I have not been a fan of any of Peter Jackson’s other films post THE LORD OF THE RINGS Trilogy. As a filmmaker, his sensibilities have rarely been in sync with mine (something I feel quite certain he doesn’t mind or strive for). There’s a desire on Jackson’s part to insert a strong measure of goofy humor into his work that often seemed to undermine the qualities I was most drawn to in his films. The end result often felt like unrealized potential. Again, this is based on my tastes and preferences. I assume that the films he makes reflect exactly what he wants them to. One assumes he is making those films for the audience out there who “get” him, who share, to some degree, his sensibilities as a storyteller.
It needs to be stated that I am oftentimes not that audience. Though I did truly enjoy and admire HEAVENLY CREATURES. When I heard that Jackson was going to tackle THE LORD OF THE RINGS, my heart was filled with fear and dread. I assumed he would bring his love of a particular brand of silliness and comedy that I felt had little-to-no place in the LOTR universe. When I first saw the theatrical cut of THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING, I was disappointed. But not because it had too much broad comedy, as I’d feared. Instead, the film felt to me as if the greatest, most profound moments had been excised from the story and replaced with endless action sequences that didn’t even work for me on a visual level. I felt the heart had been ripped out of the story. Then I saw the Extended Cut of the film and I made a complete 180. Suddenly. almost everything I was missing, needing, was there. Yes, it made that big of a difference. What I saw in that filmmaking, in that storytelling, despite any and all changes made from the books (it’s inevitable), was a strength and conviction that swept me away and returned me to a version of Middle Earth I could wholeheartedly get on board with.
I felt the same about the Extended Cuts of the following two films in the Trilogy. This felt like a major growth for Jackson as a filmmaker. At least in terms of his work speaking to me. So I was quite disappointed when I saw both his remake of KING KONG and his adaptation of THE LOVELY BONES. Neither film worked for me. On any level. Both films felt to me like they were missing an ability to fully embrace the darkness inherent in those tales.
As a result, I was a bit apprehensive when the first HOBBIT movie came out. I had been initially worried when Guillermo del Toro was slated to direct as I don’t often connect with him as a filmmaker either. When del Toro backed out and Jackson stepped in, I was excited as Jackson had already proven his worth in inhabiting this particular world. Nonetheless, lightning rarely strikes twice and therefore I had some concerns. But also a lot of hope.
The first HOBBIT installment didn’t live up to the quality of storytelling the LOTR had, but it was better than I feared it would be and the nostalgia I felt for this world and these characters carried me through some sequences that exhibited a touch of the goofiness I had seen in other Jackson films and had hoped he would spare from these. But there was enough good stuff that I enjoyed the ride and wanted more. That ended with the second installment of THE HOBBIT.
I wrote about my disappointment with that film in my post THE HOBBIT: THE DESOLATION OF TOLKIEN. Suffice it to say this film exhibited the kinds of storytelling choices I feared Jackson would initially bring to the LOTR. Little did I know that what so disappointed me in THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG would downright anger me in THE BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES. What inspired Jackson to change his approach from the first films to these, I do not know. Maybe it was simply that he wanted to “honor” the more childlike qualities of the original HOBBIT book. But given that he also decided to include dark story lines and bits of “history” taken from other Tolkien works and not THE HOBBIT itself, those more juvenile qualities no longer fit here. For me, they resulted in a series of films that lacked cohesion, that lacked a sense of possibility and much-needed vitality. Perhaps, since Jackson didn’t initially want to direct these films, he simply could not find the inspiration necessary to pull it off.
THE HOBBIT movies, particularly this final installment, feel like a filmmaker going through the motions. He’s hitting beats, repeating sequences far too familiar yet lacking the aforementioned inspiration that breathed life into the LOTR Trilogy. I sat watching THE BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES with my mouth agape, shocked at the level of absurdity this film had descended into. There was not a single, solitary moment that I felt connected to. Dialogue seemed lazy — lacking in inventiveness and conviction –the filmmaking absent of any honest emotion or impulse, the characters mere props placed haphazardly in sequences and story lines that relied more on effects than on heart or passion or even a belief in such a place as Middle Earth or such a tale as Tolkien’s THE HOBBIT.
I do wish I could find something good to say, a silver lining. But for me, there simply was none. THE HOBBIT: THE BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES felt like a lifeless exercise enacted by a filmmaker who had long since moved on from the material and had nothing left to say.