This is a different kind of Review, both on BOTFA and on the ‘Hobbit’ Trilogy in general.
I don’t want to repeat endlessly the already many existing great Reviews that deal with the various liked or disliked details in the film. This is why:
A strange feeling of progressive ‘distanciation’ has happened to me over the years, about this whole ‘Hobbit’ Trilogy.
Not at all in a bad way: on the contrary, it has enabled me to get a POV about it that has gradually transcended all my first impressions of these movies, and led me to what is in my eyes a far better understanding and appreciation of them.
Yes, I was already very appreciative of them to start with (!), but in a kind of superficial way. Now my perception of them has changed, because I have had the curiosity and courage at a certain point of entirely following PJ, Fran and Philippa into their script choices instead of grumbling automatically against them.
In that way I have unexpectedly come to discern (and to myself grow into) the much vaster picture the team of writers were actually presenting for us all to see: a continuum ‘Hobbit – LOTR’ in which, although all the episodes narrated in the little bedtime story are still there, they come out differently because they are taken out of their original linearity. From the flat two-dimensionality that is hidden from us in the book only by the exquisite writing art of Tolkien, each of these episodes leaps into a welcome three-dimensionality in the story on screen, thanks to just a few major changes creating turning-points that affect all the events happening after them as consequences of these few changes.
I have read comments upon comments from all of us fans, that although they praised the films in general, still deemed this part or this subplot unnecessary and useless; and every time it was the writers’ ‘wrong choices’ that were incriminated, when it was not a precise person in their team who got charged with the responsibility for this or that specific ‘wrong choice’, as that person was obviously ‘ruling the roost’, according to the author of the post.
There came a time when I grew tired of what felt to me like a kind of arrogance on the part of some of us, too ready to believe – and to say loudly in a few cases – that these writers were just a clever bunch bent simply on profiteering to the maximum from Tolkien’s books, profit being obviously the only possible reason why such a small book (the other sources of material also from Tolkien not being mentioned, or being called ‘fillers’) would have been turned unexpectedly into a new blockbuster Trilogy.
What do I see now, then, when I look at these three new films?
I see essentially tons of background history (either straight from Tolkien or figured out by the writers) being inserted artfully here and there, to reveal at the right moment for example the reason behind a certain character’s coldness and apparent empty selfishness; or to flesh out what we knew already from the LOTR Trilogy about this or that important event, stemming actually from something that had happened earlier, at the time of ‘The Hobbit’; or to make us discover yet another area of Middle-earth that we had only heard of vaguely before, and had not guessed how important to the overall story that region had been in the far past… a past still alive through a live dragon or some other monstrous beast surviving, a terrible threat, deep down the Mines of Moria.
For me it is not ‘by chance’ that BOTFA has been, just two days ago, the first film I ever saw in 3D. To the visual 3D corresponded a sudden coming together in my consciousness of the actual three-dimensionality of this whole story as well, every detail in it being linked inextricably to so much more than I had at first suspected. All that has been prepared and shown separately before in the two first ‘Hobbit’ films falls now into its intended place, one detail after the other, like in a symphony orchestrated by a master musician (and the music we owe again to Howard Shore is a great part again of this magic being woven together through this last film).
So many places or even characters that hardly existed in my consciousness, although I knew Tolkien had mentioned them indeed, have now come alive for me, and for ever: in AUJ I had got a feeling that only Thror and Thorin had really been introduced, and I missed learning more about Thrain too, the least known of the three; but after the DOS EE, Thrain too has come alive in me, and indelibly so *tears up while writing this…*.
Well, it’s like bringing the whole of Middle-earth gradually into the real world of our lives, not any more just through the wonderful words of Tolkien, but now almost down to the realm of actual physicality, thanks to the filming art and all the other arts that have been involved in the making of these extraordinary movies.
At every step I feel now the respect and appreciation of the writers for what was already great and totally satisfactory in the original books; and I feel at the same time in the same writers the equally needed ability to discern the flaws when they are there, and to put in an alternative that will solve these flaws, often in a way that Tolkien himself might have appreciated, I’ll dare say.
I too in the past have believed that Tolkien, for example, would never had married Aragorn to Eowyn, so I was at first quite scandalized that an attraction between Aragorn and Eowyn was so much as hinted at in the films, even though it was more on Eowyn’s side; but then I discovered in the HOME books put together by Christopher Tolkien, that in his first drafts his father had indeed married Aragorn to Eowyn; only later had he “seen” Arwen as a new character, who then of course became the more ideal spouse for Aragorn…
In the same way, one thing that is sometimes brought up as being totally absent in Tolkien, and yet unduly present to some extent in the films: what I will call ‘gore’ for short:
I remember when watching for the first time the scene in TTT where the Three Runners, looking anxiously for their Hobbits friends, reach the mound of Orc corpses left behind by Eomer and his Rohirrim: a horrible head of an Orc was standing there on top of a spear, I had to close my eyes to avoid that ugly sight. Disgusted and angry, I felt this was really a betrayal of Tolkien, who would never had put such a gruesome detail in one of his books. Well, I did check nevertheless… and found to my utter amazement that the said gruesome detail was right there also in the book, described exactly as it appeared in the film!!!
Again, this time for this Trilogy: I re-read entirely ‘The Hobbit’, just to refresh my memories of it… and was quite surprised to notice that Beorn too not only had killed a warg and a goblin during his night expedition, but had also put the head out on display:
“Come and see!” said Beorn, and they followed around the house. A goblin’s head was stuck outside the gate, and a warg-skin was nailed to a tree just beyond. Beorn was a fierce enemy.
And that one is right in ‘The Hobbit’, a bedtime story for his own kids!… Surprising may be, but true.
If you look carefully you will probably find a few more instances showing that Tolkien did have some ‘gorish’ moments in his writings too. I really couldn’t tell which one is the worse, of Denethor’s death on the screen, or on the page.
Just to say that perhaps we should be less absolute in our views about what Tolkien would have liked, or not, in the present six adaptations of his best-known books.
What is sure for me at least, is how much more I have discovered of Tolkien’s own world, thanks to these six films by Peter Jackson and team. The changes from the books aren’t random mistakes as we too often think, but deliberate deviations for a purpose we may discover only at the end of the entire arc of the character or the situation.
In this last opus just released, what for me shines particularly – besides of course the main storyline of Bilbo helping Thorin’s Company to reclaim Erebor – is the whole Dol Guldur sub-plot with all its tremendous ramifications, including the Nazgul back-story of the Witch-King of Angmar; and through Legolas and Tauriel’s visit to Gundabad, that links up wonderfully with the second subplot I personally love, although it is disliked and rejected by a majority of fans, it would seem: the entire sub-plot of the Mirkwood Elves, with Thranduil and Tauriel quite strong and interesting characters in their own right, both independently and yet also together shaping the future personality of Legolas as we will meet him again sixty years later in LOTR at the Council of Elrond.
Not only do I not find the so-called ‘romance’ between Tauriel and Kili the Dwarf really implausible or ridiculous, I find it a most revealing sign of the times that the mutual hostility between the two species – continued actively through their hardened and embittered present leaders Thranduil and Thorin – has to come to an end, and be replaced by friendship and mutual appreciation, if not by deep love as exemplified in this added story of Tauriel and Kili. Their genuine love will start already producing deep, positive changes within the other characters as well and in their relationships, opening up at last a whole situation regarding Mirkwood that had become as stagnant and stale as the situation in Erebor while occupied by Smaug.
So, even more than for DOS EE, it is with utter admiration and gratitude that I salute this new incredible achievement by this team of film-makers, bringing to us this far-reaching perspective on Middle-earth, in which the Story guided invisibly by Eru becomes indeed a Story of Diversity unfolding towards a multi-facetted, harmonious Oneness.
Looking forward now to the EE… and then to watching the six films, starting with AUJ EE and ending with ROTK EE, for this is the way I prefer!…