I’m going to cut right to the chase here: Peter Jackson, what are you doing? I’ve never done a trailer review before, but I feel like it’s sort of necessary here. In the last two years, Jackson’s come out with two installments of a prequel trilogy that should have been one movie. This December, he’ll give us “the defining chapter.” Now, I’ve been kind and forgiving in the past, because I desperately wanted to like An Unexpected Journey and The Desolation of Smaug movies, but everything positive I’ve said has been too generous, and everything negative too lenient. I’m not doing that anymore.
A few days ago, the first trailer for the upcoming The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies (previously known as The Hobbit: There and Back Again, title changed to be flashier) hit the Internet. See below:
A lot of things should capture your attention about that trailer and the film it represents. In my opinion, chief among them is the tone. Whoever edited the trailer opted to use Pippin’s song from The Return of the King as the primary musical track. In the film, this is an immensely moving scene, capturing the tone of the impending tragedy that threatens the characters the audience has grown to love. Hearing it again in a trailer for a trilogy finale laid over shots of Bilbo (Martin Freeman), Thorin (Richard Armitage), Gandalf (Ian McKellen), Legolas (Orlando Bloom), Girl Elf (Evangeline Lilly), Thranduil (LEE PACE), Galadriel (Cate Blanchett), Bard (Luke Evans), Sexy Dwarf (Aidan Turner), and others all looking threatened, sad, concerned, or directly in danger suggests that Battle of Five Armies will strike the same tone as The Return of the King. The only problem is that the impending tragedy of this film is threatening characters that, frankly, we don’t care about. Bilbo’s lovable, Thorin’s beautiful, Thranduil’s LEE PACE, Gandalf’s Gandalf, but otherwise I have to ask, who are these people?
Jackson made a lot of errors in this trilogy, including an overuse of CGI, a general lack of character development, and countless extraneous additives, but chief among them is his desire to link these films to his brilliant Lord of the Rings trilogy. I have nothing negative to say about The Lord of the Rings, but I can’t ignore the fact that The Hobbit would have been so much better if it had committed to being a somewhat silly, lighthearted adventure with brief pangs of severity, rather than heaping helpings of it. Making it a trilogy was a bad move, because that invited story-arc comparisons. These comparisons are not warranted:
Drawing comparisons and including references and connecting elements wouldn’t be an issue if the slightest thought of The Lord of the Rings didn’t completely spoil The Hobbit. In the books, Tolkien nails the balance between connection and individuality, such that both works can be enjoyed separate of one another, but are improved upon the joining. Jackson’s films are enjoyable enough, but LotR is so good that it diminishes everything likable about The Hobbit, so that the good does not outweigh the bad. In the past, comparison between the two was A) inevitable and B) relatively inadvertent. Now, however, Peter Jackson, or whoever chose the music, is telling the audience that Battle of Five Armies will be very much like The Return of the King. Compare away, we’ve got this.
Okay, so now that I’ve spent five and a half hundred words talking about a song, have you all accepted that this is going to be a long article about a very short movie? Good. If you don’t feel like reading a long article, stop now. If you’re interested in every other way in which Battle of Five Armies is going to be bad, keep reading. I have a lot of feelings.
Since the filmmakers want us to compare this film to The Return of the King, let’s take a moment and watch that movie’s first trailer:
This trailer is half the length of the other one, but more than twice as effective. It packs in some action right at the end, but most of the teaser is focused on character, much like the actual film. Rather than having exactly four lines of totally innocuous, meaningless dialogue, the clips of dialogue for RotK are carefully selected to both set the tone and tease a number of important plot elements without giving anything away. The Battle of Five Armies teaser is split into two sections: people staring meaningfully into nothingness, and action, with some scant overlap, such as when Girl Elf stares meaningfully into nothingness for a few seconds, completely oblivious of the battle that rages on behind her.
Of the four action sequences that are shown in the trailer, only two take place in the books. Jackson has added some stuff at Dol Guldur, because he figured that was the most conveniently canonical way to pad out the franchise. This includes LEE PACE, so… I’m not complaining. Then we have this:
Here we see a few of the dwarves skidding along ice on some kind of goat-drawn chariot, about to face some hungry wolves (oh no!). I can’t really imagine why this in here, but it looks really fake and unnecessary. The goats are an interesting choice as well, exhibited in another section of the trailer as well. I don’t know how well you’re remembering, but in The Lord of the Rings, the bad guys rode on wargs, horses, fell beasts, and mumakil. The good guys rode on horses and eagles. Clearly a little uncomfortable with this unbalanced ratio, Jackson has added, in addition to horses and eagles, not only elks for the elves, but now goats for the dwarves, because why the hell not?
I feel like “Why the hell not?” is the question that was most asked and least answered on this production. The additions of these new actions scenes and the prominence of Legolas, Girl Elf, and Galadriel, none of whom are in the book, no doubt indicates Jackson’s sudden realization that he had to stretch about thirty-five pages into three hours, a lofty challenge for even the most seasoned storytellers. Spending some time with new characters is fine and dandy, but I see some shots of Thranduil wandering around Dol Guldur. That doesn’t happen. That doesn’t happen even in the appendixes. Now I’m just nitpicking, though.
I am a little curious as to what the hell is going on here, though:
Moving beyond the trailer to some other advertisements, have you seen the new poster? I’ve noticed this preoccupation with making Bilbo into some kind of a badass. He’s not that way in the book, he’s not even that way in the movies, but he’s that way in the ads. Exhibit:
Russell Crowe is… The Hobbit. Bilbo’s whole shtick is that he’s not an action hero; he’s just a regular dude who likes cozy blankets and warm cups of tea. So why on earth would you make a poster of him with his sword in the ground and his head hung contemplatively? They’ve positioned this nice arch above him for framing and set him directly facing the camera so that the excitement of whole thing is amped up significantly. The deliberate staging of the shot makes the image even more dramatic than the Gladiator poster, which has a greater ambiance of solemnity to it. Marketing for The Hobbit has transformed the most affable audience surrogate into a fighting adventurer, not only giving completely the wrong impression, but also overshadowing the qualities that make Bilbo likable.
Say what you will about the rest of the characters, Bilbo is charming, and Martin Freeman’s performance is enough to lend a bit of charm to the franchise. Humor was not so much an issue in The Lord of the Rings, because all of the characters were very well defined. The hobbits were especially capable of inciting a chuckle, even in dark situations. The comedy in those films was very organic, because before anything too grim happened, the audience was allowed to get to know the characters, and it felt right that, for example, Merry and Pippin would continue joking with each other even when in captivity. Similarly, the relationship between Legolas and Gimli felt totally natural. None of the lightheartedness in LotR detracted from the gravity of the plot, though, because both comedy and tragedy were deliberately spaced throughout the film. Jackson seems to have forgotten his own clever writing style, peppering spectacular CGI expos with lazy fat jokes. Strangely enough, there’s no Bombur (Stephen Hunter), probably because they thought the image of a fat dwarf would detract from the heavy attitude of the whole trailer. Let’s take a quick look at how the dwarves are portrayed here:
Here you’ll notice that everyone is INCREDIBLY SERIOUS, including Bofur (James Nesbitt), who’s still wearing his silly hat. Otherwise, the focus is on Sexy Dwarf Kili, who makes a total of five appearances in this trailer, which is two more than Thorin (the main character) makes, and four more than his brother Fili, who was once also a Sexy Dwarf. Fili is left at the wayside because Kili was chosen for the superfluous love triangle, involving one character who barely speaks in the book, one character who’s in LotR but not The Hobbit, and one character who was made up entirely for the film. This focus in the trailer is no doubt meant to remind everyone that this love triangle is not only continuing, but also ending tragically. We’re meant to feel worried.
Having successfully de-charmed the franchise and set the stakes weigh too high, PJ hits us with this tagline:
The defining chapter. Hm. “Fair enough,” you think to yourself. “This is, after all, the end of the trilogy. I guess it should be definitive.” Then he hits you with this:
Of the Middle-earth Saga. The… huh. So let me get this straight; this film, which you’ve told me through song is going to be as exciting and intense as The Return of the King, is in fact far more important. The previous two movies and all of The Lord of the Rings were merely a warm up for the cataclysmic events that are going to take place at the end of this lighthearted adventure. Spoilers ahead, but am I meant to believe that the epic finale event of this entire cinematic universe, the feat of ultimate importance, was not the destruction of the One Ring, overthrow of the Lord of Evil, and simultaneous resolution of all conflict in the world, ushering in an eternal age of peace and goodwill? That was less important than whatever is going to happen in The Battle of Five Armies. Anyone who has read the books should take this as a warning of the sheer amount of stuff he’s going to add to the story: the action, the drama, the love triangle, the CGI. The Battle of Five Armies trailer leaves me with a nasty taste in my mouth. It does not bode well.