The Middle Earth Collection

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring

The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

Ranking the Middle Earth Saga

Editorial: What The Shire Means To Me

Ranking the Middle Earth Saga

Signed: Your Friendly neighbourhood queer

What The Shire Means To Me

I grew up on The Lord of the Rings. My father owned 5th edition printings of the books (the ones with with the circle on each cover) and, when the extended versions of the Peter Jackson films were released, he bought those too. These films introduced me to the wonderful world of JRR Tolkien, and I would take every opportunity I could to watch them – of which there were plenty, as they were constantly being shown on television. It wouldn’t be until I was about 9 or 10 that I would finally get around to reading through the books themselves and, having fallen in love with the simple complexity of Middle Earth, I moved onto The Hobbit and The Silmarillion. For me, Tolkien’s world became a second home, but I always found myself drawn to the realm of The Shire in particular.

I grew up in a small island community focused primarily on farming. We have a population in my hometown of just over 8,000 people, and I find it to be similar to The Shire in many ways. Bard the Bowman once said of his village Laketown that “It’s a small town, everyone knows where everyone lives” which is true of all communities this small. Even if somebody isn’t aware of somebody else’s address, there seem to be no qualms with openly sharing that information, especially if they happen to be buying from another local online. There is a certain amount of comfort in the people who surround you, even if you don’t know them by name. There is a comfort in The Known , and a fear of The Unknown. Personally I find 8,000 people to be a bit too much, so I would prefer a population closer to that of Hobbiton. It’s large enough that it isn’t purely family members, but small enough that I could still recognise everybody by name.

The attitudes between my two homes are similar as well. There is a certain “status quo” that needs maintaining, and I see this in the reaction to changes proposed by our local council. If they want to change the layout of the high street or add bollards on roads, then the general public will make their disdain known. Even if changes were to be made, it would require vigorous planning and compromises to be met. It’s the kind of place in which abandoning your entire life to assist Dwarves on a quest to retake their homeland would probably be frowned upon. I’m sure that it was the talk of The Shire that day, and the day after, but eventually life returned to normal. It was yesterday’s news, and people moved on. This is true the world over, but I think it is especially prevalent in small communities where word travels fast, and news reaches everybody before the day is out. Of course the status quo does not necessarily need to exist in your own household, but in public you behave in a way that is acceptable. Gandalf is seen as a bit of a troublemaker by the time of Fellowship of the Ring but he recognises the customs that are in place. He doesn’t do anything he thinks might upset the peace.

Bilbo happens to be a brilliant example of the status that exists within small communities. He becomes a well known figure, and his 111th birthday is such a large event that even those hobbits who don’t receive invites are expected to attend anyway. This kind of notoriety leads to people recognising you even if you don’t recognise them. I have, to a fairly small extent, been prone to this myself, although I tend to get recognised because of my mother’s charity work as opposed to my own. However my grandfather- a local historian- was definitely a man of great renown within my hometown, to the extent that walking through the street could take an hour instead of the 15 minutes it should, because people continuously stopped to speak to him. He passed away recently, and as the hearse drove him through every main road, there were numerous people lining the pavements out of respect. All events here are major, and I’d presume that is even more the case in The Shire.

Perhaps my favourite aspect of Hobbit-life is how relaxed it seems to be. Even in my hometown, which is viewed generally as a “simple farming community”, the 21st century has arrived and the nature of modern life has taken hold. Everybody seems to feel the need to be constantly busy, always in a rush to get somewhere. We have an ever growing number of loud boy racers doing engine revs late at night, and construction sites starting early in the morning. The town is constantly moving except for in the very early hours. Between the closing of the pubs and the opening of the shops, there exist several hours of peace. I have often found myself awake during that time feeling more at ease than ever. I’m not really a people person. I get anxious in large crowds, even if it’s a large group of friends, I often feel like the general public is judging me for being openly queer, and the people here can come across as a little brazen. I don’t dislike the people here, but I have always said that my town would be a perfect place without them.

I think this is why I fell so deeply in love with The Shire. It is the ideal version of my own hometown. It lacks the harsh aura and the busy atmosphere, whilst having the smaller elements that make my town home. I see in those hobbits the same kinds of people that I already know, from the elderly men smoking over a pint, to the children just excited to watch fireworks. I have friends like Sam, Merry, and Pippin whom I trust as much as Frodo trusts them. Of course, I see myself as Frodo, as I’m sure many people who read The Lord of the Rings do (although it requires some genderbending on my part). Here is a hobbit who wants to see the world, but is still so at ease in the place where he lives. Much like his uncle before him, it would take a wizard to nudge him through the door of adventure, and I hope that my partner can eventually do the same for me. It also helps to associate The Shire with a beautiful piece of music like “Concerning Hobbits” which never fails to bring me joy.

Signed: Your friendly neighbourhood queer

Ranked: The Middle Earth Saga

*DISCLAIMER: This list is based purely off my own opinion*

6- LOTR: The Return of the King

You could not ask for a better ending to a story. Not even Avengers: Endgame could pull off a satisfying conclusion like this, and they had 10 years to do it. Howard Shore’s extrordinary score, Weta Workshop’s astounding effects and every character’s acting all reach their peak here. This was crafted with alot of love and care and it shows.

5- LOTR: The Fellowship of the Ring

The one that started it all, and did it in such spectacular fashion. Characters can grow, stories can grow, but they don’t grow as well without a steady first step. It takes its time and crafts a world that you will spend much time in, without feeling slow.

4- LOTR: The Two Towers

Despite how much I want to, I cannot place the entire LOTR trilogy at number one. Mainly because it is in 3 parts and also because this list would be 2 items long as a result. Part 2 provides a bridge between the beginning of the trilogy and the end. It could feel plot heavy and like it’s dragging us along, but it doesn’t.

3- The Hobbit:The Battle of the Five Armies

Perhaps to the surprise of absolutely nobody, the Hobbit trilogy finds itself not quite living up to standard of its predecessor in my eyes. It was a lot to live up to, and of the 3 films, this comes closest. It provides a solid ending to the trilogy and a nice bridge to LOTR while also being a fine parting to this beloved saga.

2- The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Much like Fellowship of the Ring, this needed to set up the backstory for things to come. It doesn’t manage it to the same degree but it still does an admirable job. After all this time, it was nice to return to the comfort of The Shire.

1- The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Tauriel. Enough said.

Signed: Your friendly neighbourhood queer

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

The first half of Return of the King is where the fruits of our Fellowship’s labour start to come together. It begins with a celebration after their win at The Battle of Gondor, but is quickly followed by The Battle of Minas Tirith. Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli ride with the army of Rohan until departing for the Caves of the Dead while, Gandalf and Pippin head directly to Minas Tirith. Meanwhile, Frodo and Samwise finally reach Mordor under the guidance of the creature Gollum.

Having Return of the King begin with a party provides a much needed moment of levity before diving into more peril, acting as a calm between storms. It also provides us with context as to the differences between Dwarves and Elves whilst building Gimli and Legolas’ friendship.They partake in a drinking competition which ends after approximately 20 pints, which Legolas handles far better than Gimli. It’s one of the finest displays of character development I think I’ve ever witnessed. Further character development is occurring with Merry and Pippin who, after a lifetime together, must spend some time apart. Pippin shared a vision with Sauron of Minas Tirith so for Pippin’s own safety he must go there with Gandalf. Merry, having pledged allegiance to the army of Rohan, must stay behind. It’s heartbreaking knowing that this may be the last time they see each other and watching them be ripped apart so harshly.

In Mordor, the friendship between Frodo and Samwise is being tested. They have begun their ascent into the mountain caves and Samwise continues to be a voice of positivity to Frodo’s negativity. The power of The Ring has become too much, and this, coupled with some meddling from Gollum, leads to Frodo sending Samwise homeward. Seeing a friendship so pure being broken, and seeing Samwise, for the first time in this entire adventure break into tears, is highly emotional. On top of this we know that Shelob, a monster, lurks in those caves and that Frodo is certain to die without his Sam. This is truly the beginning of the end for our characters and there is something powerful about how it’s delivered. Its a heartbreaking couple of hours. To illicit this much emotion in the final film of a trilogy is impressive. Maintaining that high quality, and the love for these characters through 3 films, without fault, is astounding.

The scene of Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli in the Cave of the Dead is simply outstanding and the army of the dead looks beautifully horrific in CGI. For a film that is nearly 20 years old to have nearly flawless CG is a marvel. Of course the CGI and practical effects across the entire trilogy have been superb, but it is especially prevalent here. The battle for Minas Tirith continues to set a benchmark for every battle sequence across film and television. It is the battle sequence that all other battle sequences dream to be, including Game of Thrones– one of the biggest phenomena in the past decade. I haven’t seen it, so I wouldn’t dream of comparing the two, though I’m sure many people have. The first half of Return of the King is one of the greatest set-ups to one of the greatest conclusions to one of the greatest film trilogies ever made. Not that I’m biased.

I don’t know how I can review this second half of The Return of the King. I could write an overview of the basic plotline or deep-dive into the amazing process that went into making this film, and on the one hand that would be the sensible, probably professional, thing to do, but on the other hand I don’t want to spoil the ending to those who aren’t aware of it. Besides, words cannot properly convey this conclusion or the resonating emotional impact. For those of you who have seen it, I’ll mention some specific moments that put a lump in the back of my throat because, at this point, it’s all I can do to properly portray my affection for the roller coaster that is the ending to The Return of the King.

The entire scene in Shelob’s lair is a masterpiece, and it holds some of the best camerawork I have ever witnessed. What really stuck with me was Frodo’s “I’m sorry Sam” because it’s in this moment that he finally realises how much The Ring has taken hold. Then there’s Sam’s “let him go, you filth” which is a level of pure friendship that I  can barely handle. I remain in a constant state of anxiety and awe until the end of the battle for Minas Tirith which sees Eomer find Eowyn’s seemingly lifeless body. Karl Urban’s portrayal of Eomer’s pain is one of the most raw and painful depictions of grief I’ve ever seen. I was so close to tears, but I managed to maintain my composure. This composure would remain until near the films end when Samwise finally admits “I don’t think there will be a return journey, Mr Frodo”. Until now, Sam has been a beacon of hope but now, at the end of it all, the facade finally fades. At the other side of Mordor, Gimli and Legolas are declaring themselves as friends. There is so much love in this time of hatred that it is simply overwhelming.

I put off this conclusion because I could not handle dealing with all these emotions again. I became re-invested in this tale and I knew that watching it come to an end would, once again, reduces me to tears. This is the first time that I have watched The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings in quick succession and the first time that I have analysed them for any type of review. This time, I wasn’t just finishing a trilogy but a saga. This is 20 hours and 40 minutes of content and the investment is real. You will never see me criticise people for liking the things that they do, and I don’t particularly like anyone who does. In times of trouble, when I’m sad or lonely, I know that The Shire will always be there waiting for me. If you have a piece of media that makes you feel that way then you should never let anybody make you feel ashamed for it.

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King is notorious for its multiple endings but I believe that every single one of them is valid. I can understand why it may bug casual moviegoers, but if you’ve sat through the the extended editions then you can manage another 20 minutes. If you sat through the extended versions then I can only assume that you care for this franchise as much as I do, and if you do then I can only presume that you also spend those 20 minutes weeping. Even Lord Elrond, who doesn’t do emotion is crying, and we are only human. For those who want an action-packed and brilliantly made trilogy then the theatrical cut of The Lord of the Rings will oblige. For those who desire a little bit more, make sure to check out the extended editions.

For all of you, The Shire will always be waiting.

Until Next Time…

The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers

The first half of The Two Towers focuses on our fellowship which has now split into 3 factions. Frodo and Samwise, on their way to Mordor, have formed a coalition with the creature Gollum who has promised to get them to Mount Doom safely. Merry and Pippin, having been taken by orcs, manage to escape into Fangorn Forest where they befriend an Ent (living tree) called Treebeard. Meanwhile Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli are hot on Merry and Pippins trail but they encounter an unexpected friend in Fangorn.

Something Fellowship of the Ring set up but really gets delivered here is just how negatively The One Ring affects people. Frodo is quicker to anger an appears paler than when he started and is now sympathising with Gollum, who clearly only cares about The Ring. The colour and energy has drained from Frodo as if The Ring is draining him off his life. It’s obvious that he isn’t totally aware of how affected he is and that he isn’t capable of making this journey alone. Samwise continues to be a voice of positivity and an excellent point of comparison for just how much Frodo is changing. Gollums CGI, after 20 years, is almost flawless and Andy Serkis’ motion-capture performance is truly Oscar worthy.

The Two Towers flipping back and forth between Merry and Pippin and their rescuers is a wonderful bit of storytelling. These two could easily just be a comedy duo but instead we are given time to get to know them and it’s obvious how much their rescuers care about them. Aragorn, having sworn to protect them, takes his loyalty seriously which demonstrates his kingly qualities. He’s definitely growing as a character and Viggo Mortensens performance is at 110% here. The scene of him screaming in agony as he kicks an orc helmet is genuine agony as he broke his toes doing it. He continued the scene anyway stating that the stunt actors has been through worse. The only thing I could fault in this section of the film is that Gimli is used almost solely for comedic effect. Dwarves are a proud, noble race who seek respect from everyone and I get that a tale will sometimes require comedy but Gimli is worth more than that.

The plot twist of this half is that there is a white wizard wandering the forest which you would presume is Sauroman. In actuality it turns out to be Gandalf who has returned to Middle Earth from the Astral Plane. This is a superb reveal done by bathing him in light, superimposing Sauromans eyes and voice over Gandalfs. His return is a small moment of relief in a story that seems not to be on the side of our heroes. This extended cut of The Two Towers features additional footage that serves as further insight to some of the characters. We see Sauroman ordering the destruction of Fangorn Forrest as well as more backstory on the Ents and Entwives and a burial scene for the prince of Rohan. These are lovely moments of peace but they also show the losses that Sauron has caused. Put simply, it adds to the tragedy of an already tragic tale.

Having spent a movie and a half building up to war, it finally arrives with the Battle of Helms Deep. Its defense against an immense hoard of orcs are the villagers of Rohan, Aragorn, Gimli and Legolas. Meanwhile Merry and Pippin are trying to convince the Ents that this war is their problem too while Frodo and Samwise are captured by a battalion of men. The joy of having such a long runtime is that the beginning of the battle for Middle Earth feels earned instead of thrusting it on us and expecting us to care. By this point, we the audience are so invested that Treebeard proclaiming that the Ents won’t fight kind of stings. It may seem like such a small plot thread but, to me, it’s far from that. Ents are an ancient race who have seen many wars come and go and believe that they have nothing to do with them. Thankfully, Pippin convinces them to fight and is responsible for the fall of Isengard but the point here is that war affects everyone. Its about the bigger picture and how every being, whether they know it or not, can play a vital part in changing things for the better. Tolkein wrote that “even the smallest person can change the course of the future” and that’s as true today as it was the day Isengard fell.

After being captured by a battalion of men, Fodo and Samwise learn that there leader is Faramir- brother of Boromir. The extended cut gives us a flashback to the day Boromir was sent to Rivendell, showing us how much the two brothers loved each other and how their father cared only for Boromir. This is a heartbreaking little scene but it’s nice to see Boromir one last time and in his prime. Faramir ultimately proves how pure of heart he is by freeing Frodo and Samwise, allowing Gollum to lead them to Mordor. He is a perfect contrast to his brother.

The majority of this half of The Two Towers is taken up by The Battle of Helms Deep and what a glorious battle it is. There are hundreds of extras dressed as orcs and Elves and every single one of them is unique. It took 2 and a half months of night shoots on location to complete, which is a monumental feat and is worth every second. Each blow of the sword, each strike of the arrow all feels necessary to winning this battle. There’s a nice shot of Legolas shield-surfing down a flight of stairs as well as some fantastic camaraderie between him and Gimli. They’re cracking jokes and keeping a count of who has killed the most Uruk-Hai which goes to show how close they’ve become since leaving Rivendell. For the record, Gimli beat Legolas with 43 kills to 42. Gandalf remarks “the battle for Helms Deep is over, the battle for Middle Earth has just begun” which is nice reminder of what is to come. This momentous battle, on which many hours were spent, is nothing compared to what Return of the King will give us.

The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers is a marvelous turning point in the story. After much loss there is finally success but it is far from over. This film foreshadows the grave dangers and even graver hardships to follow.

Until Next Time…

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring

I, like many others, grew up on the Lord of The Rings (LOTR) trilogy. The theatrical cuts were frequently being shown on television, my father owns the extended editions and I have watched all 12 hours of bonus materials featured on those discs. I have a replica of both The One Ring and Anduril, sword of the true king of Gondor forged from the blades of Narsil, which cut The Ring from Sauron’s hand. When I started building my film collection, one of the first things I purchased was the Extended LOTR trilogy and it was one of the first movie marathons I undertook. In short: I love these films. I felt it was important to provide context in case I seem biased, because I probably will.

The first half of Fellowship of the Ring (FOTR) is concerned with the forming of the titular fellowship. Frodo Baggins, having come into posession of The One Ring must avoid the 9 Nazgul in an attempt to bring it to the Elven city of Rivendell. He is assisted by his best friend Samwise Gamgee as well as the hapless duo Merriadoc (Merry) Brandybuck and Peregrin (Pippin) Took. They would also be assisted by wizard Gandalf the Grey, but he is being held captive by the leader of his order Sauroman the White- from whom he eventually escapes. Needless to say, the stakes are high. FOTR establishes this tension immediately, by given us a beautiful narration by Cate Blanchett about the final battle against Sauron, alongside footage which features hundreds of extras. This is followed by a cut to The Shire, where we begin to meet our cast. Though Hobbits are smaller than regular people, this isn’t achieved with CGI trickery. Instead, director Peter Jackson relies on forced perspective and child actors for the wide shots as well as specially designed sets. Shots of Rivendell and the tower of Isengard are models while the remainder of locations are shot in New Zealand. There is, of course, the occasional green screen, but for a 20 year old film the effects are outstanding.

The worldbuilding in this first half is superb and possibly only rivaled by that of the late Jim Henson. The history lesson at the very beginning, the date being 1400 by Shire Reckoning and the copious amount of lore make it feel like Middle Earth has always been there. The Elvish language, drawn from the source material, is a real language with an alphabet and phonetics and was taught to all the actors who played Elves. There was a Tolkien linguistics specialist on the team, and the actors were told how to hold their posture like Elves. There is a dedication to the finer details in LOTR that I don’t think you’ll find anywhere else. This isn’t just some film being made for the sake of it, this is Peter Jackson’s passion project and his love for this mythos really leaps off the screen.

The extended cut comes with extra footage providing more insight into this fantastical world. There are two new scenes which detail more about the Hobbit species, while in a third scene Frodo and Samwise witness an Elven Parade. Samwise remarks that it is a happy, yet also sad occasion which becomes much more poiniant once you know how the story ends. If the lore is something you are particularly interested in, then I highly recommend the extended cut. if you’re a casual movie viewer you’ll be alright without it. By the end of this half our Fellowhip of the Ring is complete and is as follows:

The Hobbits -Frodo, Samwise, Merry and Pippin

The Men – Aragorn and Boromir

The Elf – Legolas

The Dwarf – Gimli

and the wizard – Gandalf

The second half of Fellowship of the Ring follows the fellowship as they leave Rivendell, face orcs in the Mines of Moria, rest in the Elven village of Lothlorien and battle Uruk-hai before going their seperate ways. While the first half was about what is at stake for the whole of Middle Earth this second half is more about the personal stakes that our heroes hold. During this half we lose two members of the fellowship in what are a couple of the finest moments ever put to film, demonstrating that nobody is safe no matter what they may think. Disaster can, and does, strike at any moment.

For as small in stature as some of these characters may be, the scale of Fellowship is the exact opposite. The matte painted backgrounds are gorgeous in their own right, but when that is merged with model sets you get some of the most glorious shots. The Mines of Moria are especially impressive as is the tension that it holds. Our heroes are chased by a Balrog, a huge winged creature of fire and smoke, which doesn’t physically appear for the first 5 minutes of the chase. When it finally does emerge it is one of the finest CGI creations I think I’ve ever seen. It also leads to the first of our heroic sacrifices from perhaps the most powerful member of the fellowship- Gandalf. As he is dragged into the depths of Moria by the Balrog, the cries of anguish and despair from Frodo are muted to make way for a beautiful choral harmony. For a brief moment all is still, and it’s absolutely heartbreaking. There is a lingering sense of defeat as our 8 remaining heroes finally arrive at Lothlorien, which is a rather long segment. For regular viewers, this may be where you feel the film starting to drag slightly but I urge you to stick with it.

Personally, I don’t mind this time spent in Lothlorien. It gives us time to properly grieve the loss of Gandalf, as well as giving us some time between the action pieces to take a breath. We are about to enter a very intense part of this tale, not just in Fellowship but in the films that follow. This is the last time that any of the fellowship will ever be truly safe as from here on out they will be consistently on the backfoot. Upon leaving Lothlorien, Boromir attempts to take The Ring from Frodo as he is preparing to leave for Mordor alone. It is at this point that our troupe is attacked by Uruk-Hai. We have three groups: Frodo and Aragorn; Merry, Pippin and Boromir; Legolas and Gimli while Samwise is alone trying desperately to get to Frodo. This is where the tears start flowing because I will unashamedly start crying every single time. Boromir is facing down an entire pack of Uruk-Hai to protect Merry and Pippin, and as the music swells, the action slows and he is hit by an arrow directly in the chest. Determined to protect his friends he carries on fighting only to be struck by two more arrows and, as Merry and Pippin are carried off, he finally falls. The dialogue when Aragorn finds him is simply beautiful. At the same time Frodo is setting sail for Mordor alone, but Samwise swims out to him almost drowning in the process. That pure, wholehearted dedication to his friend is what seems to hit me the most.

The extra footage in this half is more Middle Earth lore, so unless you want to experience 100% of this journey you will be alright with the theatrical cut. Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring is, in my opinion, one of the finest films ever made and a fantastic way to start off a fantastic trilogy.

Until Next Time…

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

The first half of Battle of the Five Armies is full of tension. We open on Smaug attacking Laketown, progressing to the gold sickness that has consumed Thorin and finally to the titular battle itself. The scale of Laketowns destruction is impressive, ranger from the personal losses of villagers to ariel shots of the town in flame. Smaug is a rather impressive feat of CGI with a tangible weight to him and a shine of hatred in his eyes. Once the destruction has ceased and the dragon is slain we follow the villagers as they come to the gates of Erebor looking for a place to stay, thus showing us the true cost of the company’s quest and providing more grief to the events that follow.

The gold sickness that befalls Thorin makes up the majority of the plot until the battle and it is handled excellently. We are introduced, not through the dwarves, bt through Bilbo who is clearly scared for everyones safety, demonstrating how far Thorin has fallen from grace without needing to show him. When we do see him it is clear in his voice and body language how much he has changed. He walks much slower, like the sickness is weighing him down and he barely focuses on his companions, accusing them of disloyalty and thievery when he does. It comes to a head when Bilbo turns over The Arkenstone (the kings jewel) to Bard and Thranduil, who also seeks claim to the mountain, in the hopes that it will provide a bargaining chip to prevent a war. Thorin, enraged by this act, demands that Bilbo be thrown from the parapet and, for the first time, his company refuses his order. The dwarves will no longer bow to their king, choosing to protect Bilbo and seeing that he only wants to help. For a brief moment there is peace. This is what we call “the calm before the storm.”

So far we have an army of men, led by Bard and an army of Elves, led by Thranduil. With the arrival of dwarves from the Iron Hills, led by Dain, a horde of orcs, led by Azog, and a group of Goblins, led by Bolg, we have our five armies and the battle can commence. What a fine battle it is, using CGI to amplify the amount that each battalion can have. While it is slightly disappointing considering how many extras LOTR used for that purpose, it is still impressive in its own right even if time constraints mean many elves end up looking the same.

During Battle of the Five Armies’ theatrical run, much of the gore was removed to achieve a 12 rating but it returns here making this the only 15 rated film in the saga. This gore is particularly evident during smaller moments in the battle, where blood has clearly been added in post-production as well as the many beheadings that take place. There is also extra footage of Laketowns destruction, including the death of the Lakemaster, and the Elven archers firing at the Iron Hill dwarves. This particular round of extra footage is different from previous installments in that it doesn’t really add anything to the story itself, bar the Lakemasters death which did fill me with a little joy. Removing this footage simply makes the film tamer but I feel that if you are showing a war then it must really be driven home how awful war is. As the old proverb says “go big or go home.”

This half of Battle of the Five Armies is about rising tension and it does that well. There’s also a lesson to be had about how money/power can corrupt but i’m not nearly qualified enough to dive into that, though I’m sure we all know how it ends. Here it leads to war so from there you can draw your own conclusions.

The second half of Battle of the Five Armies is mostly battle, saving Bilbos return to The Shire for the last 20 minutes. Many battles in cinema simply do not last this long and certainly not at a scale this large. While the battle itself is huge, there are several smaller battles happening withing. This is expanded in the extended cut to give us a chariot sequence that is completely ridiculous but also one of the funnest scenes to watch. It also show us why Thorin, Fili and Kili are the only dwarves who make it up the hill to face Azog and reminds us just how impressive the CGI is. We also follow Bard, Gandalf and Bilbo fighting off orcs alongside the Laketown villagers. It is a brutal reminder of just how much Bilbo has grown as a character and how badass Gandalf can be when he wants.

Now we come to something I cant avoid talking about and that is the major character deaths. I usually wouldn’t give a spoiler warning and this film is five years old but these are some of the biggest deaths in popular literature. If you ever plan on reading the book, it simply won’t have the same impact it could if you keep reading this review. Please support the written word, it’s an important part of our culture.

Our first death is that of Fili at the hands of Azog who puts a dlade through his chest before dropping him several meters downhill in front of his brother. It is a very personal kill and a real turn in in events for the company who have remained relatively unscathed so far. Whats worse is that this death will inspire Kili to attempt to take on Azog for revenge, eventually leading to his death. Kilis death should be an incredibly poignant moment. We have just seen his brother murdered and now Thorin has lost both his nephews to the orc he once attempted to defeat. This moment should be utterly heartbreaking and it isn’t because Tauriel is here. The majority of screentime is spent on her grief, not Thorins, and how love hurts and how life isnt fair. Putting the focus on a character who has not earned this moment is an outrage. We could be focusing on Thorin who has known the boy his whole life but instead we spend more time with a character who has said 4 sentences to him and who shouldn’t even be here.

Lastly come the deaths of both Thorin and Azog in their climactic showdown. We have seen this tension build over 3 films and watching it come to a head here is brilliant payoff. In his dying breaths Thorin is found by Bilbo, providing us with a beautiful goodbye to, not only his king, but his friend. when the company arrives, there are no words, they simply kneel. The extended cut features a funeral for Thorin, Fili and Kili as well as the coronation of Dain as the new king of Erebor. This scene is so short and the acting and score are so gorgeous it’s a wonder it was cut. The last 20 minutes go on to show Bilbos return to The Shire and it is as much a welcome return to us as it is to him. You’re finally home and you can breathe freely knowing the battle is over and all is well.

As I said when i started this trilogy, its existence is a bizarre thing. Nowhere is this clearer than in Battle of the Five Armies which is the ending of this trilogy but also the end of the Middle Earth saga, being the last film released. It handles this in the best way I think it could, by having its last moments be the first time bilbo and gandalf reunite in Fellowship of the Ring. This caps off the trilogy perfectly while also being a flawless segue into LOTR. The credits song “The Last Goodbye” is performed by Billy Boyd who played Pippin in that trilogy, providing longtime fans with a moment of closure. The credits also feature drawings of the main cast, echoing back to that very same decision in the credits to Return of the King.

The Hobbit:The Battle of the Five Armies is a wonderful conclusion to this trilogy. it handles the battle better than most films could and gives these characters the respectful send-off they deserve. For a trilogy that could have stood as just 2 films ,The Hobbit and particularly Battle of the Five Armies do a good job of demonstrating why they should be watched. Come for the good characters and stay for the storytelling.

Until Next Time…

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Desolation of Smaug picks up with our heroes still on the run, with the orcs hot on their tail. They take refuge at the house the skinchanger Beorn before tackling giant spiders in the forest of Mirkwood. From here they are taken prisoner by the forces of King Thranduil before escaping to Laketown with the assistance of the bargeman Bard. This first half of the film is more exciting than the entirety of its predeccesor, with our company in constant peril.

The cast of characters is already rather large but gets an expansion anyway. Legolas makes his welcome return as the prince of the Woodlan Elves, played once again by Orlando Bloom. He isn’t the softened character that we’ll come to know in LOTR but is instead a dwarf-hating soldier, which is a side of the character I’m intrigued to see. We are also intorduced to a female elf named Tauriel who is part of the Elven Gaurd. She serves as a love interest for both Legolas and Kili which I have absolutley no interest in seeing. If there is one addition The Hobbit doesn’t need it’s a love triangle and words cannot explain how sick of seeing them I am. Forced romantic plots in films that do not need them, especially when it is not present in the source material, is one of Hollywoods biggest flaws. Finally, we meet Bard who has the unfortunate trait of looking like Will Turner from Pirates of the Carribean, who was played by Orlando Bloom. Luckily Bard is different enough and stern enough to differentiate him, proving to be a good addition to the cast.

The CGI is better here than in An Unexpected Journey which is good considering how often it is used, particularly during the dwarves’ escape from Thranduil. They ride in barrels down the river whilst being followed by both the Elven Guard and an orc pack in a scene that is one of the funnest moments so far. The practical effects and CGI mix almost seamlessly, which is utterly mezmerizing to me. There are also several scenes where different characters of different heights are required to be on screen at the same time. This happens particularly in the first 20 minutes where Gandalf, Bilbo, the dwarves and Beorn share the screen which results in a stunning feat of computing.

This extended cut of Desolation of Smaug features extra footage that I don’t find to be completely necessary. There is a flashback to Thorins one-on-one fight with Azog, which we’ve already seen as well as a voiceover from Galadriel detiling how the Witchking of Angmar was buried which we have also seen. However there are moments which provide small bits of extra context. There is a scene of The Dwarves being introduced gradually to Beorn by Gandalf, which further demonstrates his skeptic nature and a scene of Bombur falling in the Mirkwood River, thus explainig why he needs to be carried. Finally there is a moment of the Laketown villagers helping Bard hide our heroes from the Lakemasters guard as wll has his snivelly servent Alfrid. It is an excellent way of showing how much respect they have for him and instead of simply telling us.

I think the second half of Desolation of Smaug is a great piece of cinema and the only thing letting it down is Tauriel, who I’ll get to soon. We pick up events as Bard figures out who Thorin is and the dwarves are welcomed into Laketown as heroes. Kili is forced to stay behind with an injury, joined by Fili and Bofur , while the rest of the company finally make it to The Lonely Mountain. From here the remainder of the film switches between them facing down Smaug and our trio in Laketown, which culminates in one of the finest cliffhangers i have ever seen. Meanwhile Gandalf heads to Dol Guldur to discover more about The Necromancer.

Howard Shores score has been beautiful since the very beginning but it really comes into its element here. When the dwarves finally enter the halls of Erebor, Shores score provides a stunning backdrop providing this moment with the level of gravitas it deserves. Whenever Bilbo is reminded of home, that thought is met with the theme for The Shire which holds a special place in my heart. Having grown up on this series it is genuinely difficult to not hear that theme and have some kind of emotion. When The Necromancer is revealed to be the remains of Sauron we are met with a fully orchestrated version of his theme from LOTR and during the last minute of this film there isn’t any music present at all. When Smaug bursts from The Lonely Mountain to lay waste to Laketown declaring that he is death, you can feel the tension which can only be provide by having absolute silence. It is a truly outstanding piece of work and one of the finest endings I have ever seen.

Unfortunately Desolation of Smaug has a downside in the continued existence of Tauriel. She is simply there as a love interest and to appeal to the female demographic and it shows. The only thing she actually achieves is healing Kili which is something that  Fili and Bifur were doing anyway . Cutting off several dwarves from the company is absolutely fine, you do what you must to extend the runtime but please don’t use it as fake justification for a bland female character.

Luckily, this extended cut of the film features a saving grace in the form of a resolution for Thrain, father of Thorin. This aspect was completely cut from the theatrical version but I am delighted to see it restored here. It transpires that after the final battle against Azog he was not killed but instead taken prisoner at Dol Guldur, where he promptly goes mad. The Necromancer has taken one of the seven Great Dwarven rings from him in his quest to reclaim all 20 rings of power, those being the 9 given to man, 7 given to dwarves, 3 given to Elves and The One Ring. This is a wonderful demonstration of just how long his plan has been in action. Unfortunately it is not a plan that Thrain survives, as he is killed by The Necromancer shortly after Gandalf finds him, but it is closure nonetheless. We also get a small scene of Fili and Bifur coming to the Lakemaster in search of medical aid for Kili, which he turns down with disgust. This serves as further proof that he is a foul person who cares only about himself and his gold.

On the whole, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is superior to its predecessor in both story and atmosphere. It is a wonderful tipping point from a tale of adventure to one of survival. I feel that genuinely the only thing letting it down is Tauriel whose character is unnecessary and one-note. This is an excellent continuation in a trilogy that seems only to be getting bigger and better.

Until Next Time…

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

The existence of The Hobbit film trilogy is a bizarre thing. Its story predates The Lord of the Rings by 76 years, but Lord of The Rings (LOTR) was the first to be turned into a film series, leading to several alterations and additions when An Unexpected Journey was finally released in 2012. A huge amount of footage was shot across the six films in the Middle Earth Saga, and wary that audiences may not sit through it all, there are 2 versions of each film- theatrical and extended. As someone who wants to get as much out of each film as possible, I only own the extended versions and as a result it is these versions of the saga that I shall be using for my reviews. Let us start at the beginning.

The first half of An Unexpected Journey centres around Bilbo Baggins, as he is hired to be a burglar for 12 dwarves led by Thorin Oakenshield in a quest to reclaim their home Erebor (or The Lonely Mountain) from the dragon Smaug. They are joined on this adventure by the wizard Gandalf, as they battle a trio of trolls and a group of orcs before arriving in the Elven town of Rivendell. This first half acts as a set-up for the story to come, with The Company of Thorin Okenshield only embarking on their quest at the 40 minute mark- which isn’t a bad thing. This lack of action and adventure allows for us to focus on worldbuilding, getting to know the characters; which is essential in storytelling. Fíli, Kíli, Bifur, Bofur, Bombur, Óin, Glóin, Balin, Dwalin, Dori, Nori and Ori all have distinct personalities, and whilst some get more focus than others, none of them are unlikable.

Bilbo is played with magnificent awkwardness by Martin Freeman, while Gandalf’s wisdom is, once again, excellently delivered by Sir Ian Mackellan. Thorin, portrayed with regal air by Richard Armitage, is skeptical of both, but trusts every dwarf in his company, as his backstory eloquently explains. Each of the dwarves get their own little moment, but the standout is Bifur, whose comedic timing is impeccable, but can be stern when the moment requires it. Another standout is the CGI… which is used in several shots, and that isn’t necessarily a good thing. The majority of the CGI is wonderful, but there are times when a greenscreen is clearly being used. For a movie that was shot primarily on location in New Zealand, it can be jarring and for me and that is a bit of a let down.

I would be remiss to talk about the extended version of An Unexpected Journey without mentioning the extra footage and how well it fits the story. The first change comes during a flashback to the fall of Erebor, focusing more on the Elven king Thranduil instead of Bard’s father. This makes sense from a narrative standpoint as it provides the basis for the Dwarf/Elf rivalry and Bard won’t be introduced until the following film. We also get a flashback to young Bilbo playing with a wooden sword instead of gentler games. This is a nice demonstration of how adventurous Bilbo used to be compared to the respectable hobbit that he becomes. Next is a scene of Bilbo trying to avoid Gandalf at the market which, while amusing, isn’t particularly necessary. Our final lot of extra footage shows the Dwarves dining in Rivendell and Kíli’s fondness for Elves. It features a musical number, giving us a glimpse into Dwarven culture, and sets up Kíli’s arc with a little foreshadowing, which are both things that I appreciate.

This first half of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey does a wonderful job with its worldbuilding. From here we can focus on interactions and character growth, but the groundwork is laid here. There’s plenty of humour to keep us entertained and makes for an excellent starting point for what is to come

The second half of An Unexpected Journey is definitely more action packed than the first. Our band of heroes traverse through Stone Giants only to find themselves prisoners of the Goblin King and upon escaping are finally cornered by orcs. It is during the encounter with the Goblin, King that Bilbo finds himself seperated from the group and discovers the creature Gollum, during which he steals the One Ring.

Peter Jackson’s decision to split the 300 page book into 3 films was bold, as there isn’t really enough material to do so. The solution was to intertwine it with material from other works of Middle Earth such as the appearance of The Necromancer. He is briefly mentioned in this film, but goes on to play a larger role in the sequels which is, I think, rather a good idea. Not only does it explain why Gandalf is absent from The Company for the majority of this adventure, but it also paves the way for the return of the dark lord Sauron, making the six films feel more connected.

This half of An Unexpected Journey has  more seamless CGI with the goblins, their king and Gollum seeming like they belong, and not like they were added in a hurry. The level of detail put into these characters is impressive, with the Goblin King being a gross sight to behold. Meanwhile Gollums CG seems to get better with every passing film, as does Andy Serkis’ performance, which is no small feat for what is a rather small role. If there is one let down, it’s Azog the Defiler- leader of the orcs who has the blandest design of all the characetrs. Azog, for the moment, is the main antagonist, and as such needs to have a certain amount of character. The original design for his appearance, which was to be done with prosthesis, can be found rather easily online and includes that sense of menace which the CG version so sorely lacks. I am overwhelmingly impressed with The Great Eagles, who rescue our heroes from the orcs. They are one of the best examples of just how good CGI can be.

Almost all of the extra material for the extended cut of the film takes place in Rivendell and features Bilbo in some aspect. He first comes across the shattered remains of the sword Narsil and a mural of it being used in the final battle against Sauron, which is a set any LOTR watcher will recognise, and is a nice little nod to the future. A following scene sees him and Thorin listening to Lord Elrond express his concerns about the quest, more specifically the Gold Madness that could consume Thorin, to Gandalf. Lord Elrond also has a small scene where he offers Bilbo a chance to stay in Rivendell, where he’d be safe. These scenes do a good job in humanising the Elven Lord as well as foreshadowing Thorin’s fate and Bilbo’s dedication to the dwarves. We also get a scene of Gandalf meeting with The White Council, consiting of hime, Lord Elrond, the Lady Galadriel and Sauraman the White. They discuss both the quest and The Necromancer, whom Sauraman doesn’t believe to be anything more than a mortal man.

On the whole The Hobbit: An Unexected Journey proves to be an excellent set-up for not just the adventure to come but also the larger story to follow. As a result, it isn’t overly exciting, but it does provide ample time for us to connect with these characters. Instead of seeing this as part of the adventure itself, I see it more as a prologue. As prologues go, An Unexpected Journey is wonderful if not entirely essential.