Aloha, hobbits. Arrivaderci, elves. Au revoir, orcs. Auf wiedersehen, wizards. Sayonara, Shire. Hasta Manana, Middle-Earth.
I guess what we’re trying to say is — ta-ta, Tolkien films.
It’s with heavy hearts that we make the long and perilous journey to the local megaplex theater in the heart of the Shopping Mall of Doom, all the while battling malevolent Hordes of Holiday Shoppers, so that we can bear witness to Peter Jackson’s final J.R.R. Tolkien film, The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, which opens Wednesday.
“Final?” you say. “It can’t be the final Tolkien film. What about The Silmarillion? Or other, less well-known Tolkien works, like The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrún, or The Fall of Arthur? Surely, Jackson can spend the rest of his life making special-effects laden trilogies out of these?”
Not going to happen, says the celebrated director. According to Jackson, while Tolkien sold the film rights to The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings in the late 1960s, the rest of the professor’s works are still owned by the Tolkien estate. And considering that Tolkien’s son Christopher has gone on record stating how much he hates the Jackson films (he’s said that they “gutted” the source material), other Tolkien works don’t stand a hobbit’s chance in Hades of falling into Jackson’s hands.
Of course, the reaction of critics and the movie-going public has been markedly different than that of the Tolkien estate. The Lord of the Rings franchise has made a combined $6 billion in combined box office and DVD sales, and each movie has scored high with the critics as well. The franchise hit a peak in 2003 with The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, which garnered 11 Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Oscars for Jackson in the Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay categories. The franchise has made international stars of Elijah Wood, Vigo Mortensen and Orlando Bloom, while exposing acting heavyweights Ian McKellen and Cate Blanchett to a broader audience.
So what can we expect to see in The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies? Bilbo and his companions will engage in a war against a variety of fantasy combatants as they try to keep the supremely wicked dragon Smaug from capturing a kingdom of treasure and laying waste to all of Middle Earth. That should be enough to keep you munching your popcorn for a couple of hours.
Critics are already praising the movie, which has scored a respectable 76 percent on the Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer (the website says that the film ends the series “on a rousing high note”). Fan favorites McKellen, Blanchett, Bloom, Hugo Weaving and Christopher Lee all return to play their familiar Middle-Earth roles. The film also stands to benefit from the overwhelmingly positive karma of one of today’s most popular actors, Benedict Cumberbatch, who voices the terrifying Smaug. Cumberbatch made his mark in TV’s Sherlock, has just signed on to play Marvel’s Sorcerer Supreme in Doctor Strange, and may very well earn an Oscar nomination for his highly praised role in this year’s The Imitation Game. (Smaug may breathe fire, but he can’t hold a candle to Cumberbatch when it comes to deciding who is the hottest guy in Hollywood).
Meanwhile, Jackson says that he’s begun work on the DVD release of his latest film, a project that he says will take five or six months to complete. Until then, pour yourselves a mug of ale, grab a couple of pieces of lembas bread, put your fuzzy feet up, and make a hobbit of enjoying one of the great cinema spectacles of our age. (I couldn’t resist that pun—it had a certain “ring” to it!)