The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies

I am a fan of the books of J.R.R. Tolkien, have been for almost 50 years, which pretty much means that I am not a huge fan of the three movies spawned from his first novel, The Hobbit. I just saw the last installment, The Battle of the Five Armies which opened in movie theatres recently.

The Lord of The Rings, Tolkien’s epic trilogy that is more or less a sequel to The Hobbit, was made into three films that more or less followed the books. The Hobbit is about one seventh the length, which means that making three films out of it meant for a lot of padding in term of battle scenes and the addition of extra characters and sub-plots. I’m not convinced Tolkien, who died in 1973, would have completely approved of the changes, though he would have understood the commercial necessity.

Despite being a purist I enjoyed the film (and its two predecessors, though I thought the second one was about an hour too long). I just tell myself before viewing that I will be seeing an action film that has nothing to do with Tolkien. Funny thing is, in this one what struck me most was the incredible complexity of the choreography. All those battle scenes required a lot of ingenuity to make both believable and entertaining. (Okay, a battle scene shouldn’t be entertaining, but you know what I mean. Or I hope you know what I mean.)

Certainly director Peter Jackson and his team have done a great job recreating Tolkien’s vision of Middle Earth. All the sets look fantastic (and I presume that most of them are computer generated), just how they were originally envisioned, maybe even better. If you have read the book you know the plot, Hobbit Bilbo Baggins and thirteen dwarves set out to kill a dragon, reclaim some real estate and treasure and learn a few things in the process.

It’s the learning that to me is important. Some of Tolkien’s concepts that do come out in the films are his firm ideas about good and evil, about right and wrong. There is no doubt about the rightness of the cause, even if those espousing it are somewhat flawed. Also the film is not just about right and wrong, but about the nature of leadership.

In Tolkien’s Middle Earth, leaders are not perfect; and not all those in official leadership positions are worthy to be called leaders. There are those whose desire is not to serve others but enrich themselves, without regard for what is right. Those eventually receive justice, which usually isn’t pretty. If only that happened in our world!

Leadership in Middle Earth (as in our world) frequently comes from those who are least expected to take charge. The Hobbits are a little people, not a nation known for anything except perhaps an enjoyment of pleasure. Yet in times of crisis the Hobbits of Tolkien’s novels rise to the occasion. They find in themselves (and their value and belief system) what is necessary to overcome adversity and others turn to them for leadership because of their qualities, not because of their stature. They are servant leaders who inspire loyalty in others, though those others may not realize what draws them to the Hobbits.

I said at the outset that I am not a huge fan of what Peter Jackson has done in taking a short novel and making it into three long movies. But I think I enjoyed this third one much more than the other two, perhaps because finally the tale was drawing to a conclusion. In The Battle of the Five Armies there are heroes and villains, as well as some who seem to be a bit of both. Those of us in the audience know which is which. I wish it was as easy outside the theatre.

(Oh and by the way, if you see the film and are trying to count the armies, as some in my family were doing, they are: Men, Dwarves, Elves, Orcs and Eagles. Everyone except me missed that the eagles were considered an army.)

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