Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Was Bilbo a Failure?

I was recently thinking about the third Hobbit movie, The Battle of the Five Armies, when I realized what my biggest issue with it is. It's not that it strays from the book or that the elves get more screentime than the dwarves, or even that Alfrid gets any screentime.

It's that the main protagonist, Bilbo Baggins, doesn't clearly accomplish anything by the end of it.

That's not to say that Bilbo doesn't do anything in the movie. He actually does quite a lot. It's just that for as much as he does, none of it really seems to pay off.

His main goal for about the first half of the plot is to save his thirteen dwarf friends by preventing the battle over the treasure that Thorin refuses to share with the Laketown survivors. Bilbo tries to accomplish this by giving the survivors Thorin's prized Arkenstone, which they can use as leverage to get their promised share of treasure from the corrupt dwarf king. It's an ingenious plan (despite Thorin trying to kill him over it), but then a bunch of other armies show up and make it all for nothing. Bilbo's new objective after that becomes to save Thorin and company from an ambush by Azog on Ravenhill during the battle. He does a good job of defying Gandalf's authority and reaching Thorin in time to warn him, but by then it's too late for them to escape from that ambush, so Thorin, Fili, and Kili end up dying anyway.

And then there's Bilbo's overall goal throughout the whole film: to save Thorin from his corruption. He does succeed at that, but Thorin's death soon afterwards makes it kind of a short life lesson, and since the other dwarves already disapproved of his greedy behavior, they don't really learn anything from the hobbit by the end either. What's more, instead of feeling uplifted by Thorin's noble redemption, Bilbo spends the rest of the movie and possibly the rest of his life so traumatized that he can barely even admit Thorin was his friend.

Man, and we say The Lord of the Rings is the darker story.

It's possible, like many issues with The Battle of the Five Armies, that this will be ironed out in the Extended Edition later this year. You can also make the argument that Bilbo's real goal throughout the entire trilogy was to help the dwarves of Erebor reclaim their homeland, which he did, and therefore he wasn't a failure. I heartily agree with that argument, but the third installment doesn't take the time to properly reflect on that and remind us of Bilbo's successes when all is said and done.

...And that's why I think The Battle of the Five Armies needed to establish Ori's journal.

If you read my essay "There's Something About Ori" back in November, you knew I was going to revisit that topic sooner or later after the third movie came out. Not only doesn't the mitten-wearing scribe get the payoff I was hoping to see for him in Battle, but he doesn't even photobomb Bilbo all that much. He does get to stand with Bofur at the front and center of the group when Bilbo says good-bye to the dwarves though, and I'm fairly certain there was a shot of him killing orcs during the company's charge onto the battlefield. It's also been brought to my attention that Ori did in fact draw the sketch of young Bilbo seen in An Unexpected Journey, so at least one speculation in my essay was right.

But I digress. In regards to Bilbo's successes, I think establishing Ori's journal would have done a world of good because it would have reintroduced a very important element of the story: legacy. That's the idea behind Bilbo's book, as well as all of the tales and songs presented in Middle-Earth. They're the means by which their writers pass along lessons and experiences so that future generations can learn from them as well. By informing Bilbo and the audience that one of the dwarves was documenting the quest the whole time, the third movie would have assured that the hobbit's part in that quest would become a major part of Erebor's history. Also, since Ori wrote that tale, we could assume that it would present Bilbo in a positive light and as a good role model.

Just think back to the company's prison-break from Mirkwood in The Desolation of Smaug. Right before Bilbo shows up with the keys, we see Ori very gloomily ask his brother, "We're never gonna reach the mountain, are we?" After Bilbo arrives and starts freeing the dwarves from their cells, we see Ori again, looking completely awestruck by him.

Wouldn't it be a great payoff to have Ori approach Bilbo, perhaps after Thorin's funeral in the Extended Edition, and tell him that every dwarf in Erebor who reads about its reclamation will know it was all thanks to a humble but decent hobbit? It might also be a nice touch if he mentions his notes including how that humble, decent hobbit made the fallen King Under the Mountain noble again. And just for continuity's sake, I would have Ori first break the ice by awkwardly giving Bilbo that portrait sketch.

Alas, like most of my recent Hobbit ramblings, whether or not something like this will happen remains to be seen. I don't know how much hype there's been for the last two Extended Editions, but I suspect the third one is going to stir up a heck of a lot more buzz. It might even stir up enough to rival the third film's theatrical release, at least among fans. And who can blame us? To me, the issue of Bilbo's undermined accomplishments at the end of The Battle of the Five Armies is the ultimate proof that we didn't get a whole movie last December.

And if by change the Extended Edition features a scene of Bilbo kicking Alfrid in the shin, I'll count that as another success.