I bought The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies last night. I had to. I already owned the other two and the extended Lord of the Rings, so I couldn’t not buy it. Because my OCD demanded that I buy the movie no matter what, I didn’t go watch it in the theater. Last night was my first watch.
My final reaction: now I want to watch Fellowship.
I’m not talking the excited feeling at the end of The Empire Strikes Back or Back to the Future: Part II where you can’t resist putting in the next movie. Instead, it’s a feeling of a lackluster prequel—on to the main event!
Why do you ask?
It’s All Deathly Hallows Fault
Wait, Harry Potter? Yes, Harry Potter. If I were to make a list of the films that ruined Hollywood, Deathly Hallows would top it. Blast Warner Brothers for wanting to squeeze every penny they could out of the Harry Potter franchise. Now every young adult book series must have the final volume split into two films, and I think The Hobbit got caught up in that as well. Don’t forget, it’s also distributed by Warner Brothers. Too many films aren’t seeing enough editing, and it’s making them a bore and feel like a ploy to make more money.
Not Two, But Three Hobbits
When Peter Jackson took back over the project and it was originally announced as two movies, I was initially thrilled. Tolkien’s writings outside of the 4 novels are rich with stories that could easily fill in a second movie. But as the rumors started to circulate, and it became clear that The Hobbit itself was getting elongated and stretched, I became less certain. And then, it became three movies instead of two (see the Deathly Hallows sickness mentioned above). Now a short book had theatrically become just as long as The Lord of the Rings. Say what?
As a result, this isn’t the story of There and Back Again: A Hobbit’s Tale. In fact, very little of the last two movies remind us that this was Bilbo’s big adventure. Instead, it’s a Lord of the Rings prequel that is trying way too hard to be just as important as its successor. But it’s not. The Battle of the Five Armies lasts just as long as the Battle of the Pelennor Fields. Sorry, but Pelennor Fields is a much more important battle. As such, I don’t really care what happens at the Battle of the Five Armies. The films are stretched into the epic mold that the source material wasn’t written for. It creates overwhelming ambivalence.
There’s No Ending
Remember the outcry when we all realized that Elijah Wood was “starring” in the first Hobbit? Frodo wasn’t supposed to be born yet and somehow he was going to make an appearance as an adult in this movie? Of course, we then discovered that the three films were being framed inside The Lord of the Rings, as Bilbo reminisces on his adventure as he writes There and Back Again. But starting there meant that the last film had to end there, and it does…sorta. We don’t get get an internal monologue to Frodo like we do in the first film. In fact, we don’t get any ending narration that the first film promises. We just fade into The Lord of the Rings present, and Gandalf’s arrival for his 111th birthday. That’s it. The promise made by the first is not kept by the last. So even though the battle is won, and Bilbo returns home, and it feeds right into Fellowship, it’s not an end.
(Before someone points it out, yes, I know Bilbo doesn’t finish writing There and Back Again at Bag End, that he finishes it later in Rivendell, so I know it doesn’t make sense for him to monologue the end before his birthday party. To that I say, then they shouldn’t have started with Bilbo narrating, or the movie should have ended when Bilbo finishes writing in Rivendell.)
The Hobbit had an identity crisis. It wanted to be as big as The Lord of the Rings, but it isn’t. And in trying to fill those much bigger shoes, it forgot to be itself.