The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

Posted: December 18, 2014 in Movie Reviews

Martin Freeman_The Hobbit:BOTFA

After a grueling and long process to secure the film rights for J.R.R. Tolkien’s beloved book “The Hobbit” back in 2008, famed Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson announced that Tolkien’s tale would finally be realized. Fans of the world of Middle-earth were exuberant to say the least at the thought. Two years ago, fans flocked to the theater to see the first of Jackson’s epic Hobbit trilogy. Though An Unexpected Journey got the trilogy off to a rather leisurely start, last year’s The Desolation of Smaug proved to be a cavorting and ambitious middle-act with many of the signature Lord of the Rings elements and a tone more to what film enthusiasts have come to expect from the series. Now the saga is complete; and just as Bilbo’s journey and Frodo’s before came to a close, so must our journey through the Middle-earth we have come to so enduringly love come to an end.

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Summary: (No spoilers)
Picking up where The Desolation of Smaug so abruptly left off, the dragon Smaug has been awoken and his deathly attention has been turned to Lake-Town. As his fire engulfs the fishing village in flames, Bard the Bowman (Luke Evans) proves his valiance by slaying the creature. Meanwhile, the company of dwarves and the hobbit Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) are finally able to enter Erebor, the mountain containing the legendary wealth of dwarvish treasure. But when Bard and the refuges of Lake-Town show up demanding the gold that was promised to them in order to rebuild their homes, sheer greed ensnares Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) and twists his mind as he descends into madness.

Meanwhile, the elves of Mirkwood arrive and demand their payment promised to them by Thorin’s grandfather. As tempers clash between the men of Lake-Town, the elves, and the dwarves, Azog the Defiler covertly leads his forces towards the Lonely Mountain in order to gain it in the conquest of Middle-earth. As the vast armies converge onto one location, imminent war erupts. And poor Bilbo Baggins soon finds himself immersed in the ultimate battle for Middle-earth.

Also starring: Ian McKellen, Orlando Bloom, Evangeline Lilly, Benedict Cumberbatch, Lee Pace, Cate Blanchett, Hugo Weaving, Ian Holm, Billy Connolly, Sylvester McCoy, and Christopher Lee.

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It’s so unfortunate that the Hobbit films have been met with such animosity by some of the original trilogy’s more ardent enthusiasts, because the films really are quite special. Especially once you get over two imperative facts: that the story is quite different in many respects than the source material, and that they are lighter in tone than The Lord of the Rings. Once you come to terms with and fully understand these obvious points, then you allow yourself to become immersed in the rich world so articulately created.

The Hobbit: BOTFA

For those who grumble that An Unexpected Journey felt slow and contained too many upbeat moments and cheery songs, or thought even still that The Desolation of Smaug was caricatured and far removed from the established tone of the original films, should be relatively pleased with The Battle of the Five Armies. By now, it’s so well-known and hackneyed that it’s “different from the book” that I won’t even bother mentioning it further. If you still have not come to grips with it, then either get on board or get off. There’s no riding the fence with this trilogy.

However, this doesn’t mean that all the changes made are completely warranted. While one could easily fill an entire article with thoughts and debatable conjectures as to the altering of the book (look for that article soon), there are several fundamental aspects of the changed story to be mentioned.

The film opens with Smaug’s attack on Lake-Town and Bard’s gallant, intrepid actions. The entire 15 minute-long scene is executed to perfection and should satisfy even the most avid of Tolkien aficionados. From there, we’re treated to an enthralling subplot revolving around Thorin Oakenshield and his descent into lunacy. Armitage plays the character with a brilliant bravado and instills more intensity into the character than in the two previous films. His interactions with Bilbo are perfectly executed and their relationship embellishes the writings of Tolkien. You sense this discomforting internal struggle with Bilbo who loves and trusts Thorin dearly, but must watch from the sidelines as a ravenous, insatiable sickness and lust for the Arkenstone lays hold to his loyal companion’s mind. For certain, character development is crucial in this final entry of the Hobbit trilogy. My only wish is that there were more of those kinds of moments.

Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage_The Hobbit: BOTFA

Meanwhile, Legolas and Tauriel trek across Middle-earth in search of the foul orcs and their malicious activities. Like in Desolation of Smaug, Tauriel adds a much-needed feminine touch to this female-devoid story. Legolas’ transformation from a passive, uncaring character to the person he becomes in The Lord of the Rings continues, as Tauriel’s “we’re part of this world” attitude sways Legolas in the right direction. As imminent war is brooding in the east, the wizard Gandalf is still held prisoner by the Necromancer in the stronghold of Dol Guldur. His rescue by the White Council (comprised of Galadriel, Elrond, and Saruman) beautifully ties in this more-composed story with the grimmer events of The Lord of the Rings.

As the five armies converge on Erebor, the actual essence of the book begins to emerge. Once the battle commences, however, Peter Jackson goes to work filling in the brief five-page account (which is more of an outline) of the battle (which plays out more like a skirmish). Giant Were-worms burrow tunnels for Azog’s forces to attack; the refuges of Lake-Town suddenly find themselves under siege; dwarves ride into battle on armored mountain goats; and the climax of the film takes place high above the action on a place called Raven-Hill where many of the central characters have their final showdown with the film’s antagonists. Though these scenarios are, again, “not in the book”, Tolkien was extremely vague when it came to details surrounding the battle (especially since Bilbo becomes unconscious for the majority of the conflict). Out of all three of the Hobbit chapters, this film was the most ripe to interpretation and artistic license.

At just north of 2 hours and 20 minutes, this is the shortest of all the Middle-earth films. Which, understandably, is logical considering less happens in this section of the book (the film follows roughly about 1/5 of the overall book). However, as unlikely as it sounds, the film still feels incomplete. Even though the events of the book’s finale have been utilized to the max and much fabricated material has been inserted, there are still—–quite surprisingly—–several lacking story arcs. Core characters show up either before the battle or during the battle and are never heard from again. Significant events from the book are never fully realized and leave you with partial, half-concepts that should have been concluded. And before you know it, Bilbo is back in Bag-End and the film has come to a close.

It isn’t that the ending seems wholly rushed, though it’s more abrupt than the lengthy (but equally effective) ending of The Return of the King. The film merely feels incomplete. My only consolation: the extended edition. Unlike the first two extended editions of the Hobbit films, this film is in desperate need of at least 20-30 minutes of additional material to create a fully realized and thorough experience.

Ian McKellen, Cate Blanchett_The Hobbit: BOTFA

But despite its microscopic flaws and seemingly unfinished narrative, The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies is a beautiful, rich, and poignant film that effectively concludes various story arcs and personal character journeys established in the previous films. Though no new characters are introduced (save Billy Connolly’s Dain Ironfoot—–a fiery, red-haired, Scottish-accented dwarf who inserts much-needed humorous comicality), opportunity is taken to fully develop the already established characters. Bard’s personal journey continues as he assumes the responsibility of leadership in the absence of the crooked Master of Lake-Town, and his duty to his children drives him to accomplish incredible things.

And Bilbo’s own path from a quiet, polite hobbit to a warrior with a fuller understanding of the world around him truly comes to a culmination. Though often lost in the shuffle of epic battle scenes and Lord of the Rings tie-ins, the main character is given ample opportunity to shine through in ways totally respectful of Tolkien’s original intent. And Gandalf? Well, he’s Gandalf. The grey wizard is just as calculated and charming as he is in all the rest of the films.

For those who also criticized the previous Hobbit films with their video game-like visuals should see this film and be pleasantly surprised. With nearly an entire year to perfect and refine the CGI, Weta Digital’s visual splendor has never looked better. With battle shots and camera angles that appear straight out of The Return of the King, Peter Jackson ambitiously ascends to long-forgotten heights to achieve the best cinematic experience since the ending of his last trilogy. Epic in nature and exhilarating in scale.

In a nutshell:

Having now seen the entire story of “The Hobbit” fully realized, I can honestly say how incredible it’s truly been to partake in this grand three-part story. Though these films aren’t nearly as effective nor as engaging as The Lord of the Rings, you can absolutely see the loving care and devotion that has been instilled by the film makers throughout this sprawling epic. Just as the song “The Last Goodbye” at the end of the film implies, so must we now indefinitely say goodbye to our Middle-earth. Thank you, Peter Jackson and all involved, for not only fulfilling this reviewer’s 10-year-long dream, but for delivering a film saga that will be viewed and enjoyed by generations of enthusiastic fans to come.

9 stars

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