appreciated by Tolkien literalists, but it need not worry about such, because films are not books, and you cannot write a book the same way you write a movie (at least you shouldn’t). To quote the structural differences between film and literature might seem like wasted words, but the criticism is made far more than I’m intellectually comfortable with.
When people say ‘they deviated too much from the books’, I wonder first whether that’s a bad thing or not. Books are not inherently sacred texts that must be honoured by their filmic counterparts. It is in the best interest of storytelling for any film to utilise what makes it different, and sometimes that means changing things around. It’s a reflection of fandom and people’s attachment to their own conceptions of how things should be. Need I mention how that can be an issue?
What then descends is not yet an epic bout, but a game of diplomacy. With Smaug gone and copious amounts of treasure now available for shotgun, a surprisingly intriguing play of chess and negotiations ensue. It creates an interesting backdrop to explore greed and rights of ownership – with everyone claiming their moral inheritance to wealth and power. But that’s where the Game of Thrones parallels end. Tolkien stories have always been about conviction and the good vs evil dichotomy, which the film quickly deflects to.
It’s here where The Battle of Five Armies revels in the grandeur of its celebrated action set-pieces. It’s evident Peter Jackson was waiting for this movie so he could spurge out with one ginormously long fantasy battle – one that comprises most of the movie – and one that fits comfortably at home with its own high expectations. It’s a spirited and characteristic finale, reminiscent of battles past, and save for a few cringe-worth scenes of townsfolk nonsense, meets a standard of emprise I believed could not be reclaimed by its own titlist.
The subconscious niggling that follows this movie and The Hobbit trilogy collectively, is that it’s had to live in the aftermath of the trilogy that came before. If The Lord of the Rings had not been made, perhaps we’d regard The Hobbit more highly. But it does exist, as such The Hobbit was expected to live up to the incredulous task of recreating something it was never going to.
The Lord of the Rings was something that should not have happened. An unbeknownst small-time director given rights to make three movies off the bat with huge financial risk, and all of them turn out as cinema icons. It is the foremost example of serendipity.
The Hobbit films were never bad, as some may have you believe – just chronologically unfortunate. The Battle of Five Armies is a close stretch to Peter Jackson’s fortuitous trio of yesteryear. It may not be The Lord of the Rings, but it’s already better than most.