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Hobbits . . . again

12 December 2014

by Stephen Brown


PETER JACKSON's overblown Hobbit  trilogy of films reaches its climax in cinemas today with The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies (Cert. 12A).

J. R. R. Tolkien's mythological story was first published in 1937, before The Lord of the Rings (1954-55). Depending on which edition you read, The Hobbit, including appendices, takes under 400 pages to tell its story. The three films add up to nearly eight hours.

If you're short of time, then DVDs, working an extra frame per second, will be a quicker watch. Call me cynical, but haven't Warner Brothers thought why make money once when you can do so thrice? After all, it worked for the Lord of the Rings cycle. Yes, but there were three books (each longer than the sole Hobbit tale) to draw on.

This instalment was originally to be called There and Back Again (Tolkien's alternative title to the book), which would have been more apt, given how strong a sense of déjà vu the film gives off. Like the poor, the demon dragon Smaug (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch) is always with us, threatening to rampage and destroy Middle-earth. Something must be done. A few battles later, it is accomplished with the aid of five scriptwriters, the director's undoubted creative skills, and omnipresent CGI. The journey of the hobbit Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) finally reaches its conclusion. We are not left intrigued and dangling as we were after the second episode.

The route that this film takes to concluding the story is a sombre one, the visuals reflecting its emotional tones. Ralph, at the end of William Golding's Lord of the Flies "wept for the end of innocence, the darkness of man's heart". Perhaps some who see this new film will do likewise; for it's the overlong and repetitious battle scenes that draw attention to humanity's unremitting inability to settle its differences amicably. The film picks up on Tolkien's ravaged First World War experiences. Militarism will never bring salvation. As the film asserts, "There's a more important thing to be fighting rather than one another." And that is, defeating our own covetousness and self-aggrandisement.

We are given such instances of Tolkien's profound faith throughout the picture. These often are articulated by Gandalf the Wizard. Ian McKellen deliberately voiced the part in the manner of the author himself. Custodianship of the ring has been given to a most unlikely person, Baggins, empowering him to be saviour of Middle-earth. He shows pity where others would have chosen might.

Baggins has soared above the moral backwardness of the dwarves and others with whom he has kept company. He may now return to his beloved home set in a green and pleasant land, sadder and wiser; but that's the price any of us pay for personal spiritual growth. But what feels strangely at odds with Hobbit 3's summative mantra, "Even the smallest person can change the course of the future," is the sheer scale of this monster of a movie - the sixth about the ring. It's time to move on to less ambitious projects, Mr Jackson.

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