Monday, January 5, 2015

There's Something About Tauriel (The Hobbit: BOTFA)

Okay. So, like I mentioned in a comment last week (which clearly you all should have read, because you are devoted, obsessive nuts like that), I have now actually seen the final Hobbit movie. While I was incredibly reluctant to bite the bullet and go see the film, I did end up going to see it on Christmas, as per family tradition, and I have to admit that it wasn't that bad. I mean, it wasn't exactly blowing my socks off either, but it was reasonably good.


The plot follows, as predicted, pretty much the last chapter and a half of The Hobbit, further highlighting both what a concise writer JRR Tolkien could be when he wanted to, and also how bloated and inflated these films are. I mean, it's a two and a half hour movie based on about forty pages of material. So yeah, there's some stretching going on.

But by and large it all works. The film opens exactly where the last closed, with Smaug wreaking firey doom on Laketown and the dwarves watching in horror. We are treated to an intense action sequence of the destruction of Laketown, in which Tauriel and Bard are both way more badass than anyone could have ever hoped. Bard and his son outdo William Tell and shoot down the dragon in the world's most alarming trust exercise and Laketown is saved. Except for the part where it isn't, because dragon. It's already mostly on fire and half sunk.

Naturally this means that all of the people from Laketown must swim to shore and find themselves shivering on the steps of Dale, the old city of men outside Erebor's gates. And that seems like a perfectly good solution - they lost a town and gained a city - just as long as Thorin honors his promise to give them a share of the gold and helps them rebuild their society.

Which is of course not going to happen because gooooooooooold.

Thorin spends the first half of the movie or so going completely gold nuts, or coming down with what Balin calls "dragon sickness". He refuses to give Bard what was promised, which just adds insult to the injury he inflicted when he sicced a freaking dragon on them. The men of Laketown/Dale are not happy. They are unhappy enough to decide to team up with the Mirkwood elves that pop up, also wanting their share of the treasure.

Because, remember? Thranduil wants certain gems that were mined at Erebor because they were already bought by his house but Thorin's grandfather refused to hand them over. So Thranduil inserts himself into the mess, bringing the humans of Laketown some much needed food and getting on Bard's good side right quick.

And, of course, there are a whole mess of orcs and goblins bearing down on Erebor, also ready to reclaim its treasure and to wipe out the dwarves once and for all. Most of the film just bounces up between these different armies, gearing up for the fight of their lives. At first Bard and Thranduil are set to send their forces to attack Erebor itself, but when they learn of the orc army coming to attack, they turn and face it, alongside Thorin's backup, a contingent of dwarves from the Blue Mountains.

Oh, and somewhere in here there's also a hobbit, right? Bilbo's story sadly gets very short shrift in this film, with the hobbit himself barely appearing on screen for more than a fifth of its runtime. If that. Still, Bilbo plays a marginally important role as the only voice that can talk some sanity into Thorin. Thorin is amazed by Bilbo's simple hobbit-y-ness and marvels at him. But when Bilbo steals the Arkenstone and gives it to Bard and Thranduil so that they can bargain with it, he kind of freaks out a little.

It's not until Thorin has a nigh on spiritual experience in the throne room - either that or a hallucinogenic one - that he comes to his senses and decides that he and his dwarves really do have to leave and fight all those evil orcs instead of hiding and making others fight their battles.

While all of this is happening too there's that pesky subplot about Sauron coming back from the not quite dead, Saruman maybe possibly going evil, Galadriel and Gandalf almost dying, and lots of other stuff like that. The problem with those storylines isn't that they exist, mind, it's just that they are so clearly so much more important than our main plotline that no amount of speeches from Gandalf about how crucial Erebor is can convince me that the main plot isn't wasting my time. The big stuff is happening elsewhere! Come on, guys! Stop wasting time!

And speaking of wasting time, we come to my biggest joy in this movie and also my greatest despair: Tauriel's storyline.

As I established in my review of The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug, I am not a Tauriel hater. In fact I freaking love her. She's great. She's a character who single-handedly addresses the really annoying gender disparity in Tolkien's work while also pointing out the inherent classism - after all, except for Sam, all of the members of the Fellowship are of royal or noble houses. Tauriel is a lower class female elf. And she's also a badass. It's great.

The problem I have with her storyline isn't so much that it's defined primarily by a romantic relationship, because her thing with Kili is both adorable and relevant to the plot, but because the film keeps trying to shove her into a love triangle that is just so unconvincing. While her chemistry with Kili is real and touching, her interactions with Legolas make you feel like both actors very much had to poop while filming the scene and wanted to get it done as soon as possible.

Which is, for the record, not an indictment of Orlando Bloom or Evangeline Lilly's acting skills. They're both fantastic actors who were both deeply opposed to the studio pressure to turn their story into a romantic one. So I'm thinking there might be some Stewart and Pattinson level sabotage going on. Or the writing is just that clunky. Either one.

What makes all of this more frustrating though is the way that Legolas and Tauriel's "love story" is so integral to the plot of the film. Tauriel follows the dwarves to Laketown in order to deal with the orc threat in the previous film, if you recall, but then Legolas follows her because he loves her. And while she's clearly into Kili, enough to heal him and save him and obsess over him, Legolas persistently ignores all of that. After the destruction of Laketown he either intentionally or obliviously steps all over their moment so that he can grab Tauriel and drag her off on a reconnaissance mission.

Here's the thing: Tauriel's love story with Kili is plenty tragic without adding in a spurned lover. They're separated by a lot of things already: being born into societies that hate each other, being from opposed races, being of radically different social classes, having completely different lifespans, etc. You don't have to add the love triangle thing in too. It's gratuitous.

Aside from the love triangle, though, I really do appreciate Tauriel in this movie. I'm pretty sure she gets more screentime than Bilbo himself, but I don't resent that. She's a great character. Capable, resourceful, incredibly badass, and so earnestly good. She's one of the few purely heroic characters in this story, and it's wonderful seeing her come into her own and kick some major ass. Also, it's thanks to her character that the film passes the Bechdel Test (albeit by a slim margin).

In other words, Tauriel is the female character I always wanted from a Tolkien story, and I really don't care that she's not "authentic". She's defined primarily by her actions, instead of being defined by who her father is and who she's going to marry like most of them are. She's an action star, but doesn't make that a reason why she would have to forfeit her femininity. And she refuses to let anyone dictate how she feels and who she feels it for. She will even defy her king in the name of love.

The sheer wonderfulness that is her character is a big part of why I am so annoyed that Peter Jackson and company didn't do more with her. I mean, you could argue that they already did too much, since she is one of the biggest parts of the story and she's an invented character, but I think we could have gone further. No, don't have Tauriel save Kili, because he does canonically die, and therefore end the line of Durin, but at least don't make her a damsel while you're doing it. There are lots of ways to tragically kill Kili without having to make Tauriel suddenly powerless and helpless.

Or, while you're establishing that Tauriel is an amazing tracker and having her get intel that the armies desperately need, you could have given her her own freaking horse instead of having her share with Legolas. Just a little change like that would have made all the difference in her story.

Heck, why not have Tauriel able to pull off the same sort of ridiculous elf-stunts that Legolas is famous for? He gets an entire scene where he climbs up a series of rocks in freefall in order to get back onto solid ground and kill an ogre. Why not have Tauriel do that? Anything would be better than having her knocked prettily unconscious and being out for the rest of the fight.

It's funny, because my problems with Tauriel's story are really the opposite of my problems with the rest of the film. I wanted this film to be a bit less - and probably to have been combined with the other two films in order to smoosh down to two reasonably lengthed films and cut out all the filler - but I want Tauriel's story to be much more. I want there to be more time spent focusing on Bilbo, but I also want more of Tauriel in the main role. I want the film to steer away from super cliched plot devices and storytelling ideas, but I also really wanted Tauriel and Kili to die in each other's arms.*

If you combine all of them, though, I think what I'm really saying is that I wanted this movie and this whole series to take me seriously as a consumer. Not to pander to what they think I like - gigantic battle scenes and outrageous special effects with some bonus comedy cross-dressing - but what actually makes the story more heart-wrenching and emotionally relevant. Bringing it back down to what matters most: the relationships.

In this movie, the relationships we care about are the only reason to watch. We watch this to see how Thorin and Bilbo will end, to see what happens to Tauriel and Kili, to see what becomes of Bard and his family. We're in this for the relationships, for the feelings, and that's not a bad thing. I just wish that Peter Jackson understood that the feelings are a lot more important than the quality of the effects.

Maybe then we could have gotten the movies and the Tauriel story that we deserve.

Also Bard is good. He can stay.
*No, but seriously, how else are you going to explain why Legolas never mentions the apparent love of his freaking life once in Lord of the Rings? Either make her not a love interest, which would be ideal, or let her die with the dwarf she actually loved. Or both. Both is good. I'm a sucker for a sad ending.


  1. What are your thoughts on a Tauriel movie? I'm sure other folks besides Bilbo did important stuff around the time of the Hobbit.

    1. I would cry tears of sheer joy over a Tauriel movie and then go see it about fifteen bajillionty times even if it was terrible.

  2. While her chemistry with Kili is real and touching, her interactions with Legolas make you feel like both actors very much had to poop while filming the scene and wanted to get it done as soon as possible.

    That's probably how Evangeline Lilly actually felt; she's joked since than next time she gets a gig, she's going to have "No love triangles" written into her contract.

    In other words, Tauriel is the female character I always wanted from a Tolkien story, and I really don't care that she's not "authentic".

    Well, Tolkien himself thought he should have included more female presence in his work (especially Arwen's role in Lord of the Rings). So in a sense, adding Tauriel is authentic to what his vision became.

    There are lots of ways to tragically kill Kili without having to make Tauriel suddenly powerless and helpless.

    She had to go a long way to reach him, and go through a lot of orcs (and a lot of twisting hallways) to do it. There's no reason why she couldn't simply have been too late.

    I also really wanted Tauriel and Kili to die in each other's arms.

    Or perhaps too late and grievously wounded, having kept going through badassery laced with love.

    1. I feel really bad for Evangeline Lilly actually. Because she's made it very clear that she was not signed up for a love triangle, and they forced it on her, and she's too polite to tell them all to go to hell. But she's toooootally thinking it.

      I like this logic. This is good logic. Tauriel just makes the whole thing better, so it's nice to think that Tolkien is up there somewhere slapping his forehead and going, "Why didn't I think of that?!"

      YES. I would love a "she shows up just as he's breathing his last and they declare love and then she weeps and passes out or something" ending. Totally on board for that.

  3. I actually liked the love triangle in Desolation of Smaug, because of the element of Elvish classism as represented by Thranduill's "don't give him any hope" (speaking of which, I really liked Thranduill and his "is he mentally unstable?" element in that movie).

    Not so much in Five Armies. Especially since the long reconnaissance section of the movie where they went up to Mount Gundabad had literally no pay-off and ended up being completely pointless when the Eagles showed up to kill the army they were coming to warn about.

    1. I like the Elvish classism, since that's something I've wondered about since I was a kid and learned the difference between Quenya and Sindarin, but I was just super not into the actual love triangle. I'd be all on board for Thranduil *thinking* that Legolas is in love with Tauriel and being bonkers about it while Legolas and Tauriel are utterly mystified...

      And regarding Gundabad, yes. Exactly. So annoying.

  4. Sorry, to add-

    I'd recommend looking up what Tolkien wrote about Thranduill's father, Oropher, in the Last Alliance conflict. It makes Thranduill getting a bunch of his people killed over a stupid reason that's 100% his fault into some rather dark humor.

  5. I didn't mind the Tauriel wrap-up as much as I was dreading I would, mainly because of the actual chemistry going on between her and Kili as opposed to her and Captain Obvious. And like you say she's a genuinely heroic figure in a story of people serving their own interests, which helps a lot. But yes, next time, no triangle :) I loved having her and Legolas be comrades, it was such a nice dynamic, and then they had to go give him an unrequited crush *sigh*

    I agree with your focus on the relationships. When people have asked me if I recommend the movie, by reply is that the great bits are great and the other bits are fine. Inevitably the 'other' bits are the big faceless battles-by-numbers with CGI Dain headbutting everybody. Maybe it's pretty but I don't really care. As soon as we zoom in on a little group, or even a pair of characters I sat up and took notice. Suddenly I was invested. I feel the same about the first two films - all the strongest scenes involve two characters in tense dialogue (usually Bilbo and Gollum/Smaug/Thorin) trying to get what they want. I think it was a very smart move to swiftly take focus away from the actual Battle of the Five Armies and place it firmly on our four 'line of Durin' dwarves + elf/hobbit backup. Those are the guys we genuinely care about, and that's where the action if going to touch us most deeply.

    1. I am definitely down for Tauriel and Legolas as bros. They make great bros. But terrible love interests for each other. As for the wrapup, I was actually pretty okay with the scene where Tauriel confronts Thranduil as she cries over Kili. That's a good scene. But not worth the triangle. I really liked how Tauriel and Kili worked together and I would have preferred just plain more of that.

      And yeah, the characters and relationships are what make this story work. To de-emphasize them is to lose the whole thing. I am personally really annoyed that after the huge deal Bilbo and Thorin make of the acorn in that one scene we never get to see a shot of Bilbo planting it. Or even sitting next to the eventual tree. Missed opportunity.

    2. The scene with Tauriel and Thranduil would have worked just as well without the love triangle. She's already helped the dwarves, she's already called him out for his disdain and cowardice, he's already said her feelings for Kili couldn't be real - none of that needs Legolas - indeed, the love triangle obfuscates the real lesson Tauriel is teaching.

    3. That's a good point. Yeah, there's a lot that could have been salvaged if the love triangle were cut, and not a lot that would need to be thrown out. Which I think just further illustrates that it was a late addition and sucks.