Wednesday, December 17, 2014

I turn to paths that lead home

That feeling you get when you walk into the cinema to watch the last cinematographic stretch of Middle-earth greatness is a nostalgic one.
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies is a looong film, much dominated by the battle waged between elves, men, dwarves, goblins and wargs. Trust Peter Jackson to transform a couple of chapters into ~2.5 hours!

Cinematically speaking, the graphics were stunning. 3D HFR is still tough to adjust to, but Smaug swooping into Lake-town was quite the visual experience. Not to mention the choreography for all the battles. Could a chunk of the fighting have been cut out? Certainly, although I must say that Legolas's showdown with the goblin nearly tops his slaying of the Oliphaunt.

In many ways, The Hobbit movies have been much swayed by their marriage and persistent homage to the LoTR trilogy. After all, there are irresistible scenes in this film that only seem to serve the purpose of channeling LoTR:
1) The part where Legolas goes off to seek "Strider" (hence LoTR!!)
2) The final scene that takes us right back to the start of The Fellowship
3) Bilbo with Thorin in his final moments, a scene that poignantly recalls Aragorn and Boromir's mybrothermycaptainmyking scene
4) Galadriel unleashing her full power
5) Alfred is basically Wormtongue

Yet I think this is Jackson's way of ensuring that the film remains quintessentially 'LoTR' to Tolkienites. Most LoTR perceptions have been indelibly defined by the film trilogy.

Hobbit-LoTR comparisons aside, however, The Battle of the Five Armies does further engage its audience with deeper elements of Middle-earth that LoTR hadn't exposed as thoroughly (and no, I am not just referring to how Legolas is finally thrust into an arrow-less situation).

What love means to elves, notably, is explored throughout the movie. Early on, Tauriel struggles with her feelings for Kili because acknowledging them would be a betrayal to her kin. Legolas supposedly loves Tauriel, but speaks to her like a soldier; why is he so icy? Perhaps, as is hinted towards the end of the film, it is because of his mother's death. Thranduil, whom Tauriel accuses of having no heart, seems to be the epitome of the heartless, cold-blooded, unfeeling, immortal elf. Yet he later tells Tauriel that she feels heartbreak after Kili's death because her love for him "was real" just as he himself still mourns his wife.

In this movie (and relevant chapters of the book), we also see in Thorin a King Lear-esque character, someone who admits that he was "too blind to see" under the shadow of 'Dragon sickness' - the autocracy and unreasonableness that overcomes one who lusts after gold and prestige. Indeed, the Arkenstone is Thorin's ring; it seduces and manipulates him.

The one most immune to dragon sickness, and bravest to try and put a cork on the battle, is naturally Bilbo. Thorin's last words to him are,

"If more people valued home above gold, this world would be a merrier place."

The hobbit mentality encapsulated in Thorin's words is what has captured LoTR fans for centuries - the homeliness and warmth of the Shire and indeed of home. Bilbo doesn't say much in the movie (mostly just wrinkles his nose endearingly) but whenever he pipes up, we love it. Just as Galadriel is the Lady of Light, Bilbo is the pure token of home in The Hobbit. No matter how far one will bash these three Hobbit movies, there is no doubt that they all share that familiar, quintessentially Tolkien echo of home.

As Billy Boyd sings the end credits of the film, we know that it is not only Bilbo who is bidding "a very fond farewell" to the company, but also the LoTR crew who is bidding adieu to their Middle-earth cinematic journey. Yet I don't think anybody will be saying farewell to the LoTR legacy anytime soon. The mark it has left on literature and film will and should inspire generations of readers, writers and dreamers to come.