Thursday, 15 December 2016

Adaptation & Transcription: The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

Adapting a novel into a film is no easy feat, especially when the books have an intricate universe such as J.R.R. Tolkien's multiple novels about the fantasy world of Middle-Earth. Tolkien has imagined and created multiple languages, cultures, creatures and characters within Middle-Earth as expressed in books such as The Silmarillion, The Lord of the Rings, and The Hobbit. Director Peter Jackson is well known for creating a captivating adaptation of The Lord of the Rings books into a three part film trilogy containing The Fellowship of the Ring (2001), The Two Towers (2002), and The Return of the King (2003). Since these films, everyone has speculated and hoped that Jackson would also adapt The Hobbit, a prequel to Lord of the Rings about Bilbo Baggins, into a film. After many years, Peter Jackson finally announced he was making the film - or rather...films.

Fig 1. The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (2014)

Unlike The Lord of the Rings which had three books worth of content, The Hobbit was a single novel. Despite this, Peter Jackson for some reason chose to extend the more light-hearted book into a three part series, "the hard truth is that J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit is a slender volume, a quarter of the size of The Lord of the was never meant to be three movies...The Hobbit movies are so bloated they could survive at sea without floatation devices," (Travers, 2014). As news was released of the adaptation, fans heard of it being prolonged into two films...and then three - An Unexpected Journey (2012), The Desolation of Smaug (2013), and The Battle of the Five Armies (2014). Throughout the films, Jackson seemed to pad out the story by adding some of his own subplots and characters. Perhaps this is why the final instalment, The Battle of the Five Armies was the least liked out of the three films as it forced Jackson to tie together all of the loose ends, resulting in a film that held little resemblance to the original source.

One major problem throughout the trilogy as a whole is Jackson's departure from his technique of equally combining CGI and real sets/landscapes/props/special effects makeup in his film. The Hobbit trilogy is very CGI heavy, to a point that everything looks rather elastic and noticeably fake, "CGI landscapes roll endlessly in the background. It doesn't help that Jackson shoots every meeting with a panoramic swirl which accentuates the virtual artifice...Jackson's cinematic instincts are here singly overshadowed by a computer game aesthetic. Even the more action-packed moments suffer from superfluity of weightless runny-jumpy-stabby action better suited to Assassin's Creed," (Kermode, 2014). While the use of CGI can add a lot to a film, as exhibited in The Lord of the Rings trilogy, if overused it take away from the realness (or frustrate actors such as Ian Mckellen who disliked acting alone surrounded by green screen). It breaks the immersion, you can tell what is fake and what is real including the landscapes, creatures and the human characters. It is unquestionable that the orcs and trolls in The Hobbit are a lot less realistic and grotesque compared to The Lord of the Rings where prosthetics were mostly used and different approaches to CGI. Although, both Gollum (Andy Serkis) and Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch) were both breathtaking in how they looked, moved, and sounded thanks to motion-tracking technology. Perhaps most of their funds for CGI went towards those characters resulting much of the rest of the CGI to look artificial and rubbery.

Fig 2. Lurtz from Lord of the Rings - Actor in Prosthetics (Left) 
Fig 3. Azog from The Hobbit - CGI Character (Right)

Despite this, one must keep in mind that this The Hobbit is also more of a children's book when compared to The Lord of the Rings, so maybe they used excessive amounts of CGI on purpose to make the world feel more fantasy than real. However, many of the fans from The Lord of the Rings who went to see the new three films and were disappointed in this change of aesthetic. Fans of the book were also disappointed in how inflated the films felt, many things that occurred in the films did not happen in the books and some moments in the books were left out despite the excessive number of films. For example, Legolas (Orlando Bloom) never appears in The Hobbit book, but he does in the film...perhaps just as a nod to the fans. However, it can be argued that this would have worked better if he was inserted as a cameo/easter egg rather than a full role. Another attempt to appeal to fans is the introduction of a new main character that does not exist in Tolkien's Middle-Earth at all - a female elf named Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly). Jackson created a love triangle between Tauriel, Legolas (who many fans swooned over in Lord of the Rings), and the dwarf Kili (Adrien Turner) who is pretty much 'the new Legolas' for swooning fans. To many Tolkien fans, this love triangle is completely useless. "Tauriel the elf is not given much to do, except love a dwarf, a big no-no in her world. She speaks of love repeatedly, softly and wondrously, and every time she does the entire film deflates en masse. Romantic love has nothing to do with the story overall, and the love subplot feels so obligatory that it's practically condescending," (O'Malley, 2014).

Fig 4. Kili, Tauriel, and Legolas

The story is meant to revolve around Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), but with Jackson's continuous need to insert new content and characters, Bilbo fell out of focus especially in the final film. In the book, Bilbo gets knocked out for the entire battle. Perhaps this is due to Tolkien's knowledge of Bilbo's character, knowing if he was part of the battle he would without a doubt be slain or be cowering behind a rock the whole time. It is understandable that Jackson would want to keep the fight sequences in, in order to keep the audience's attention with one last climatic battle, but it feels like anything but that. Rubbery elves and dwarves fight against equally plastic orcs while men fight with trolls with twig-like arms when compared to the trolls in The Lord of the Rings. Bilbo is not a warrior, so his character is pushed into the background for most of the film despite numerous attempts to bring him back into the spotlight, "As for Bilbo Baggins - well, he doesn't have a whole lot to do. Martin Freeman is a likeable careworn as ever in the part...Bilbo has a couple of errands to run, a ring to fiddle about with, but not much else - and certainly not much in the way of fighting," (Pulver, 2014). This is a shame as Martin Freeman's performance fit the character of young Bilbo quite well, he is likeable, hesitant, humble, and genuine. Jackson seemed to forget that the story is about Bilbo rather than a massive fantasy battle.

The downfall of this film, and the trilogy as a whole, is relatively common for an adaptation. Adaptation films can easily suffer from cutting out too much content or, like this one, packing on too much. Jackson himself has admirably admitted the faults within the film trilogy and how its chaotic shoots, lack of storyboards, and unperfected script probably led to the film's patchy content. It is noticeable in The Battle of the Five Armies that Jackson often, as he put it, 'winged it', "It ends virtually where it starts - with super-peeved dragon Smaug raining down fiery destruction on the pitiful residence of Laketown...everything else is scraps, in both senses. Jackson's one recourse is to ape the here-we-go-again war mania of The Return of the King," (Robey, 2014). This paired with overuse of CGI and the departure from the original source, most likely because they can out of original content after stretching it too thin, made the film a large disappointment for many fans.

Fig 5. Smaug

That said, not all of the film is bad...there will always be good parts of The Hobbit trilogy such as the characters and performances from actors such as Ian Mckellen, Cate Blanchett, Hugo Weaving, Christopher Lee and Martin Freeman. The dragon Smaug was designed and brought to life beautifully by Benedict Cumberbatch just as Gollum is by Andy Serkis. Deaths that occurred in the books remained in the film even though it appeared it was going to be different at first, which is bittersweet for fans. Despite the disappointing conclusion, ending transitions back into the start of The Fellowship of the Ring, leaving the audience with the feeling of nostalgia. The credits roll, a song called The Last Goodbye sung by Billy Boyd (who performed as Pippin in The Lord of the Rings) begins to play leaving the audience melancholy that Jackson's Middle-Earth is over, even if The Hobbit wasn't received as well as The Lord of the Rings.

Kermode, M. (2014) The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies review - no more than a middling finale from Middle-earth At: Accessed on: 14/12/2016
O'Malley, Sheila (2014) The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies At: Accessed on: 14/12/2016
Pulver, A. (2014) The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies review - exactly what it promised to be At: Accessed on: 14/12/2016
Robey, T. (2014) The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, first look review: 'begs not to exist' At: Accessed on: 14/12/2016
Travers, P. (2014) The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies At: Accessed on: 14/12/2016

Illustration List:
Figure 1. The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies [Poster] At: Accessed on: 14/12/2016
Figure 2. Lurtz from The Lord of the Rings - Actor in Prosthetics (Left) [Film Still] At: Accessed on: 15/12/2016
Figure 3. Azog from The Hobbit - CGI Character (Right) [Film Still] At: Accessed on: 15/12/2016
Figure 4. Kili, Tauriel, and Legolas [Film Still] At: Accessed on 15/12/2016
Figure 5. Smaug [Film Still] At: Accessed on: 15/12/2016

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