One Last Time… Again…

A hobbit’s tale by Ian Blaylock

In true Peter Jackson fashion, each of The Hobbit films received an extended edition. Fans of The Lord of the Rings films swear by the extended editions of their films, citing how much better an experience it is to watch added and extended scenes of what are already impeccable films. However, with its lackluster reviews, and lukewarm acceptance by the Tolkien fandom, The Hobbit films extended cuts are less well-received. Certainly, some of these added scenes add some glimmers of magic to the films, but the larger question remains, “Do the additions make the films better?”

I own the extended cut of An Unexpected Journey and there are moments that I think are some added scenes that are beneficial to that film. For example, it’s great to see Bilbo as a kid in the Shire interacting with Gandalf, and there is a great scene with Bilbo and Elrond having a private chat at Rivendell. There is also a disastrous musical number in Goblin Town, which is why I am hesitant to revisit it.

Watch at your own risk.

After last year’s release of the extended cut of The Desolation of Smaug, I was more hesitant, and I ultimately decided not to opt for an extended cut. I am not very fond of the second film. I don’t think it is a very fulfilling movie to watch. Unlike its counterpart, The Two Towers, The Desolation of Smaug ends without resolving any of the major plot threads, and ends with one of the most annoying cliffhangers of movie history. (When I saw the film in theaters, there were audible groans from the audience when Ed Sheeran started singing, but I don’t think the groans were directed at him.)

This is why I had great trepidation when the news broke that The Battle of the Five Armies extended cut would be released this year. I had major issues with the theatrical cut of this film. The pacing was strange, characters were handled poorly, major chunks of the story were omitted, the battle either seemed too long, or too short, and, of course, there’s Legolas’s audition for either Super Mario Bros., or for the Jedi Academy. I didn’t even purchase the DVD.

Now, I am a huge Tolkien fan. I’ve read The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, The Silmarillion, The Children of Húrin, and I have delved into The History of Middle-Earth a fair bit. I’ve listened to podcasts about Tolkien’s works, and attended online seminars where people discuss his works. I love this stuff.

Anyhow, I came upon a Facebook ad which reminded me that ahead of the release of the extended edition of The Battle of the Five Armies, Warner Bros was hosting a special event where fans could see the extended cuts of all three Hobbit films in theaters, each for one night only. I had not planned on seeing them, but I happened to see that the next day (10/13/15) would be the date of the final showing. I could see the extended cut of The Battle of the Five Armies in theaters. Part of me thought, “Oh, no.” Another part thought, “Oh, yes!”

I checked my calendar, and the ticket price. I figured that I would be paying to see the extended cut at some point. Since I disliked the theatrical cut, I figured I needed to give the extended cut a chance. I’d either wait until November to rent it on iTunes, or buckle down and risk buying the Digital HD version ahead of the Blu-ray release. I knew that I didn’t want to wait until November, and buying a ticket was cheaper than buying the earlier Digital HD. So, I bought my ticket, and I went.

Surprisingly, the theater didn’t show any trailers before the film started. There was a short clip from Peter Jackson, thanking the audience for coming, and taking part in the three night special event. It was a bit unfortunate, yet unsurprising, that the theater was not very full. I had little time to think about it as the logos quickly flashed by, and the Master of Lake-Town was once again loading his boat with whatever gold he could get his grubby hands on as Smaug began attacking the city. The adventure was back, and I needed to keep my eyes peeled for any changes that may flash in front of me.

I didn’t keep a list of all of the changes, so I won’t be outlining them specifically. However, I hope to highlight some of the differences between the two cuts, so as to give a clearer picture of how the film changes with the added material. I think overall the extended cut feels more cohesive than the theatrical cut. The narrative is more connected, especially towards the end of the film. Most of the added footage comes in the second half, and is often whole scenes, rather than two second snippets. This is definitely a good thing. In the first half, there are very few changes. The most notable one comes when Galadriel enters Dol Guldur. It’s not a very long addition, but I think it helps strengthen her character. I don’t think it completely repairs her character’s somewhat unexplained frailty later on, and it introduces a plot hole in the story, but it was a cool moment, and helped a little bit.

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This is the major point I would make to those who are looking to the extended edition of this film to repair everything that they didn’t like about the theatrical cut. The added content won’t turn the film into the next The Return of the King, nor does it do away with some of the more cheesy elements of the film. However, the additions largely make the film more palatable.

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One criticism of the theatrical cut that I had heard was how little the actual battlefield battle seemed to matter in the grand scheme of a film named after said battle. The battle scenes receive the most additions in the film, and the battle itself becomes much different. There is a big twist that was added to the battle that was not present in the theatrical cut. Like Galadriel’s extended scene, it was cool, but it was also a bit shocking. It also leaves a new important issue unanswered.

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Overall, the additions to the battle come with little complication to the story. They’re fun, humorous, and add to the already high body count. There’s plenty of blood and decapitations to go around, which is probably what pushes the film to the R rating, although the twist probably has something to do with this too. The additions make the battle scenes generally lighter than their counterparts in The Lord of the Rings, decapitations notwithstanding. However, I think that as a film by itself, this actually works to its benefit. The Hobbit films have always suffered from an identity crisis. They want to be darker and more serious like The Lord of the Rings films, but they also feel the need to retain the lighter tone of The Hobbit novel. I think that this may have been a fool’s errand in the end. Tolkien himself had tried to go back and rewrite The Hobbit so it would match with the tone and style of The Lord of the Rings, but this rewrite was never completed, or published. If the author couldn’t do it to his own books, why should we have expected someone else to achieve it? Adapting The Hobbit, and The Lord of the Rings for the screen is an insurmountable task. Putting them in the same universe, despite the huge narrative differences is also extremely difficult. However, it seems pretty clear that despite the best efforts of the writers, The Hobbit doesn’t live up to the expectations that The Lord of the Rings set.

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The extended edition of The Battle of the Five Armies makes the film into much more of an action movie than a serious high fantasy adaptation, but I think owning that makes this version of the film superior to the theatrical cut. Additionally, in the extended cut, the post-battle sequence features added material to flesh it out a lot better. Before, it was too quick, abrupt, and lacked a key scene that has now been added. My overall takes of the extended edition of this film is that it makes the film more enjoyable, and palatable, but viewers who are looking for the extended edition to miraculously erase all of the problems with the series, and the theatrical cut, will, most likely, be disappointed.

For moviegoers who want a serious Tolkien adaptation that delves deep into character, takes the plot seriously, and is mostly faithful to the source material, the film series you are looking for is still The Lord of the Rings. As one writer on this blog quips, “If I wanted to watch an excellent adaptation of The Hobbit, I would watch the first fifteen minutes of The Fellowship of the Ring.”

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For those who enjoy The Hobbit films, the extended edition is a great way to get more action out of an already action-packed movie. For those who have a bad taste left over from the theatrical cut of The Battle of the Five Armies, the extended cut should prove to be a better time.

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