For fans of fantasy there probably is no greater book than the Lord of the Rings.  While other authors (Jordan and Martin for example) have since expanded on these words and worlds (Wheel of Time, Game of Thrones, Way of Kings etc…) and taken the realms in different directions, the granddaddy for all of them in one shape or form was Tolkein’s The Lord of the Rings.

This epic tome included elfs, orcs, goblins, wizards, dwarves and trolls.  It had huge battles, tragic love stories & a battle for life and death for a whole world.

Prior to the Lord of the Rings however, another book came out … this smaller tome told the story of the Ring itself and how it was rediscovered by a small hobbit.  The tale of Bilbo Baggins was an easy introduction to the world of fantasy and while the battles were just as epic, there was humor and laughter and it was definitely a more light-hearted and easier read.

While there are some detractors for the works of Peter Jackson – I will state up front that I am not one of them.  I think he has done an outstanding job translating the books into film and while I do agree that the Hobbit could have probably been done in 2 movies vs. the 3 he has stretched it to, I might change my tune when I go and see the film later this week.  I know that he has said this film (The Battle of the Five Armies) is the last time we will visit Middle Earth, but I hope that he might reconsider that and perhaps work on the Silmarillion also … while this might be more of an esoteric piece, the success of the Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit films should persuade him and the studios that there is an interested audience.  However, lets leave that discussion for the comments or another day shall we?!

In preparation for film 3 I thought a recap and review of films 1 & 2 might be in order for anyone (living under a rock) that might not have seen them.  This won’t be as in depth an analysis as I intend to provide for the 3rd film, but should serve as a quick reminder of the most important elements of the film version of the story as there are differences to the book.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012)

 Just prior to the events of the film version of Lord of the Rings, Bilbo Baggins is preparing his autobiography and detailing his adventures as a youth of 50 years (note: hobbits and dwarves have extremely long lifespans & elves are basically immortal in Tolkiens worlds).  Tricked by Gandalf the Grey into hosting a party for Thorin and his company of dwarves, Bilbo Baggins finds that he actually has a hankering for a wandering life and agrees to join the dwarves in a quest to enter the Lonely Mountain.  While he is quite fearful of the risks on his journey Bilbo finds that he fits in well with the dwarves as their “burglar” and he learns from them the reason for their quest and Thorin’s hatred of the elves.

It seems that long ago the dwarves had settled in the Lonely Mountain and were ruled by Thrór (Thorin’s grandfather) … here the dwarves were extremely successful and  were quite rich and powerful.  However they didn’t treat the others in the land well, but in their power they thought nothing could challenge them.  Unfortunately learning of their wealth the dragon Smaug was attracted to the Lonely Mountain and he attacked and drove the dwarves out of their mountain home and takes all of their jewels and gold for himself.  Thrór’s grandson Thorin sees King Thranduil and his Wood-elves on a nearby hillside, and is dismayed when they take their leave rather than aid his people, resulting in Thorin’s everlasting hatred of Elves.  Thorin’s quest now was to return and somehow defeat Smaug and return the Lonely Mountain to his people who had been wandering the lands without a home ever since.

Bilbo joins Balin, Dwalin, Fíli, Kíli, Dori, Nori, Ori, Óin, Glóin, Bifur, Bofur, Bombur & Thorin in the quest along with Gandalf but soon after they set off they are captured by three trolls.  Thorin continues to dismiss Bilbo and thinks that he doesn’t really need him, but when they are fighting the trolls, Bilbo manages to stall them until dawn and when Gandalf reappears they manage to expose the trolls to sunlight which turns them to stone.  Inside the trolls cave they find some treasure including some magic swords and Gandalf gives Bilbo one of them – an elven shortsword which he names Sting.  (This is probably the first time that we see Thorin’s disdain for Bilbo, but we also Bilbo’s bravery … its definitely not the last!)

Gandalf, the dwarves and Bilbo then meet up with Radagast the Brown (a brother wizard to Gandalf and one that is more interested in the goings on of the wildlife in the land vs the people that occupy it) who tells them that he had an encounter with the Necromancer at Dol Guldur.  Gandalf immediately starts to suspect that an ancient evil has started to awaken and with Radagast’s help he leads the company to Rivendell – the ancient home of the Elves.  While Thorin continues to harbor a deep mistrust of the elves for their past inaction, Lord Elrond discloses a hidden indication of a secret door on the company’s map of the Lonely Mountain, which will be visible only on Durin’s Day.  Escaping from Rivendell without Gandalf, the dwarves & Bilbo continue on their quest to reach the Lonely Mountain.

Once the company makes their way to the Misty Mountains, they are confronted by a colossal battle between some stone giants … finding refuge in a cave, they are captured by the goblins and this is where Bilbo meets and defeats Gollum in a riddle game.  Gollum has lost his ring and when Bilbo asks his final riddle – what have I got in my pocket – Gollum suspects that Bilbo has it and attacks him.  Bilbo accidentally slips the ring on his finger discovering that it makes him invisible.  Managing to escape from Gollum, Bilbo searches out the dwarves who are being threatened by the Great Goblin (the king of the Goblins).  With Gandalfs help the dwarves manage to escape the Great Goblins clutches killing him along the way.  Bilbo rejoins the party just before they are confronted by Azog – the Orc war-chief that had beheaded Thorins grandfather before Thorin in turn chopped off his hand in an epic battle outside Moria.  Bilbo manages to rescue Thorin who had been knocked unconscious in the battle before the party is rescued by eagles and taken further along in their journey to the Lonely Mountain.  The movie ends with a view of the Lonely Mountain in the distance and great eye opening up as the sleeping Smaug is awakened by a knocking sound.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013)

For those of you not in the loop, Smaug is played by the awesome Benedict Cumberbatch (Sherlock) and of course Bilbo is Watson from the same show.  This casting is excellent and quite well done!

Ian Holm as Bilbo Baggins in Peter Jackson's T...
Ian Holm as Bilbo Baggins in Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Continuing from the point we left of in the previous film, the party is continuing their quest to reach the Lonely Mountain. Bilbo discovers that a bear is also tracking them in addition to the Orcs and they discover that this is Beorn – a shape-changer that sometimes takes the form of a giant bear. Gandalf goes of on his own side quest to investigate the tombs of the Nazgûl while the rest of the company continue after Beorn escorts the company to the borders of the Mirkwood.

Upon entering the forest they lose their way and are ensnared by giant spiders … Bilbo using his ring, manages to hide from the spiders and sets about freeing the dwarves. Once the wood elves arrive they kill the rest of the spiders and free the rest of the dwarves, but then they in turn capture the dwarves and bring the party to Thranduil. Bilbo using this ring again manages to escape capture and again helps the dwarves to escape using some empty wine barrels. While hurtling down the river they are again confronted by the Orcs and one of the dwarves – Kili – is wounded in the ensuing battle. Fortunately the elves end up helping the dwarves to escape during the course of this battle and they end up in Lake-town. (Note – while I understand the inclusion of Legolas in this story as a bridge between the movies, his appearance is somewhat jarring as he was not an expected character.)

In Lake-town, the descendants are not fans of the dwarves as Smaug had caused much damage to that town too when he attacked and destroyed the dwarves in Lonely Mountain. Bard however – the last scion of Dale, the previous ruler of Dale has a magic black arrow that is capable of killing Smaug and while no one believes in him, he is determined to aid the dwarves in their journey.

After the dwarves leave Lake-town they are finally able to reach the Lonely Mountain, but search in vain for an entrance – once again it is Bilbo to the rescue as he is able to discover the hidden entrance into the mountain. When Bilbo enters the mountain to retrieve the Arkenstone, he accidentally awakens Smaug. Bilbo and the Dwarves try to rekindle the mountain’s forge in an attempt to bury Smaug alive in molten gold. This fails however and Smaug stumbles out of the mountain and flies off to destroy Laketown in revenge for aiding the Dwarves. Bilbo watches in horror at what they have unleashed, saying to himself, “What have we done?”

Meanwhile Gandalf on his own private mission finds the ruins of the Nazgul infested with Orcs and is ambushed by Azog and the Necromancer. The Necromancer overpowers and defeats Gandalf and reveals himself as Sauron. Azog and a huge orc army march from Dol Guldur to the Lonely Mountain while Gandalf watches helplessly.

OK – that brings you pretty much up to speed on the previous two films … keep in mind that at about 3hrs each I have compressed these greatly and only given you the high points.  My next post on the final film (The Battle of the Five Armies) I expect will be quite a bit more detailed.  Stay tuned and come on Christmas!

Hopefully you’ve read my previous post about Phoenix: The Radio Play (by the way, if you search Zone6 for Phoenix you’ll also find the awesome list of the best XMen stories with the Dark Phoenix … I really can’t recommend this comic book enough) you’ll and have learned all about my first celebrity encounter with Scott Fivelson and all of his amazing works.  Well Scott recently contacted me to let me know that Phoenix: The Radio Play is also available in audio format from the Cleveland Radio Players.  You can purchase it directly from their website & can also download a sample at this link.

 

Now I’ve had the opportunity of listening to it and I don’t know if you ever heard the audio book version of the Lord of the Rings recorded by the BBC in the early 80’s?

I had a chance to listen to that and its still one of my favorite versions of the classic work by Tolkien as in addition to the mental picture you get when you read a good book, the audio helps to visualize it even more with all of the special effects that they add in.

If you’ve listened to that, you’ll understand what I say when I talk about the characters voices and sound effects and I’m really happy to say that the Audio version of Phoenix: The Radio Play follows suit in exactly these same footsteps allowing you to easily visualize the story.

 

Starring:
(in order of appearance)

 

Take a listen to the sample provided on the site – at four minutes long it will get you hooked – and you’ll see what I mean.  You can hear the anguish in their voices and easily picture the struggle for survival that they are all enduring.  I’ve also learned that this will be available on Vinyl too for those that prefer their listening “pure”.  Take a listen and let me know what you think in the comments below.

Fortunately for the Geeky among you Christmas has been a great time for Movie viewing.  Over the past couple of years the focus has obviously been on the Fantasy front with the following films getting some major screen time.

However with the Hobbit now over I was quite distraught as I didn’t know what I was going to be spending my time on this Christmas.  This problem has now been resolved – and hopefully in a positive manner as I’ll really be disappointed if Jar-Jar shows up again! – with the release of the newest STAR WARS: The Force Awakens film (episode VII for those keeping track).

Just that opening shot with the half-buried Imperial Star Destroyer and what looks like a crashed X-wing? That opening alone sells me on this movie. It sells me on the visuals. It sells me on the direction. Why? I can’t really say or explain it, but I just love that shot. The whole panoramic thing is impressive in the extreme and I think that it instantly sets the context of what Star Wars has always been about: the struggle between the good and the bad, the struggle between the Empire and the Rebellion (later the New Republic). It also tells you that the story is yet another take on the old Goliath versus David tale. After all, it was a single X-wing that destroyed the first Death Star. It was a farm-boy from a remote world who destroyed the Emperor and set Darth Vader free. It was an X-wing and a beat-up old freighter that took down the second Death Star. This is a story about the long odds, the impossible fights.

By the way – if you get a chance watch this also … If you’ve seen Interstellar you’ll love it and its perfectly filmed!

I’m probably going to to go a slightly different path on this review versus my previous film reviews about the Hobbit and not give you a standard walk-through.  I mean lets be honest, most people have read the book now anyways and know the story based on where the previous movie ended and what happened at the beginning of the Lord of the Rings (for those that have no clue … here’s a hint – Bilbo lives!) and for those that haven’t there are lots of other sites online that will do this for you.  I think in this review (which will still contain *SPOILERS*) I am going to focus more on my opinion and thoughts and while I might at times refer to specific elements of the movie, that won’t be the primary way throughout this guide.

OK, with all that out of the way, lets get down to it shall we?

The Battle of the Five Armies is the 3rd part of Peter Jackson’s rather epic trilogy of the Hobbit.  The Hobbit (book) while only a relatively short book (especially in relation to the Lord of the Rings) was targeted more towards a younger audience than its successors and that is evident in the first two films also.  There is singing & lots of humor in the earlier films and while there are some darker sequences and scenes the earlier films manage to balance this out.  By contrast however the Battle of the Five Armies is much darker in context and scope.  It focuses a lot on “lust” – in this case, the lust for gold and how that can drive even the strongest of willed (Thorin Oakenshield) to ruin.

English: Replica of the One ring from The Hobb...
English: Replica of the One ring from The Hobbit and The Lord of the rings trilogy. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

By the end of the 2nd film – The Desolation of Smaug – there was really only 65 pages remaining to the Hobbit … basically a sequence in which Smaug the dragon sets fire to a town built on a lake; another sequence in which some dwarves, elves and humans bicker over which of them gets to keep the dragon’s gold; and a battle between these bickerers and an orc army. It’s not much material for a two-and-a-half-hour film. So how does Jackson fill the running time?

Well I think its fairly obvious that Peter Jackson also has realized that he won’t be revisiting Middle Earth again (unless of course he is able to do something with the Silmarillion) – he has perhaps gone a bit overboard in this movie as to some extent it almost feels like a travelogue of/for New Zealand while at the same time its very obviously a going away present for himself.

Some key complaints that I had are probably as follows:

  • Legolas – while I know in my previous post I indicated that his inclusion while not necessary didn’t really detract from the book, in this film it really did.  His scenes were pointless really and overly complicated.  The fight sequence on the bridge was way too long and the whole sequence with the bat was a bit ridiculous.
  • Dain the dwarf – Thorin’s cousin was actually really funny & both myself and the children laughed as he knocked the orc’s out right and left … but doing it by headbutting them?  That seems to be a bit silly doesn’t it?  Is he only hard headed dwarf?  If it was that easy, why bother with an axe or hammer?
  • Thorin’s whole fight sequence too was perhaps overly belabored and could have ended sooner
  • Bilbo & Smaug – perhaps my biggest complaint about them was that we didn’t really get enough time with them.  Smaug specifically appeared only to die in the opening minutes of the film – this should probably have been concluded in the previous film as it simply didn’t have the same impact.

Now lets talk about the positive – this movie was epic.  The fight scenes while long were glorious & the CGI is immeasurably better than it was in the Lord of the Rings trilogy.  While the sequence with Gandalf and Sauron was perhaps also a bit contrived, it showed in no uncertain way, why these wizards and Elf Kings and Queens were paramount in the land.  While you would not expect a wizard to be a martial arts expert at the same time, their skill is evident and they have power!

However with that being said could this have been shrunk to two movies and retained its impact?  Overall I’d have to say yes.  While the fighting was glorious – it was also long and in parts your mind tended to wander.  As scary as the villains may be (as ever in the Middle Earth films, beauty is equated with virtue, and ugliness with evil), they’re awfully easy to kill. In one scene, Bilbo throws three stones, one after the other, and each time he hits a towering orc between the eyes, leaving it stone dead. I’ve already mentioned my complaint about Smaug and I think if he’d died in the previous film, it would have definitely had a much greater impact as with a year in between films you lose the awe that he inspired.  Legolas as a whole could have probably been cut from this film without it hurting the continuity in any significant way (although I do have to admit the final line where he’s told to seek out a ranger in the west are quite cool).

So why did he do it?  Why did he take a small childrens’ book and transform it into this huge 3 film epic?  Its probably a question that only Peter Jackson can truly answer, but he has stated that he wanted all of his Middle Earth films to work together in one cohesive whole.  This is why he’s transformed a children’s story into a darker and more grim tale … one that works well with the Lord of the Rings.  Personally I’m not sure if he was successful and I can see that this might be the first (& only) time that a Director’s cut of a film will actually shrink the length of a film versus increasing it.  I know that if he doesn’t do it – someone else will & will also give us the film we all really want to see.