On (Not) Keeping the Faith in Five Armies

via FanPop

via FanPop

The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies was not great. It was fun, but it was not great. I enjoyed the film, but not that much. It even brought me to serious emotional responses, but left me ultimately unmoved. There are parts of the film that are excellent, like Thorin’s magical mystery tour on a gold-plated ice rink, courtesy of dragon sickness, or the stellar work of the Committee to Evict All Servants of Morgoth. Other parts are middling to good, like the combat sequences, or anything with Lee Pace’s eyebrows. Other parts just suck.

Stephen Fry is funny, but a waste of my time and yours. Tauriel-Kili-Legolas is also a waste of time. My goal here, however, is not to review the film; this has already been done, and ably so. In the wake of the film, I have been subject to so many opinions on it, many of which take the form of “It was obvious that Tauriel’s presence in the films was going to detract from the plot/message/cohesiveness/whatever, she’s not in the books.” This notion is one of my biggest pet peeves about how people consume art: the predilection to judge a work of art as a reflection of its source material.

It supports the quintessential comment for a stodgy fan of any book or comic that has been made into a movie. “Well, in the comics, Earth-1610 Steve Rogers would never have allowed that.” “Peter Dinklage is a good actor, but his casting was a mistake because he’s far too handsome and the Imp of the books is supposed to be repulsive.” Et cetera, et cetera. These are perhaps legitimate complaints, but I’d like to make a bold suggestion: we evaluate each work of art as its own work. Not that any piece of artwork should be above comparison—art being subjective, this is impossible—or that it somehow robs one work to be mentioned in the same breath as its source, but simply that there are better methods to go about determining the quality of art than fidelity. A work’s ability to keep faith with another is a sign only of mastery in reproduction, nothing else.

I can think of several arenas in which this talent is valuable, art restoration being one. Anaplastology, the branch of medicine dealing with prosthetics, is another, but even there, some of the most interesting work does not simply recreate a limb, but makes an artistic transformation. Perhaps that is to the point. The best recreations and derivative works are actually transformative of their source material, acknowledging that sameness is impossible and making intentional changes to a given effect. The Battle of Five Armies actually presents some great object lessons in this, despite the film’s many frustrations.

Continue reading