One year ago, many of us sat in theaters across the world and gasped. The second installment of The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, ended with Martin Freeman’s Bilbo looking on with terror as Smaug the dragon flew towards helpless Laketown.
“What have we done?” Bilbo asked.
A whole year we’ve waited, anxious, knowing the doom and destruction that would come down on some of the characters in Laketown. For those of us who’ve read the book, The Hobbit, we knew the ultimate showdown was at hand.
Today, we know the answer to Bilbo’s haunting question. Today, we bid farewell to one of the greatest stories ever told.
It should come as no shock that Smaug refused to go down without a fight, and he left devastation and destruction in his wake. The survivors of Laketown head ashore, and it’s not long before people take notice of Bard “the Bowman” and elevate him to a leadership role. In the cold, burning north, there’s nowhere else to go…except the ruins of Dale and the mountain of Erebor. As the Dwarves are united, the Woodland Elves are split apart. Low simmering conflict between Tauriel and the ideals of King Thranduil and the affections of fan-favorite Legolas come to a boil. Three factions: Men, Elves, and Dwarves all begin claiming the treasures of Erebor–and they’re willing to fight each other to get it.
The Battle of the Five Armies pulses with tension as these factions argue amongst themselves, unknowing that Sauron, servant of Morgoth, has returned and unleashed an army of Orcs, Goblins, wargs, bats, trolls, and giant *****. That last surprise was too joyful a spoiler to share. Sauron’s goal is to take Erebor and Dale, a strategic hold that would unite his territory with that of the fallen kingdom and ancient enemy of Angmar and Mordor, allowing him to strike at the hearts and cities of the free peoples of Middle Earth with ease.
If things couldn’t get more complicated, Smaug infected the gold under Erebor with a dragon sickness, a taint, a greed not unlike the corruption the One Ring can yield. As Balin of Moria sorrow fame (The Fellowship of the Ring) says, “He’s seen this before.” Now the sickness affects our hero, Thorin, who sees the need of the survivors of Laketown and refuses to honor his word. The survivors have no choice but side with Thranduil, the greedy and cruel Woodland Elven King. Oh, but that’s not all. Thorin has a secret: the Dwarves of the Iron Hills are sending an army led by his cousin, the brilliant Billy Connolley as Dain II Ironfoot. Can the people find a way to unite under the sudden arrival of Sauron’s army, led by Azog and later Bolg?
It’s no secret that the Laketown survivors really get the short end of the stick here. They’re trapped in-between many armies and just trying to survive. The on-going narrative elevates the story and reminds us what’s really valuable: family, love, and home. Likewise, though Smaug versus Bard occurs very early in the film, his actions have long-lasting effects on all. Thorin must do battle with himself. Though the cinematography throughout the film is brilliant and beautiful–and at times chilling and heart-wrenching–Thorin’s inner struggle is highlighted with psychedelic dragon and gold imagery that could only be found in Middle Earth.
Despite the additions of Legolas and Tauriel, who were not in the book, their subplots and relationships are so well woven, they are welcome additions and help move the story along significantly. The acting on all parts was superb, but characters we’ve come to know–like the other Dwarves of the company or Skinchanger Beorn–took more of a backseat to Bard, his family, and the Elven trio. Also, as is usual in theatrical releases of Middle Earth features, there are apparent gaps in the narrative that undoubtedly will be filled by the extended version. (May it be released soon.) These gaps aren’t frequent, but they’re noticeable, only fueling this author’s desire for the additional footage.
The film was toted as “the defining chapter” in the Middle Earth saga and it lived up to that claim. By the end of the film, lingering questions about characters as they are in The Lord of the Rings Trilogy versus The Hobbit movies are finally answered. What’s most satisfying as a Tolkien fan is seeing Galadriel and the White Council’s rescue operation.
The stakes were certainly raised to a supremely high level, with the threat of Smaug, Sauron, and the severity of the villainous army’s arrival. Unlike some fan’s impressions of the Elves at Helm’s Deep in Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, Thranduil’s Wood Elves can fight, and so they do. Both they and Dain’s Dwarves are well coordinated, highly oiled battle machines, but not so much the survivors of Laketown. That helps the experience and added tension as they scramble to defend themselves and the personalities and courage of some are revealed, whereas the cowardice of others are exposed. The entire lengthy battle sequence is well worth the wait and the entire movie helps justify the lengthy expansion from two films to three.
Did I mention there’s some heart-wrenching moments?
The whole of The Hobbit Trilogy as well as Middle Earth Saga itself is neatly rounded out, a fitting farewell from Peter Jackson and his team who painstakingly brought J.R.R. Tolkien’s world to life on the big screen. Their endeavors of love will live on in us fans and geeks who have so truly appreciated this world.
As my wife and I sat in the theaters, with the credits and tears rolling, we couldn’t help but acknowledge that we were saying goodbye to Middle Earth on the big screen. Yes, its extended versions and books will forever live on in our househould, as will the board and card games, online MMO, and in Legos and toys. (I will admit it freely. I’m a kid at heart.) However, for six years out of nearly fifteen. It’s been a part of our lives. It spawned a fascination of the fantasy genre and captivated an audience to believe in magic and halflings and Elves and Men and Orcses… dark lords and shield maidens and so much more. Middle Earth is a legacy Tolkien, Jackson, and others have left. In a way, after seeing X-Men: Days of Future Past just a week ago on DVD and then The Hobbit, I realized this was a goodbye to Ian McKellan, who has graced the screen as both hero and villain, and so many other actors who have brought beloved characters to life. It’s been a journey, one that will live on in our hearts and imaginations, and those of future generations, and it’s something to be proud of.
Now may it rest, this One Last Time, for a good long while before anyone does a reboot. Let it simmer.
“What have we done?” Jackson and his team of movie makers and actors and actresses may ask. They made a masterpiece. Thank you.
For those of you still on the fence, or perhaps needing that last bit of nostalgia, here are a few videos…just for you. Happy holidays, fellow geeks and readers.
Middle Earth Legacy Trailer:
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies – Billy Boyd (Pippin from The Lord of the Rings) performs The Last Goodbye: