Just saw THE HOBBIT Part 3… (Spoilers)
I wasn’t sure how eager I was to see The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, given the lukewarm reviews. But I was moderately interested in it as a technical achievement; I actually like the high frame rate and the realistic feel it creates, reminding me of watching a videotaped BBC drama. And I was interested in it for some of the actors, particularly Martin Freeman. I figured I should see it in the theater, even if I didn’t expect much.
And it was okay. It really didn’t feel like it lasted two and a half hours, because, let’s face it, not that many things happened. I was actually surprised when I realized the story was wrapping up, because it didn’t seem I’d been in the theater that long. There weren’t even that many parts that felt to me like they were going on too long or too slowly, even though I have felt that way about other Peter Jackson movies. The one part that did seem to drag for me was the aftermath of the battle of Laketown. After Smaug was killed, and before the conflict over the mountain started, it all felt like denouement. And in retrospect, I have to question whether there was really a point in giving so much screen time to Alfrid, the sleazy assistant to the late Master. Sure, he provided some comic relief in a film that was generally devoid of it, but he got more screen time than a lot of the dwarves, than Galadriel or Radagast or Saruman… it almost feels like his screen time rivalled Bilbo’s. And he had no arc. He didn’t change or evolve in any way, didn’t get any comeuppance or resolution — he was just there until he left. I think they could’ve cut his role down considerably.
And while it was a reasonably entertaining experience, it’s very much a fragment of an experience. It isn’t really a story of its own, it’s a bridge between The Desolation of Smaug and The Fellowship of the Ring. Basically, to borrow a term from comic books, Peter Jackson is writing for the trade — telling a decompressed, serial story with an eye toward how it will work when collected and experienced straight through, rather than making each individual installment a complete experience on its own. The film even opens without any preliminaries, just assuming the viewer knows what happened in TDoS and picking right up as if it had just come back from a commercial break. And while the final scenes do serve to wrap up Bilbo’s journey to an extent, they feel like they have more of an eye toward setting up Fellowship.
But the film was worthwhile for the performances. Martin Freeman is an amazingly talented actor — and an amazingly gifted reactor, which is one of his greatest assets. He can convey volumes just by the way he listens and silently reacts to other people’s words or actions. Which is great, because it adds a lot to the film’s rather thin storytelling and Bilbo’s fairly sidelined role in it. The rest of the cast is impressive too, but Freeman’s the real standout for me.
Technically, it was pretty impressive as long as you can accept that much of it is essentially a photorealistic animated cartoon. I did feel there was too much CGI and too many swooping camera moves, although it wasn’t as bad as some of the scenes in the first Hobbit film that felt like video-game cutscenes. The 3D generally worked pretty well, but sometimes (especially in the CGI scenes) the characters seemed toy-sized; and there were a few overly self-conscious 3D gimmicks, like the bit where Thorin was advancing on Azog with the point of his sword sticking right out toward the camera. But then, self-indulgence is Jackson’s stock in trade these days.
Speaking of indulgence, the theater I was in has been refitted with cushy, reclining seats and wider aisles. I’ve seen that other theaters are doing that lately; I guess that, in this age of huge widescreen TVs and surround sound systems, theaters have to try harder to compete with people’s living rooms, and comfy recliners are a way to do that. But I actually didn’t benefit much from the experience, due to my health issues; the soft seat back wasn’t good for my lower back, and my feet cramp if they’re elevated and unsupported for too long. Plus, the whirring of motors as other moviegoers adjusted their recliners during the film was distracting. Also, I was nonplussed by the need to preselect a seat at the ticket counter, like ordering an airline ticket, rather than just taking whatever seat I wanted. Since I didn’t know how big the theater would be, I couldn’t adequately estimate where a good place to sit would be, and I ended up maybe a row further back than I would’ve liked.
So anyway, I guess that’s it for Jackson’s Tolkien film series — for now. Maybe someday I’ll rent the expanded editions and go through the whole experience, but I don’t really feel strongly motivated to do so. If anything, I should probably reread the books first.