As Billy Boyd solemnly sings at the credits, this is Peter Jackson’s long goodbye to Middle-Earth. It has been an incredible journey, and sadly this chapter is not the best endpoint for this series. To be perfectly clear to begin with, the movie is not awful. Some are arguing that the film is downright bad, which it is not. Peter Jackson’s conclusion to The Hobbit demonstrates all of the problems of dividing The Hobbit into three movies.
The Hobbit much like it’s predecessor Lord of the Rings was shot simultaneously and ultimately works best as a single film. I once dared to watch Lord of the Rings-Extended Edition in one day. While it was difficult to remain still for one day doing such, the experience demonstrated that the trilogy was truly one long and powerful film. But whereas Lord of the Rings had thematic story structures that made its divides acceptable, this was not the case in Jackson’s adaptation of The Hobbit.
A well-meaning two-part adaptation of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows has become the popular trend of most adaptations of books. The final Harry Potter film was a four-hour film and to see it as anything other than that is a detriment to the viewing experience. Peter Jackson’s latest film is the premiere exemplum to this flawed multi-part method of storytelling.
Peter Jackson made a nine-hour film that was shown in three parts. The first “film” An Unexpected Journey, was slow and too focused on characters as it followed the first-act structure of developing characters. The second and most widely acclaimed “film”, The Desolation of Smaug was the rising conflict and trials for the heroes as any second act should be in a film. Now with the final “film” we have a 2 ½-hour action conclusion to the storyline. Taken in isolation, the film is nothing but grand action with no major character arc or development. If seen alone this movie is ultimately too long and unbearable.
Only Thorin Oakenshield has a developing arc in the film and it is almost too overdone in his instantaneous corruption with the gold. And as for the gripping “to be continued” from the previous film it ultimately amounts to nothing. Smaug is killed within five-minutes of the opening of the film and bears no major influence on the plot or main theme in this movie. It begs the question as to why Jackson did not include this thrilling climax in the previous film except as to provide an action scene to the opening of this film.
Part of what makes this over-stuffed style of adaptation somewhat hard to bear is that the main story of Bilbo Baggins development and maturation is lost in the middle of this grand war. The film becomes the opposite of the source material it tries to treasure as it is no longer a simple tale of a Hobbit becoming wiser and braver in the face of adversity. The story now is a major prelude to growing conflict that will not be subsided but only intensify as this film is a “prequel.” The film and, sadly, the trilogy have major structural pitfalls of prequels. The film has to hammer home countless allusions that the Ring of Power is corrupting Bilbo and that Sauron is alive and building his forces. The resulting tone saps all the joy and wonder that was found in the original book.
Jackson’s tone of making Lord of the Rings grand and nigh-operatic was excellent for the source material it was adapting. Jackson also worked mightily in being able to move past the difficult task that he was adapting a heavy-sequel story in his 3-part film. But in establishing a tone and style for Lord of the Rings he could not greatly stray from this established tone when adapting a much lighter story. Also limiting the references to the “original trilogy” was impossible, so the result is a film that still is too uncomfortable being its own story. There had been far more than enough references in the first film to Lord of the Rings to allow Jackson to focus on a more light-hearted side to Middle-Earth. But all the enjoyable humor and adventure of The Desolation of Smaug is lost in making a Lord of the Rings-style battle.
The battle itself is fantastic and is sure to not disappoint fans, but Battle of the Five Armies is a film that cannot be appreciated if not preceded by six-hours of the previous Hobbit films. Unless one is eager to see this movie in a large theatre, and this is certainly a movie to see for that reason, wait for the home video release. It may be daunting to watch a nine-hour film, or 11 with the extended material. But Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit is certainly worth seeing in its entirety. Isolated, the films are hardly worth watching.