Saying Goodbye to Middle-Earth with THE BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES
Nearly 15 years ago, Director Peter Jackson (best known, at that time, for such films as Dead Alive, Heavenly Creatures, and The Frighteners) embarked on an extremely risky financial journey to bring J.R.R. Tolkien‘s legendary story, The Lord Of The Rings, to life on the big screen. And what would soon go on to become an epic, and ultimately ground-breaking, game-changing cinematic journey, began, very humbly, like this:
As we now arrive at the week of Christmas 2014, Peter Jackson’s ground-breaking journey into his fabled Middle-Earth has come full circle, and it draws to a close with the release of his final Tolkien-influenced film, The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies. While it’s certainly not a (stand-alone) film without it’s flaws, The Battle Of The Five Armies closes out our time in Jackson’s Middle-Earth in fairly grandiose, but somewhat overstuffed, fashion; but it is still a quite nice book-ending for the story of Bilbo Baggins, Thorin Oakenshield, and the return of the evil Sauron to Mordor, all whilst quaintly setting up the events we have already grown to love in Jackson’s previously released and ultimately superior Lord Of The Rings film trilogy.
But let’s step back for a moment, back to 2001, when Peter Jackson changed everything, and spoiled us as movie-goers beyond compare…for the first time since the original Star Wars trilogy. When Jackson released The Fellowship Of The Ring, he forever redefined the modern era of cinema, and re-emphasized what it meant to go to the theater. At that time, I had only heard of the Lord Of The Rings by way of some fantasy books that I was always told I should check out: I had never read the LOTR story, or that of The Hobbit. Shameful yes, but what it meant for me was this: I would soon go on to immersively experience this entire saga, all of it new to me, on the “big screen” in a way so many could not: with a fresh set of eyes and an imagination that was like a fresh, untouched canvas.
And had it not been for an old friend of mine over at Athens Uncorked, I may have never had any interest in seeing these films at all. Ever. As we sat in a theater waiting for some now unrecallable film to start back on the year 2000, the trailer for Fellowship was shown, and my old friend was suddenly BESIDE HIMSELF with excitement. I was beyond perplexed (WTH was that I just saw advertised for a 2001 release, I’ve never heard of it being a film?). But, he and I have very similar taste when it comes to great, epic film making, and he assured me that this new film would be an absolute must-see. So I ultimately bought in, and when The Fellowship Of The Ring was finally released in 2001, I had found myself a brand new and albeit mysterious story to fall in love with. And I did: hook, line, and “precious” sinker.
Peter Jackson, whether knowingly or unknowingly, was also about to redefine OUR (yours, mine, and the worlds!) movie-going experience. As fans, we hadn’t had anything like the LOTR films in decades. Yes, DECADES. Of course the new Star Wars prequel trilogy was in full swing, but everyone was expected to go see those films – after all, they were STAR WARS films! With LOTR, and eventually The Hobbit films, Jackson was transporting movie-goers again, to somewhere brand new, by fully immersing us in a newly crafted world which we hadn’t seen the likes of since a galaxy from a long time ago and far, far away.
And for myself, and I’m sure so many others of you, his films had become things that were most certainly “must-see.” But they were also more than that – they were EVENT FILMS. We now looked forward to them every year for the next three years: where would he take us, and The Fellowship, next? Was Frodo going to make it to Mordor? And what of the return of this king they kept alluding too?
One could argue that also during this time that the Harry Potter movie craze was also about to take off. Sure, they, too, would become “must-see” films, but those stories were all brand new; the tales of Tolkien were instead epic and aged literature, not something newly crafted like that world of wizards and muggles that was, at the time, more bandwagon and pop culture madness than overall substance (though that would certainly change with the later books). And these LOTR films opened the floodgates for Hollywood studios to heavily invest in the new craze of literature-to-screen products: The Twilight Saga, The Hunger Games films, The Divergent Series, and the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe all owe their existence to the success of Peter Jackson’s huge gamble about a hobbit from Middle-Earth.
Tolkien’s world had been revered for decades by scholars and geeks alike, and many a literature fan had waited their entire lives to maybe – hopefully – see that world brought to life on screen. And boy did Peter Jackson deliver…and like I said earlier: he has spoiled us all in the process. We are now jaded movie-goers, expecting to be wowed with every fantastic film release, disappointed when it’s instead not the next big thing…instead of just sitting back and truly appreciating what we are seeing on-screen. Especially Smaug the dragon! Critics need to let go and remember: before you were a critic of movies and paid to do critique for a living, you were first a fan of movies. Sit back again and enjoy the ride once in a while instead of always trying to find fault in such fantastic good times!
However, Peter Jackson’s Hobbit films feel like a forced affair. If you’ll remember, Jackson had asked Guillermo del Toro to direct just one Hobbit film, but del Toro eventually had to step aside, and when Jackson took over as director, the studio asked for The Hobbit to be split into two films. In the end, a trilogy was finally planned and financed to cover the series of events from but one book. And the final set of products shows us that this time, the return trip to Middle-Earth was stretched just too far.
That’s not to say that they aren’t entertaining films. In fact, they are still shining examples of great and fantastic film making; it just took us much too long to get to the end with this outing – 2 films would have been PLENTY. This overall Hobbit story suffered from trying to make 3 more films like The Lord Of The Rings trilogy without having nearly the same amount of source material to pull from: Jackson created more new characters and story just to fill time. But these are still fun and magnificent spectacle films…and I, for one, will most certainly miss Middle-Earth.
Thank you Peter Jackson for taking us all on this journey with you, and for forever changing modern cinema as we all know it, for the absolute better.