Hobbit BOTFA (impressions with spoilers)


Do you know what the price of stupidity is? Exactly £9! Well, that and a lot of embarrassment 😉

A couple of weeks ago when the Empire edition edited by PJ came out I went to the shops and bought 2, one for a friend and I thought another maybe for me. Turns out the 2nd one I bought I picked up the Thranduil cover, which then found a happy owner with a bigger elf-fan than myself. Scroll forward 2 weeks and I have seen BOTFA… erm, a few times 😉 and of course I have reconsidered my initial indifference and now badly wanted to own that magazine with the Durins cover! (yes, I know, duh!). I’ve search out all newsstands in vicinity, book shops and any other place that could sell it and no luck! I managed to find another Thranduil cover, which I nearly picked up (same BOTFA effect), but then decided since I’d still want the dwarves one to not buy it. All the other ones available were the Gandalf versions and 1 Bard. Not even a shadow of Thorin. Admitting defeat I turned to the internet for any online sellers of individual copies of the magazine, no luck, the only one who did sell individual copies had also run out of that cover! Only one solution left, yes I turned to eBay! To buy a silly magazine, that I have mostly read and just for the 1 cover. I still can’t believe I did actually pay slightly more than 3x the original price just for the one coveted cover. But there is a first for everything I guess 😀 (To  balance out the most embarrassing purchase I donated a bit more to charity just so that a more sensible cause benefited from my impulses ;-))

In any case that is really just the tip of the iceberg since I went to see BOTFA several times already, which is also something that I’ve never done before. I have seen a few films a couple of times, but they are extremely few and never before have I seen anything more than once in a cinema. (The only other films that come to mind which I have seen every single time I’ve come across them on Tv are probably the Gladiator and very few old ones like Casablanca or Kiss me Kate ;-)) Strange, as I have certainly done repeats of live shows (among which a notorious 9x Don Carlo/Verdi – which was the entire run plus the general rehearsal), but although I like films few have made impressions over the years. But to be truthful to the end the addiction is only in part spurred on by the film itself 😉 In the last couple of weeks I’ve been back in the cinemas for several repeats of the Crucible too! More on that on some other occasion as, in spite of the high number of hours spent in front of a screen, I’m still trying to keep thing organised in my head.

So, what drew me to repeat viewings of BOTFA and what did I think of it? The following are my own impressions as I’ve made an effort to not read any reviews of any kind, not even those of fellow fans, yet 😉 as I wanted to consolidate by own thoughts through the viewings. I’ve only read the Forbes review which was totally spoiler free and talked interestingly for me a lot about how the success of PJ’s movies measure in terms of box office and about some of the technical aspects of the films.

To start of I just want to say I am finally a total convert to 3D, but only in HFR!! DOS last year was my only viewing so far of any movie in 3D in a cinema and although i found some effects fun, it didn’t feel as if the 3D aspect added all that much. I’ve seen this in HFR and it makes a world of difference and not only in the fight scenes! Overall the HFR gives such definition and clarity to the picture that you can see details which definitely add to the characterisation, tiny things like a vein throbbing underneath an eye, a subtle change in colour,etc. There is also much more 3D going on, landscape becomes truly impressive in scale, dives into abysses become frighteningly real and what I enjoyed more characters and animals pass by your shoulder or you feel as if you are literally part of a discussion and physically inside a scene. The first are obvious candidates for 3D but it’s the ongoing –normal scenes- impact in 3D that makes it feel immersive. I have seen it in 2D and I really missed the impact of 3D+HFR, I don’t want to go back to it! 🙂 And it is done for the cinema screen, I think PJ’s argument in favour of seeing something in a cinema rather than on your home TV definitely convinced me, no TV in your home can repeat this experience. And the HFR only made me appreciate even more the amazing make up work, the details in the costumes, props, wigs, what craftsmanship! The Durin hair deserves a prize all on its own! 😀 And it plays no small role in this film! (how shallow of me, I know!)

The other technical aspect which I enjoyed very much was the sound! And I don’t mean just the score/music. I mean the sound overall. Unlike a lot of movies these days which throw decibels at my ears relentlessly and which often keep me out of cinemas this is like the imagery full of subtlety. There is so much silence! Silence allowing you to hear breaths (be they excited , tired, frightened, tense), footsteps, ice crushing under soles, the tingling of a single coin, the flutter of a dragon’s wings behind your back 🙂 It creates atmosphere and really lets you enjoy the character’s voices and accents, which let’s face it is one of the strong points of the actors cast in this trilogy.

Speaking of trilogy, having now seen it back to back this is without a shadow of a doubt the story of Thorin Oakenshield (and of course the beginning of quite a few plot lines for LOTR). Yes, it is the story of Bilbo too, but Thorin is the major catalyst in the changes about to happen and his choices, his character touches and changes all other characters around him irrevocably. The initially reluctant friendship with Thorin and the company of dwarves changes Bilbo and in his adventure he finds courage, I do believe inspired by the courage he sees in Thorin. Bard also becomes a reluctant hero through the calamities provoked by the released dragon and in his interactions with Thorin, the ‘temporarily mad king under the mountain’ also becomes quite the leader of his people. Even Thranduil is touched by this effect I believe, although I did miss one final scene between the two kings. I didn’t expect friendship to develop but I do believe the way they see each other would have changed in battle.

I also feel the trilogy is a lot about friendships that develop between very different people, or the quest to understand and live with each other in spite of differences that separate the various races. In the end they all unite in front of the evil that affects them all. It’s obvious throughout as well that not one way of life is the right one and that it is only the sickness of power/wealth that endangers peaceful living alongside each other. The themes of the movie are what draws me to it and what makes me like it a lot, it basically pushes a lot of my buttons 😉 Living with diversity, flawed heroes, evolution and change from the common experience, fatherhood and letting go of one’s children, letting them explore and be different, etc. All complex themes one can feel for and well woven through characters one can sympathise with.

I am also quite partial to good action sequences as long as then don’t involve boring CGI armies knocking at each other. But unlike what one could expect, what this movie delivers is less war en masse and much more one on one fighting which totally let’s you root for your favourites and hold your breath for their destiny. And who can help falling for the brave, self-sacrificing, outnumbered heroes who fight bigger, meaner opponents?

Legolas fight sequences are fun, they are outlandish and unreal but so well done, I’m ok with that, it is what the character is good at. Even if I wish he may one day become half as interesting as his father 😉 Speaking of whom, I’m glad this third movie gave us a chance to understand some of Thranduil’s motivations better. There is almost a point where his isolationist and protectionist views find a slight mirroring in Thorin’s mad views and it is good to see Thranduil moving to action but at the same time the outcome and death toll of the battle makes one more sympathetic to his views of the world, he’s lived trough war before and knows nothing good comes of it. It’s beautiful to see him on his elk and the skewering of orks and chopping heads off in one movement is really clever and dark fun 😉 But most of all I have to say how impressed I am with the wealth of emotions and expressions Pace managed to bring to this apparently icy character and being encumbered by contact lenses, which rob one of an important acting tool, the eyes. As said, one would wish Legolas would be half as interesting 😉

I like the kind of human and practical hero Bard makes, no less inspiring in his simple quest for decent life rather than power and I quite enjoyed a bit of comic relief from Gage’s excellent Alfrid 😉 Reminds me of how Shakespeare brings some lightness to even the darkest of subjects from time to time.

The wizards fight scene was quite impressive CGI, but I have to say overall in the trilogy it’s not them who hold my interest most. But it’s normal I think to be more connected to weaker characters and will them to win their battles, military or psychological ones.

I didn’t feel we had less Bilbo in this last film, because he was there in all crucial moments playing his part and I find him (please don’t take offence fans of the books) much more interesting a character than Frodo, there is more ambiguity in him, he has to evolve to become what he is at the end, it’s thankfully not a linear character. And you need somebody down to earth, without grandeur but decent to balance out the huge egos of dwarves and elves 🙂

Speaking of dwarves I did miss more interaction with Kili and Fili and Thorin, I don’t know if more will be in the EE, I understand why this film was shorter but it did feel like something was missing there, it doesn’t feel quite right for Thorin not to know what happened to both of them although I recognise that it wouldn’t be all that relevant in terms of final outcome. It’s just one aspect of the characters I would have enjoyed seeing more of. Because to me although there was a lot of battle in the film it felt very much about characters rather than the fighting itself. And we had a very good cast overall supporting the character definition and making this much more than an adventure movie. The whole movie is so touching because we care so much for the characters, and we care because they are excellently played and we are allowed to enjoyed small scenes with hardly any words but enough acting to tell a million words. The first scene that made me tear up was Bilbo finding Balin alone crying over Thorin’s worsening madness… And there are many more like this, not least Dwaling speaking to Thorin or Thranduil letting go of Legolas.

And talk of touching performances, none more so than our king under the mountain. I am so grateful to PJ that he brought all that out of Armitage! And to Fran Walsh for really good script for Thorin. Between the scrip and the acting I didn’t know sometimes if I was coming and going! My brain was telling me the logic behind Thorin’s actions is flawed, sick, twisted and still sometimes you got taken in by his arguments. That’s what made it even scarier, as he seem to have moments of lucidity, logic and pride before the whole thing tipped over into insane. Also having spent 2 films building Thorin into a hero, even if a grumpy and isolated one, you hope against hope at every step of the way that he will make a come back. Until you loose that hope completely when he speaks to Dwalin of thousands of deaths so easily.

I think the descent beyond all hope and much further down the insanity than one would expect makes then the scene when he makes a comeback and comes running out of the mountain followed by all the dwarves so uplifting, that is one of those ‘movie-moments’!

I probably enjoyed the spiralling into insanity as much as I did the fighting in the end, it is certainly that spiralling which kept me going back for more. It’s so complex and riddled with so many emotions it’s impossible to take in in a single viewing! Because we’ve had the chance to see Thorin being majestic, haughty, even violent before the moments i particularly relished where his vulnerable ones. Such display of emotion is sadly only more evidence of sickness in case of Thorin, because he would normally never be so open with his feelings. But I cherish them also because Armitage doesn’t get the chance to play these very often and so much on display and at the same time he’s so good at it! There are 2 particularily in BOTFA which take my breath away, first when he sees the acorn in Bilbo’s hand and this brings him to tears and secondly when he understands Bilbo has betrayed him, following the revelation up on the ramparts. The hurt in those eyes is just overwhelming! Thorin may wield a sword with incredible impact, but his two truly deadly weapons are his eyes and his voice! All I could see for days after watching the movie were those eyes and all I could heard were those whispers…

I would like to know so much more about what depths of emotion Armitage plundered to shine them through like this on screen… but then again, maybe this capacity of his should remain somewhat secret and magical 🙂 Ultimately maybe I should just enjoy its incredible impact without seeking to understand it.

I love the whole idea of the dragon’s spirit somehow transitioning to Thorin after Smaug’s death, it’s a brilliant instrument in creating the sickness for the film but ultimately I believe the reason the sickness feels so convincing is because Armitage plays is so emotionally truthfully! It’s both intimate and scary in its intensity and completely overwhelming coming from a character the viewer has come to trust and reply upon.

The fight scene with Azog is both impressive and beautifully choreographed. Thorin comes across not just valiant, but skilful and almost elegant in his movements and also intelligent. It’s not a fight of brute force, it’s skill and determination. I like the fact that it is more about movement than force and blood and gore. The final decision on Thorin’s part is predictable due to size of opponent, we know he needs to be close to strike, but the fact that we know his decision before he makes the moves does not diminish the way the thoughts show on Thorin’s face in any way. He’s truly majestic then 🙂 I also love that fact that it’s not a voiceless fight, usually heroes seem to fight with no effort audible or visible. I think the way we hear Thorin sigh, grunt, take in breath, gasp in effort is beautiful because it makes it real, it makes you feel what he feels, it makes you understand what the fighting takes put of him.

It is also what makes the death scene very emotional for me, the fact that it feels and sounds so real. Thorin is more beautiful in his death scene than in any other moment through of the trilogy. His eyes are clear and almost serene, peaceful and bright and the blood on his lips draws unexpected attention to their beautiful lines. The emotional transformation and ultimate redemption I think is visible on his features and it is filmed beautifully so that we may see his face from all angles. It’s all a hero needs to break your heart and make you go through a box of tissues, a perfect death scene. And it comes rather sudden and short and natural, almost plain, so that you are not really prepared for it and the grief sets in only gradually and goes on till the end of the film, which I think is only natural and what we feel is not the impact of a fight itself but the much longer lasting and deep loss of a character we’ve come to love.

And that’s what a good movie and a brilliant actor create for me, they tell me the story of a character, make him real, make me believe and like him, suffer with him and feel his loss acutely when it is all over.

I will probably go on this journey again while it’s still available in the cinemas as I don’t really want to let Thorin go just yet.