On The Battle of the Five Armies

five armiesThe Battle of the Five Armies, the third film in Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit trilogy, doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.

I’m a weird half-fan of Tolkien. I went through “the phase” as a kid, and then I checked out of it for a decade+ before diving back into the The Lord of the Rings books last year in a back-to-back-to-back torture experience. That puts me in a place to really appreciate The Hobbit films, I guess, or it at least supplements the experience.

I don’t know how it would be possible for me to have watched The Battle of the Five Armies without reading Tolkien’s trilogy. I mean this quite literally–that film borders on unwatchable when you have all of the contextual information that allows you to understand the plot, but I cannot imagine a filmgoer who generally liked the other films going into that experience and getting anything out of it.

This could be a wholly ahistorical argument on my part, and please pardon me if it is, but I’m increasingly interested in the amount of overhead knowledge that someone is supposed to have when they are dealing with media. I’ve written about this before with videogames, but The Battle of the Five Armies drove it home in the specific case of cinema. To even begin to get something out of the film, you need to have a pretty excellent memory of two previous movies and a wholly different set of films and novels (and then you can only barely hang on or keep up). I’m not sure where you’re supposed to get that knowledge. Wikipedia? The home release special features? The advertising campaign and its many tendrils?

The act of learning, of teaching oneself something, of combing through the morass of information in order to feel like you have a grip on something is labor. To watch The Battle of the Five Armies, you need to have done the labor of making yourself better; to become a capable watcher, or player, or reader you need to invest in you. (Nothing new here in some ways– reading The Waste Land requires a lot of investment up-front.)

At some point it seemed like you could encounter a weird media object and then invest your time in creating around it or learning what other people had created around it–Star Wars is the ultimate example. Now it’s the opposite way; you better have the Wiki open in front of you so you can figure it out.

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3 Responses to On The Battle of the Five Armies

  1. Really interested in your last paragraph here. I wonder how/if this emphasis on media you need to have done your homework for ties into conservatism and exclusivity in consumer/enthusiast spaces.

  2. Amsel says:

    What interests me is how much of this preparatory work that is required for other textual objects is hidden. That’s either because it is wider cultural work (learning how to read symbolism or to use a game pad) rather than the specifics of context or because it is ‘extras’; things like fan service, references and tie-in prequel comics or AR games.

    The way you talk about the prep work required to understand The Battle of the Five Armies also makes me think of the way a form like opera works – in that you are expected to enter the theatre having already read the synopsis and, if at all possible, the libretto as well. What you end up with is a form where the revelation of narrative is not as important as the moment-by-moment relationship between narrative and form. I haven’t yet seen the film, but I do wonder how Battle… works taken as a sort-of action movie sense-poem, which is the way I find many action films need to be watched, considering how meaningless and hole-filled the plots often are.

  3. Pingback: On The Hobbit Movies » Discount Thoughts

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