Note: Spoiler alert
I’ve been waiting for the release of BOFA for almost an entire year since I’ve watched DoS, with the second instalment building up the suspense pretty nicely, ending off with Smaug soaring towards Laketown from Erebor, growling “I am fire….I am death…..” All that anticipation cumulated in my sky high expectations for the movie, most of which were met.
Generally, the movie was a visual feast, although some may not agree due to the over-usage of CGI. Personally, I didn’t find the CGI quite problematic, except for one or two glitches I’ve spotted while watching the movie in IMAX 3D HFR (the way Peter Jackson intended for the movie to be viewed.) The glitches probably wouldn’t have been obvious if you watch the movie in 2D, which I did on the opening day because I couldn’t get my hands on IMAX 3D tickets, but I’d still suggest watching the movie in the best quality possible because of the amount of detail you can see… Of course, most of us aren’t exactly used to watching movies with such clarity since most movies are still shot in the standard 24 FPS rate rather than the 48 FPS rate PJ uses, which makes the movie look slightly surreal, like when you can almost see the pores on the actors’ faces in close up shots, or the tiny little details on Smaug’s scales…
About the unnatural effects from the over-usage of CGI, from an amateur animator’s perspective, I really loved what WETA Digital’s done because I know how difficult animating even normal cartoons is, and to create effects of that scale – animating the hordes of orcs or the desolation of Smaug, or even just making Orlando Bloom’s Legolas do ridiculous stunts – takes incredible amount of work…not to mention that these effects are perhaps about as realistic as they can get. From an audience’s perspective, I get that no matter how much rendering is done, digital effects cannot simply replicate what’s captured on film with real actors and props and sets. With the copious amount of CGI used, some bits look more like World of Warcraft game trailers than an actual movie (I just have to point out here that the effects on WoW are incredibly realistic, which was why I fell in love with that game about 8 years ago), but hey everyone was really impressed with the Oliphaunt scene in Return of the King despite the heavy CGI used. Sure there’s much more computer graphics used in The Hobbit trilogy than in all of LOTR, but that’s because there’s much more technology available for directors like Peter Jackson to push the boundaries of film-making now as compared to a decade ago, so why not adopt the technology if possible? Why be limited by the actors’ physical capabilities when technology can be used to aid and enhance their performance in mad stunt sequences?
My issue with Peter Jackson’s BOFA doesn’t lie with the special effects, but with the storyline and the pacing of the trilogy.
First of all, it is slightly ludicrous for him for start off the film with ten minutes of Smaug burning Laketown to bits…and then getting killed by Bard, as we all know is going to happen, because we’ve all read the book, right? My first thought when that scene ended was: dang the casual movie-goers who haven’t watched the second movie wouldn’t know what happened or why it happened and are just going to be left confused about the first 10 minutes, that doesn’t seem to be coherent with the rest of the movie that’s more about the conflicts between the races than a fire-breathing dragon. The funny thing is, second movie of the trilogy’s called “the Desolation of Smaug” but all we got of Smaug was him taunting Bilbo and chasing the dwarves all around Erebor, which was fun to watch, but we didn’t actually get to see the “desolation” part…not until the third movie. I understand that the second movie’s painfully long, and that much has been cut from the movie (including a significant portion of the Beorn scenes and the Mirkwood scenes that were part of Tolkien canon) to reduce it to 187 minutes, but why couldn’t they have just cut the gold dwarf scene (which, frankly, I found to be rather hilarious but unnecessary) and included the ‘death and destruction’ part instead? Or perhaps we could have included some of the second movie in the first, even though that is highly unlikely since the first movie was mostly filmed separately from the other two (which were originally intended to be one movie, so it’s hard to shift bits around from the second movie to the first.) Perhaps Peter Jackson wanted to end off on a cliffhanger to get casual viewers to watch the final movie as well, but they could have used the prospect of an orc invasion as their cliffhanger instead. I mean, that would compartmentalise the plot into three neat sections that fit their titles, rather than to have messy, overlapping plot-lines. Sure all that wouldn’t matter for fans that’ll run all three movies in a Hobbit movie marathon, since there’s a general coherence across three movies, but not everyone will do that…
Another problem I had with BOFA was Tauriel. Tauriel, whom I’ve rooted for since DoS, was a kickass warrior elf who took no shit from her king, a young, curious elf who had a thirst for the world beyond Mirkwood in the second movie. I liked that she was created to be a role model for young girls, and to inject some femininity into a movie about thirteen male characters going on a journey to meet more male characters. I defended Tauriel against purists who thought that she was too much of a deviation from the original Tolkien lore, because I liked the character and I liked what she represented within and outside of the movie.
Guess what Peter Jackson did with her character in the final movie? Yep. He’d gone and turned her into a damsel in distress whose cries of pain attract Kili’s intervention (which eventually caused his death.) KILI WAS SUPPOSED TO DIE BY HIS BROTHER, OR AT LEAST, DIE AVENGING HIS BROTHER, NOT BESIDE A (CLEARLY) CAPABLE WARRIOR ELF WHO LIES IN A CORNER WHILE HE DEFENDS HER. Tauriel’s a captain of the Mirkwood guards, and by that I’m pretty sure she can hold her own, as evident in DoS. If PJ needs a way to conclude the relationship between Tauriel and Kili, I’m pretty sure he could’ve had the same impact, or even greater impact, if he wrote a scene in which Tauriel arrives at Ravenhill intending to join Kili in battle, but realises that she’s a moment too late as she watches Kili being slain before her eyes, just moments before she reaches Kili. (And then, overcome with grief and anger, she kills the orcs mercilessly to avenge Kili…before going to cry beside Kili in that sappy scene that I don’t particularly like.) There, a scene that’s similarly tragic that also retains Tauriel’s strengths.
Another thing about Tauriel was the love triangle she’s in. It wasn’t made as clear in DoS as in BOFA, which was possibly why I didn’t mind it as much before. I guess PJ felt it necessary to include the Tauriel-Kili-Legolas romance to give Legolas the impetus to leave his father and join the fellowship, as evident in one of the last few scenes, and also to humanise Thranduil with the “because it was real” line and the references to Legolas’s mother, but I found the entire romance to be awfully unnecessary.
1. Tauriel didn’t need Kili as a reason for her to leave Mirkwood to fight the orcs in Laketown. I’ve already discussed this about a year ago so I’ll just leave it here because it’s self evident in her characterization.
2. Legolas could have just chosen to leave Mirkwood even without having witnessed the romance between Tauriel and Kili, because I believe that it was Thranduil’s treatment of Tauriel that he felt strongly against and nothing more. He mentioned at the start of BOFA that there’s no place in Mirkwood for him if there isn’t one for Tauriel, after Tauriel’s been banished for her disobedience, and he stood up to his father again when Thranduil threatened Tauriel’s life because of her demands for the elven army to stay and defend the dwarves and men against the orcs. The king-prince dynamic is clear because of the conflict between the way they felt the kingdom should be run. Thranduil wants to protect the elvenfolk by keeping them safe within the realm of Mirkwood, but Legolas has been convinced by Tauriel that he needs to actively engage in uh…foreign politics. No where in this is Legolas required to fall in love with Tauriel, since it was already hinted that Thranduil’s family might have taken her in after her parents had died, and that Legolas possibly watched Tauriel grow up (considering that he’s 3000 years old and she’s only 600.) That almost sibling-like relationship would have been sufficient to make her sway his beliefs.
3. The inclusion of references to Legolas’s mother seemed rather contrived since there’s barely any Tolkien canon we can refer to for any further details as to what happened to her. One of the most common theories was that Legolas’s mother died to save young Legolas in Angmar, and Thranduil’s been heartbroken even since. That heartbreak could be paralleled to Tauriel’s such that he appears to have more mortal feelings, and I suppose that was what the writers intended by having him withdraw his comment about how the love she felt for Kili “wasn’t real”. Even so, the scene between Legolas and Thranduil would’ve sufficed in serving the purpose of making Thranduil more relatable, if there were more details about how she died and the way it affected him, instead of a passing line. By comparing Thranduil and his wife’s relationship to that of Kili and Tauriel, I feel like that almost cheapens Elven relationships because their marriages are practically sacred (I mean, elves live forever and because they’re monogamous, it means that they’ll have to live with their spouse for the rest of their immortal lives), whereas Tauriel and Kili’s relationship appeared to be more similar to silly teenage crushes. (I’m sorry Kiliel shippers, but it’s true, with all the rash decisions they make for each other and their disgustingly gooey eyes.)
Tauriel aside, I suppose there isn’t that much left to complain about the movie, so I’m going to move on to the things I liked about the movie.
1. Galadriel going utterly berserk when she wielded her ring of power against the Necromancer/Sauron. She’s dethroned Tauriel to reclaim her spot as my favourite female elf with that. I really love how she’s so characteristically elegant and pure, yet so frighteningly powerful as well. I suppose that’s PJ making up for the horrible portrayal of Tauriel, but he should know that just because there’s another female role model in the movie doesn’t mean that he’s “reached a quota” and that he can just stop giving the other female character qualities of strength. Both Tauriel and Galadriel are strong, handy and powerful in different ways and I just wish they could’ve shown that in the movie.
2. The Alfrid bits, even though it got a little annoying after a while. I get that some people are mad that he’s gotten so much screen time in the 144 minute long movie (which is considered short by Peter Jackson standards) and I do agree with them on that, but I liked how Alfrid was a clear commentary on morality in the more realistic world, as compared to the fantastical world that Tolkien has built. Everyone in The Hobbit seems to get their just-desserts: the kind, honest and good hobbit got his fair share of the treasure, friendship and adventure and he gets home safely; the greed of the dwarves land them some casualties, but they still survived with Dain as their new king (too bad we don’t see that in the movie, I need it to be in the extended footage, along with the burials of Thorin, Kili and Fili) and Erebor reclaimed; Most of elves and men survive, but not all; Azog and Bolg are killed, along with most of the Orcs. Basically the moral universe created by Tolkien is clearly separated into the good and bad – the good are rewarded, the bad are punished. In PJ’s adaptation though, Alfrid is characterised as an awful and despicable figure, but he’s saved by Bard countless times and he appears to have succeeded in taking off with some gold (unless he’s crushed by some falling troll or killed by an orc off scene.) While that doesn’t align with Tolkien’s moral universe, it clearly reflects morality in a realistic light. It is undeniable that there are people in our everyday lives that are similar to Alfrid, which is probably what makes him exceptionally unlikeable, that get away with doing horrible things because of luck or privilege. They may perceive those events to be their victories, but as we see in the juxtaposition between Alfrid and Bard in the scene in which Alfrid is caught stuffing coins down his dress by not only Bard but also his children, the victory doesn’t lie in being able to get away with sin, but in being able to stay true to one’s morals. While the huge victories of the dwarves, men and elves against the orcs show that good triumphs over evil, the scenes between Bard and Alfrid carry a more important message that resonates more soundly in our less fantastical world, and that was an addition that I really liked.
3. Thorin and Bilbo. I have no words to describe Richard Armitage and Martin Freeman’s acting, just lots of tears as a testament to their wondrous acting skills. I haven’t been a hardcore Bagginshield shipper, but you can truly see the chemistry between both actors, especially in their final scenes together. I’ve got to say that both actors are as good individually as when they are with each other. Martin Freeman’s ridiculously perfect in his role as Bilbo. I can’t say this enough, but all the little details he adds to the character, like his slight nose twitches or the tilting of his head, makes Bilbo all the more loveable, and it really gets the audience to believe in that tiny little hobbit and root for him all throughout the quest. As for Richard Armitage, I’ve always known that he was a great actor, but he really stood out in this movie as compared to the other two in the trilogy because the other facades to his character start to emerge, giving Thorin a greater sense of gravity. You know that Armitage has truly succeeded in his portrayal of Thorin when the other people in the cinema hold their breath for Bilbo in the scenes where Thorin approaches Bilbo because they’re so afraid of what Thorin might do to Bilbo if he finds out that Bilbo’s withholding the Arkenstone from Thorin.
4. Thranduil. I can’t ever get enough of him, not only because he’s played by Lee Pace, who’s completely swoon-worthy, but also because Lee’s acting is on point. I could go on for ages about how gorgeous Lee Pace’s face is (don’t get me started on his eyebrows) and how glorious he looks atop his elk, so I wouldn’t go there. About Lee’s acting, it’s simply brilliant. People have complained that Thranduil’s portrayed to be much too cold and heartless in the previous movie, in comparison to how he’s written in the Tolkien canon, but I really hope this movie changes their perception of him because you can practically see how heartbroken he is when his own son that he’s continually protected turns away from him. The scene where he finds Legolas at Ravenhill is further proof of how Thranduil isn’t a cold recluse – the concern on his face as he wanders around amongst dead orcs, fearing that he may find his son lying dead amongst them, and the relief when he finds Legolas is more than enough proof against any claim that Thranduil’s a heartless elven king.
5. Legolas being the badass action elf. Alright, it’s much too exaggerated that his action scenes become rather laughable, but I’ve always got a soft spot for my dearest elven prince ever since LOTR, and to see him do all these flips and kicks and kill orcs with such style makes me really proud of him…like a proud mom, I suppose.
I guess that’s all I’ve got to rant about the movie, do watch it in theatres to immerse yourself completely in the experience, since it’s something that a laptop screen or even a 47 inch TV is unlikely to replicate. Sure the trilogy might have its faults and it doesn’t match up to LOTR, but it still makes for a good prequel. I’m just waiting for the extended edition of BOFA to be released so that I can run a full Hobbit-LOTR marathon and spend 24 hours in Middle Earth. Hopefully I can manage to pull myself back into reality after the movie marathon.