I’ve now seen this twice, and think I’m ready to comment on it. My initial response, opening night, was such a tangle of joy, grief and nostalgia, I wasn’t sensible even to myself, let alone anyone else.
And now? Now I’m sure I love it, the most of any of the three Hobbit films, and possibly enough to rank it with the original trilogy. We’ll wait to see if it has that kind of staying power, but yeah, I think it will. I’m not done seeing it yet.
First, let’s just acknowledge the pink elephant in the corner: the dwarf-elf love affair is still weird. But is it more odd than Arwen dying if the ring’s not destroyed (which a good friend and I call the ‘DRV – Dread Ring Virus’)? Or of PJ’s Frodo sending Sam back home (from the middle of Mordor, no less) in a fit of unparalleled, if temporary, insanity? No. No, I don’t think it is, and I love The Return the King passionately and unreservedly despite those oddities, so I can do the same thing with Tauriel and Kili.
(I satisfy the Tolkien fan inside me by picturing Tolkien and Peter Jackson in a pub, with Tolkien going, ‘wait, you did what?’)
Here, in no particular order, is what I love about this film:
Bilbo – This isn’t as much a given as you might think, as the titular hobbit was not my favorite part of either of the first two films. I’m not sure why, but he took a long time to grow on me. (I’ll probably re-watch both those films in the next couple of weeks, and might have a better idea then.) But this film was different, for whatever reason. His loyalty to Thorin, his desperation to do the right thing, his courage in doing it and then facing Thorin rather than leaving, all make me want to cheer for him.
Thorin – Despite having been a fan of Richard Armitage since long before he was cast in this role, he still impresses me here. There’s nothing simple about his portrayal of a decent man, er, dwarf-king, poisoned by greed, either during the depths of his madness nor in his redemption. The fact that I can grieve for him when he so loses his honor as to turn away Bard, and then want to shout with joy when he cries ‘Will you follow me, one last time?’ is due to that skill.
Bard – I’ve got a crush on Bard, but it’s a toss-up as to which scene I love the most: what we see in his relationship with his son when he’s preparing to shoot the Black Arrow; his refusal to be made Master of What’s Left of Lake Town (despite that it’s clear within moments that he’s in that position, reluctant or not); or finally, his dealings with Alfrid. I rather think it’s the latter. He never stops giving the other man opportunities to find his courage, and when Alfrid himself finally, permanently rejects those offers, he sends him off with humor rather than anger, and while it’s not explicit, I think it’s because he’s compassionate enough to know that cowardice is its own worst punishment.
Thranduil/Tauriel/Legolas – However weird the love triangle is, it gives us the scenes between Thranduil and Tauriel, where we come to understand him much better, as well as the one where he sends Legolas off to find the son of Arathorn, and I’m willing to forgive a lot for that moment. Even having always watched Legolas and Aragorn’s friendship in the original films within the context of the books, I love the idea of now watching those moments while thinking of this one.
Galadriel/Gandalf/Elrond – I’m not sure what I like the most about this scene: Galadriel’s power, her affection for Gandalf, seeing all of them working together, or watching Saruman oppose Sauron, and seeing both the wizard he was/could always have been, as well as the hints of what came later. Whatever else it is, I think this film does a good job of setting up the Lord of the Rings films, and I’d love it for that alone.
All of those moments, plus several hundred more, are candidates for ‘favorite part of the film,’ …but I think what actually holds that spot is the end, because Bilbo’s grief over Thorin, played out from the moment he sees him fall through the end of Billy Boyd’s The Last Goodbye, is tangled with my own yet-lingering sorrow for my friend Karen, whom I blogged about here, last February.
Karen and I met several years before The Fellowship of the Ring premiered, and had many non-Tolkien related adventures (often called ‘mishaps’ by those who know us best); we had other friends who were just as invested in the films, and who shared my joy in them. But it’s memories of Karen that are strongest for me right now:
- The two of us, hopelessly jetlagged, sitting on a friend’s sofa in England on New Year’s Eve, 2002, repeatedly watching a video clip of the Forth Eorlingas charge. (It’s still my favorite scene from all the films.)
- Laughing rather hysterically while quoting Frodo and Sam’s ‘we’re going in circles’ dialogue while lost in England.
- Watching The Return of the King in Leicester Square, London, New Year’s 2003.
- In L.A., squealing like, well, over-exited fangirls when ROTK swept the Oscars, February, 2004.
- Flying to Texas to see a marathon of the films (complete with hobbit-style food ) at the Alamo Drafthouse, August 2005.
- Watching The Desolation of Smaug with her last year in Austin, never knowing that when I said goodbye two days later, it would be for the last time.
The realization that we won’t see The Battle of Five Armies together guts me, though I know she would have loved it for the same reasons I do. And yet, the callbacks in this film to the earlier trilogy (and there are many – that’s probably an entire post on its own) and Bilbo’s grief, and Billy’s song (Pippin was her favorite character) …I’m not sorry that so much here reminds me of her. I wouldn’t want it to be otherwise, and like Bilbo, I treasure the adventures and love we shared, ever grateful for the memories:
I saw the light fade from the sky
On the wind I heard a sigh
As the snowflakes cover my fallen brothers
I will say this last goodbye…
We came all this way
But now comes the day
To bid you farewell
Many places I have been
Many sorrows I have seen
But I don’t regret
Nor will I forget
All who took the road with me.
To these memories I will hold
With your blessing I will go
To turn at last to paths that lead home
And though where the road then takes me
I cannot tell
We came all this way
But now comes the day
To bid you farewell.