It has been two years since Bilbo said, “I’m going on an adventure!” as he gleefully bounded out of the Shire, following after Gandalf and “quite a merry gathering” of dwarves. And here, we come to the end … of Biblo’s story, of Thorin’s, of Thranduil’s … but the beginning of the tale of The Lord of the Rings.
Like a lot of people, I was skeptical at the money-grab of dividing one short children’s book into three films. And having sat through the saga, I still believe two would have been enough … but that might have robbed us of some of the magnificent of this third installment, so maybe I should eat my words. The Battle of the Five Armies is, I think, the best of The Hobbit films. It has everything that made the first two entertaining (action scenes, humor, and memorable characters) but adds back in the heart and character development missing from last year’s installment. Some of my usual complaints remain intact … namely, I don’t think Peter Jackson knows when a film is long enough, and his battle scenes and one-on-one fights reflect this … but, all in all, I loved it.
Opening with the burning of Laketown was a nice idea; it sets the stage for immediate action, it exits the major villain of the former film in a dramatic fashion, and it paves the way for all the angst-ridden character stories that follow … it sees the rise of Bard as an unlikely leader, it brings the arrival of Thranduil (and all that entails … including family strife), and it shows us early signs of Thorin’s descent into insanity. He stands, not watching Laketown burn, but staring at the mountain … at the great doors … thinking of the treasure contained within. His heart is not with the screaming people of the town, reaping the disaster of his arrogance in challenging Smaug, but with the missing Arkenstone.
Thorin’s journey has been at the heart of the saga from the beginning, and this is the only film that truly brings that into focus, because it pivots on the change in him … in his descent, his redemption and then, finally, tragically, his death. Truly for me the most heart-breaking moment in the film was him laying in Bilbo’s arms, taking his last breath, as the tearful hobbit assures him that “The eagles are here!” It’s all right, Thorin. The battle is won! But … it is too late. He died heroically, but he still died. The wages of sin is still death, though like Boromir, he turned from the darkness at the end. It’s a nice reversal for that other scene, for this time it is a hobbit who cradles a king.
While so subtle that it might get lost at times in the overwhelming drama of five armies converging upon one place, the plot arc surrounding Thranduil also tugged on my heartstrings. The haughty, disdainful, even dislikable elven-king’s hardened exterior cracks to show us a glimpse of his true soul, of the immense fear of loss and the hatred of death that impacts many of his decisions. His break with Legolas is truly what undoes his pride; you can see it on his face, the intense injury done to him at the thought that Legolas will abandon him because of his behavior. Their reconciliation is a muddle of elven restraint, of things not said but generally understood, that bleeds into Thranduil’s conversation with Tauriel, as she holds her fallen dwarf love in her arms and cries for his loss. “Why does it hurt so much?” she asks the elven-king; and begs him to take her feelings from her. He refuses, and answers, “Because it was real.” The line speaks to a profound truth: if there is no pain in loss, the love itself was never genuine. We must feel loss, to know love.
And in that moment, we see Thranduil’s true heart. He forgives, and he understands, only when he sees Tauriel experiencing an emotion he knows all too well – loss, the loss of his wife, the immense yawning grief he has lived with ever since. That, to me, is more tragically romantic than any star-crossed elf-dwarf romance on screen. In a handful of lines, in a poignant look, is told a love story even more impacting than what unfolded on screen; but without Tauriel and Kili, we would never have seen it. It is these intense but repressed emotions that draw me so to the elves; that make me enjoy having them on screen, even if it is brief. The scene with Elrond and Galadriel was short too, but awesome. It ended so abruptly, with dangling threads, that I half suspect there is more to come in the extended edition. But it was fun to see Elrond deliver one of the best lines (“You should have stayed dead”) and leap in to defend Galadriel, who then turns on the full force of Nenya against the darkness, morphs into a “great and terrible queen,” and banishes Sauron into Mordor. Given her full-on Goth transformation, all I can say is … no wonder the dwarves think her a “great elf-witch.”
I love the scene preceding it, but I’m not sure how I feel about this interpretation of her; it seems dark, too dark… she looks evil though she is not, and I must wonder why. Is it the power of Nenya against the Dark Lord that transforms her appearance, or is it that she is reflecting evil while fighting it off? It puzzles me, and is the only element I’m uncertain of, but I thought the confrontation was done well. I hope there is more of it to come.
In terms of cinematic enjoyment, I think this may be my favorite of all six films. I liked the characterization and the emotional depth of it.
How did you feel about it?