I know I risk losing my geek card with the following comment: I have never read any of The Lord of the Rings books. I have tried. Believe me. I own them all. I've sat down multiple times to try to read them. But, for some reason, I have not been been able to accomplish that mission. So I have the unique ability to judge the LOTR franchise of movies as a sci-fi/fantasy movie fan bue without the (sometimes) annoying habit of holding the movies up to the impossible-to-reach standards of the books. I knew next-to-nothing about the series when I went to see the first movie. I just knew that people who like the same things I like really liked the books and couldn't wait for the movies. I still remember when I went to see the first LOTR movie with my father-in-law. I believe we both had worked all day and were already tired. We decided to go watch a three-hour movie. Not a great game plan. When we walked out, we were silent through most of the parking lot. Finally I looked at him and asked, "What the heck did we just see?" "I'm not quite sure."
That is the feeling a lot of people would have about this franchise. There are bizarre names and places. There are different kinds of creatures that all look vaguely human. And there are a lot of crazy plot elements that are essential to grasp, but hard to do so. For a good stretch of time I thought Saruman and Sauron were the same person because I didn't catch that their names were different. I was confused by a lot of stuff, especially late at night after a full day of selling furniture.
When The Hobbit trilogy came out, my oldest son was really excited to go. He had started reading the book and his uncles all were big fans of the series. So the crew of us went and caught the first installment. I was a little disappointed by much of the movie. It was a lot of "been there, done that" to the movie. The landscape and massive scope were not as exciting. They weren't things we had never experienced before. And the movie itself took a long time to get going. There seemed to be a lot of narrative and not a lot of action. My son, on the other hand, loved it. He couldn't wait until the second movie came out. But we, for some reason or another, didn't get to see it. We bought it on BluRay, but didn't watch it right away. With PG-13 movies, we have to find times where the younger two kids aren't around. By the time we finally sat down to watch it, we got a third of the way through and got interrupted. And then my daughter asked if she could see it. So we went back and watched the first movie (much better the second time through) and the second movie. Many people had told me that Desolation of Smaug was better than the first movie. They were right. It was more action packed and exciting. The characters seemed richer. Although it didn't carry some of the emotional weight of the first movie (I still love the scenes with Bilbo and Thorin at the end of the movie), it was a good quality entry. None of the Hobbit films come close to the LOTR trilogy, but they are good in their own right.
Now it is time to close the franchise. The three of us traipsed off to the theater to take in the epic conclusion. There were some interesting takeaways from the film. Naturally, be warned about spoilers. This is not just a generic review as much as a more detailed examination.
- I think Martin Freeman is brilliant. I love him in Sherlock. I think he is an inspired Dr. Watson and a brilliant counterpart to Cumberbatch's Holmes. I also think was an incredible Bilbo Baggins. He could communicate more in a frown of his mouth than many actors could with a soliloquy. I thought Elijah Wood was good as Frodo in the LOTR trilogy, but I much preferred Freeman as Bilbo. There were so many characters in this third movie that it felt like Bilbo got pushed out of the center too much. I missed him.
- My biggest gripe was that there was a lack of closure in this film. I know, that sounds ridiculous when Return of the King was blasted for TOO MUCH closure. But no one left that movie and asked, "What happened to...?" But when I was talking to a friend yesterday about the movie, my first question was "What happened to the Arkenstone?" It never showed what happened to this majorly important element! The last person holding it was Bard the Bowman, head of the people from Laketown. But we never really saw what happened to them either. They were kind of winning their battle against the Orcs, but we didn't see where they went from there. We also never really found out what happened to the dwarves. Did they take over the city in the mountain? Who is their ruler, since Thorin and his cousins got offed? Strange.
- Speaking of Thorin and his bloodline getting sacked, I really liked this outcome. No, I wasn't rooting for those characters to get whacked. But we have seen so many movies where the heroes get killed, only to have them reappear in a different form or to come back to life (every Disney movie, X-Men, Avengers). It was actually a relief to see a movie where the good guys didn't come back. There was pain in losing those characters, but it didn't feel like a cheap manipulative tactic. Kudos to Peter Jackson for sticking with that outcome.
- My favorite scene in the whole franchise had to be when the gigantic eagles came flying in and started wrecking havoc on the Orc armies. One eagle came in carrying the Skinchanger and launched him into the fray. He transformed into a gigantic bear and starting going crazy, destroying Orcs. I could have walked out right there happy. Let me again explain in all caps. A FREAKING GIGANTIC EAGLE TOSSED A MASSIVE BEAR INTO A BATTLE WHERE THE BEAR STARTED GOING CRAZY!!! If that is not the most awesome scene ever put on film, I don't know what is. I still get chills thinking about it.
- Did anyone out-turd-blossom Lee Pace this year? First, he was Ronin the Accuser in Guardians of the Galaxy, complete with his weird black oozy mouth and his refusal to participate in dance-offs. Then he was the arrogant punk woodland elf king Thrandruil in The Hobbit. He does a great job being a jerk. Don't know if that is what he is going for, but he is quite successful at it.
- I know that Tauriel, played by Lost's Evangeline Lilly, was not in the book. But I honestly thought her character was one of the best things about the trilogy. I really liked just about every scene she was in. Remember, I didn't read the book so I was okay with creative license.
- Who exactly were the five armies? We were trying to figure this out last night. There were the woodland elves, the dwarves, the humans, the orcs. Was the fifth army the other orc army? Or was it the eagles? I never was completely sure who it was supposed to be.
- For six movies we were tantalized with how awesome Galadriel (Cate Blanchett) is. She is this massively powerful elf thingee. But, unless I'm missing something, the movies never really showed that. Well we finally saw her unleash her fury. It reminded me of some sort of 1970s drug induced movie scene. But there was little doubt she was an extreme bad butt.
Overall, I liked the third Hobbit. It brought things full circle to the start of LOTR. There were some very exciting scenes and a lot of emotional heft. There was a lot of violence, even for a LOTR movie. As usual, the blood was kept to a minimum, which is how they retained their PG-13 rating. That and the fact there is so little offensive content in the other categories (language, adult situations, sexual situations). I actually look forward to having the kids watch the original trilogy now that they have seen this trilogy. I will say this for Peter Jackson - he managed to do what few people have been able to do. He crafted a six-part movie franchise and didn't have as stinker in the bunch. If you ranked the entire series, whatever you had as the worst movie would still be a really good movie. Star Wars couldn't pull that off (Episode II). James Bond couldn't do it. I would even argue that a consistent series like Harry Potter didn't pull this off. Its worst movie (Half Blood Prince, for me) was a bigger drop from its best movie than the LOTR series. And it never reached the heights of Jackson's series. Remember, all three of the first movies were nominated for best picture, with the third one winning. Even though The Hobbit didn't get nominated like that, it still was a very good series. That is truly an amazing feat for the creative team.
It is always hard to say goodbye to a really good movie series. I have felt that pain when Harry Potter ended, when Christopher Nolan said goodbye to Gotham, when Oceans Eleven quit robbing people. And there is a loss knowing there will not be another entry in this franchise. It can kind of be summed up in a conversation between the elves Tauriel and Thrandruil in The Five Armies. For most of the movie, he sees her as a problem. But here she is desperately hurting after losing someone she loves and he stands there watching her. "If this is love, I don't want it. Why does it hurt so bad?" In a rare moment of civility, he responds, "It's because it was real." Real love leads to real pain when it ends. And there are millions of people who loved the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit franchises. Seeing them end is going to be hard for them. I count myself as one of those people. Well done, one and all.