Um...rated R? The extended edition of a children's book entry is rated R. Because in the cut footage, there's a scene of pure gory carnage. Seriously. I knew that the consistent beheadings were becoming a bit of a problem, but the wagon scene? Geez, I know that Peter Jackson got his start in horror. I like that about him a lot. But this felt like a lighter version of the lawnmower scene from Dead Alive. Yeah, this movie deserves to be R because there's a lot of fighting, a lot of death, and a lot of blood. Well deserved R for a children's book.
DIRECTOR: Peter Jackson
I think we all know the biggest problem with The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies. I'm saying something that should be on everyone's lips. I know it isn't the only problem, but it is a drill going through my head. I cannot stand Alfrid Lickspittle. I know that the actor who played Jar-Jar Binks lived a terrible life because a lot of people heaped a lot of vitriol upon him. But Ryan Gage isn't the problem. Alfrid Lickspittle, as a concept for a movie, is a terrible concept. He takes a not great movie and turns it into something that, when he's on screen, actively becomes a burden.
I'm kinda / sorta defensive of The Hobbit movies. I am happy that they exist. The world is a better place because of them. But they are deeply flawed, and none more so than the final entry. But adding Alfrid Lickspittle to this movie makes it straight up painful to watch at times. Jar-Jar Binks really wasn't funny, but Lucas's argument for adding him to the Star Wars prequels was that the movies were made for kids, so adding a Tom and Jerry level buffoon to the movie made it more fun for kids. I know that The Hobbit is adapted from children's literature, but the R-rating that this extended edition has means that the viewership was never really made for children. I'm kind of having the epiphany right now that The Hobbit movies were never really an adaptation for its literary target audience. It's for the adults who adulate The Lord of the Rings and want to return to that world. Alfrid Lickspittle's sense of humor is similar to that of Jar-Jar. It is really really base. There's nothing really all that clever about Alfrid. He's a surface level character that is there to be laughed at. Jackson goes out of his way to make Alfrid so unlikable that, when misfortune befalls him, we meant to get a sense of joy out of his misery. But to do this, Alfrid goes through things that are meant to be humorous. He flounders on a beach. He dresses as an old lady. He gets smushed. One of the things that the original trilogy, and to a certain extent, the Hobbit trilogy does pretty well is humor. Often, we are laughing in the midst of dark scenes. But the humor of Alfrid is just so poorly timed that it reads as artifical. There's a stand up bit by Patton Oswalt that has to do with punch up. Often, comedians are brought into movies to make them funnier in post. They really can't do too much because the film is already done, so everything funny has to happen off-screen. Alfrid Lickspittle reads as a last ditch attempt to bring a sense of humor to a bleak film.
The Battle of the Five Armies is bleak. There's just a lot of death throughout the film. It is kind of a bummer ending for a book because many of the heroes of the story change their statuses and become enemies. The goal of the first two films, with the exception of the end of The Desolation of Smaug, was to get us to like and bond with the dwarves as they made their way to Erebor. When they become the bad guys, a necessary tonal shift happens. I really feel like it was a suit that said that the movie had to be lightened up with comic relief. Maybe it was an attempt to get the younger audience on board. But that shift in Thorin Oakenshield is an important one. I'm not saying that we can't shift a dark scene with a light scene, but this really feels forced. There are moments where I just want to breathe in the change of relationships that Bilbo and Thorin face. Instead, we get Alfrid Lickspittle. I applaud the name. It sounds very Tolkien-y. But the character just doesn't fit in the narrative whatsoever. Also, to make Alfrid work, there has to be a lot of politics about the people of Laketown. I mentioned in the last Hobbit review that the politics of Laketown are burdensome. On the one hand, Laketown is a very real consequences for the dwarves foolishness and selfishness. Jackson's smart to pick up on that. But Tolkien's original novel treats Laketown as a very outside world. It is the world of Fortenbras of Norway. I like that he exists parallel to the plot. The world of Laketown should exist and the film needs to address the repercussions of the dwarves' actions, but I don't need to know the beat-by-beat of the philosophy of these people. Similarly, it is really cringey when major characters seem to seek out interactions with Alfrid. It makes no sense that Gandalf would trust Alfrid Lickspittle with Bilbo Baggins's safety and health.
But the big problem is that The Battle of the Five Armies just doesn't have enough plot to carry a feature length film, let alone an extended cut of an already long movie. The central story is Thorin's taking of Erebor. The Battle of the Five Armies, in the book, is the consequence of his actions. But even Tolkien understood that showing the battle was a major mistake. It is a tonal deviation from what he intended the story to be about: Bilbo and his character change from the beginning of the story. He has the message of the battle showing that people die from selfishness and greed. Bilbo, in the novel, is quickly knocked out and doesn't get to experience a lot of the action. The actual battle is Peter Jackson's most dangerous thing to do as a director. In The Two Towers, Jackson has already filmed one of the greatest battle sequences in cinema history. It serves to be such a cathartic moment in a series that desperately needed to have these armies finally collide. Despite the fact that The Return of the King won the Academy Award for Best Picture, the groundwork was laid in The Two Towers with the Battle of Helm's Deep. That final battle in Return of the King, despite being unfathomably epic, doesn't hold the same emotional weight as the Battle of Helm's Deep. Jackson --and this could be a criticism of The Hobbit trilogy as a whole --is in the shadow of his own reputation. When I read the novel, I love the idea of The Battle of the Five Armies. It's epic and sprawling. But it exists in as long as I daydream about it. Jackson not only had to create this epic EPIC battle, but he had to do it to stall for the length of the film. There is a tipping point in fighting where it just becomes boring. The Battle of the Five Armies definitely tips on that scale.
Also, Jackson, during his Lord of the Rings filming, injected the film with so many "Whoa, cool" moments that he felt the need to keep doing that. I know that when I heard about Legolas being added to these movies, I thought it was a good idea. I really don't like the Legolas of The Hobbit. He's too good at everything. At the Battle of Helm's Deep, I worry for him. I know he comes out fine. But his 47 kills seem, somehow, based in reality. In this movie, he is actually unkillable. The Jump-the-Shark moment happens with the collapsing bricks over the chasm. It's too much. Legolas often bends the rules of physics. This is him full on spitting in physics's face. As a finale for a movie that I try to defend, I find The Battle of the Five Armies kind of insufferable. All of the trimmings and eye candy take away from the ultimately human story of Bilbo Baggins and the internal struggle he faces of seeing how important he truly is. Jackson tries that with his betrayal of Thorin Oakenshield, but The Battle of the Five Armies isn't really a story about Bilbo Baggins. It's a story about Middle Earth.
So do I hate The Hobbit movies? For a long time, I cried foul on people who attacked these movies. In a way, I suppose that I still do. These movies are fine. I am glad that I own them and I'll probably end up watching them again in the next five years. It's just that they are a bit much. I'm not saying anything new by saying that it should be one long film or two normal length movies. But three tanks? Nah. The Battle of the Five Armies shows its weakness in its pacing and desperate attempt to cover up for the fact that nothing new is happening. I am happy it exists, but I really want to see Topher Grace's cut of the entire trilogy.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.