The Hill: Hobbiton-across-the-Water, 1937. (MS. Tolkien drawings 26) Copyright the Tolkien Estate, reproduced here under fair use.
Friday afternoon was delightful and sad for me. Delightful because I met some of my friends for a movie and sad because the movie, The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies is the last of the Tolkien-inspired epic films we will get to see on Boxing Day. What wonderful films will we see from now on as we struggle our way through the sale crowds to the cinema? They will have to be very special to excite me anyway.
I'm illustrating this post with a Tolkien illustration which can be used under the copyright fair usage clause, because it's just too much of a headache to go with the movie poster which has so many ifs and buts attached it's not worth using lest someone orders me to take it down when I'm promoting their film. I don't think Tolkien would mind. And I'm sure you can all find those posters all over the Web anyway.
I didn't read The Hobbit till I was an adult. I remember going out with my then much younger nephew Max one summer day. His father was reading him The Hobbit at bedtime. I happened to have a copy with me for my umpteenth reread so there, on that hot afternoon in the gardens around the Shrine of Remembrance, I read to him from the chapter they were up to. I think it was "Riddles in the dark", Bilbo's meeting with Gollum. That chapter, by the way, was a favourite with my late friend jan howard finder(he liked to spell his name without capitals). Jan read it to the kids at our Aussiecon children's program. One of them asked for the lights to be turned off to provide ambience. Fortunately, he knew it off by heart. ;-)
Since then Max, now a tall sixteen year old, has also read The Lord Of The Rings. His father, my brother Maurice, held out for years, then bought the beautiful three volume Alan Lee illustrated hardback edition which was on sale at the time, and was very glad he had finally read the book. Probably that was how Max got to read it.
Max is currently visiting family in Israel, but has asked me if we can see the film together when he returns, with his cousin Dezzy, who's in town. He feels himself too old to be going out with his auntie, but this film is special to him and we've seen the other two together. I asked Dezzy, who says she'd love to, as her father is taking her sister Rachel only, on a "quality time" outing. Dezzy has grown into a bright, articulate young woman who loves dancing but also talking about books - she helps in the school library and promotes the books of her auntie the writer. She wants to be a psychologist, though, not a librarian.
The third Hobbit movie has had quite a lot of rude reviews but as a Tolkien fan I enjoyed it very much. I know the whole thing was stretched out rather too much and I'm really not sure of what the Professor would think of the Elven shield maiden and her unlikely romance with one of the nephews of the King Under The Mountain, ie Kili, Thorin's sister-son. Well, actually, I do know what he'd think. It wouldn't be complimentary!
But you have to understand that there isn't a single female character in the original novel. Not one. For some time I thought Lobelia appeared in the auction scene, then I reread and no, it was just "the Sackville-Bagginses" though perhaps Lobelia was implied, only you didn't find that out till LOTR. At least LOTR has its share of brave and intelligent women, even if they do get less time than the men. But The Hobbit? Not one. And you can't produce an all-male film. Eight and a half hours with no women at all, apart from the extras? No. Well, yes, the movie had inserted Galadriel, but there was only so much they could do with her. I admit I thought the hints of her romantic feelings for Gandalf were just a little silly. Come on, woman, he's an angel! Not a fallen one. Definitely asexual. And you're a married woman, head of the Elven artist colony in Lothlorien, Elrond's mother-in-law. But I suppose it was meant to hint at the reasons for her sorrow when she hears of his death in Fellowship Of The Ring. The film gave her a good scene when you realised just what could have happened if she'd let Frodo give her the Ring. Fortunately, it happens to Sauron. And it makes sense. Galadriel's stuck in Middle-Earth in the first place because she was once a very naughty girl. No, I won't tell you. Go read The Silmarillion. Really. It will make you understand that Galadriel is a lot more than the wise elf queen she appears.
Anyway, Tauriel! She was the one who reminded the viewers that there are women even in Middle-Earth. Brave, kickass women. And what's the point of having sexy young Dwarves like Fili and Kili if at least one of them doesn't score in the romance stakes? Even if the woman concerned is twice his height... Never stopped Miles Vorkosigan from sleeping every now and then with Sergeant Taura. ;-)
Despite all this, it's a largely action film. Billy Connolly appears, Scottish accent and all, as Dain, leading an army of Dwarves and threatening what he will do to Thranduil's "pretty head". Thranduil deserves it too. I liked the way this film, while showing Thorin's dragon sickness, also suggests that the Elvenking has some things not to be proud of. It's really more Silmarillion than Hobbit; though Tolkien does mention the stupidity of a quarrel over a necklace and payment he still describes the Elvenking as "wise".
The battles are breathtaking and yes, Beorn is in there, though you only see him very briefly, fighting in his bear form, as in the novel.
Bard's role has been extended, but in the novel Bard, who has been described as a proto-Aragorn, did get to do a lot more in the last part of the story than when he was introduced simply as a man with a grim voice.
In some ways, this one was, despite all the extra bits and characters, closer to the spirit of the novel than the second one and Richard Armitage acts his heart out as Thorin gone crazy.
I really think that Martin Freeman was the perfect Bilbo as well. And it showed him telling his first lie about having the Ring. Not that Gandalf is fooled, but still...
And that auction scene is in there and yes, Lobelia is in it, with those spoons!
If you hated the earlier films, you won't be going to see this one anyway, but I hope you've enjoyed this unexpected journey as much as I have.