WARNING: Some slight spoilers below
The final journey to Middle Earth has come to an end, the last goodbye to Tolkien’s world as told through director Peter Jackson. The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies is the final installment in Jackson’s The Hobbit trilogy.
I attended a marathon of all three films, so I am able to view the film in the context of a trilogy.
Unfortunately BOFA stars off as a bit of a letdown, for Smaug is killed within the first 10 minutes, before the title credits. This is quite an anticlimax, for The Desolation of Smaug had an amazing buildup. The ending left you reeling with anticipation, with Bilbo leaning over the mountain watching Smaug fly off to Laketown in shock, “What have we done?” This washout is made all the more apparent viewing The Desolation of Smaug immediately beforehand.
With Smaug brushed aside, the ensuing drama between the Elves, Laketown, and Thorin commences, a buildup of taut tension. Lee Pace as Thranduil particularly shines as he is given more screen time as the elegant elf king. There is a striking fantasy sequence where Thorin grapples with his overcoming greed, literally drowning in the gold he so covets. This may have been an easy way and cop-out to get him to change, but it is still well done.
Most of the film is entirely comprised with the battle. It has tons of lavish and focused action, and though it is the entirety of the film it sustained very well. Not too overwhelming, and filled with exciting sequences (some a bit tounge-in-cheek and slapstick- Legolas riding on a bat, defying gravity by prancing up falling rocks, Bard riding a cart into a troll…) We are introduced to tons of new creatures that we haven’t seen in the Middle Earth film universe before, such as rams and giant worms. (Though they disappear quickly after they are introduced)
Legolas and Tauriel are given a lot of focus in the second half of the film, shoving aside characters like Beorn, which will upset many book fans. The emotional impact of the final events at Ravenhill is quite diminished by the contrast intercutting between Legolas and Tauriel. The parting of certain characters is somber and shocking, even if you know the ending it still hurts. However, it could have packed a lot more powerful punch if not shoved aside to focus on the elves’ plotlines.
But the biggest grievance has to be that the dwarves have no real ending or lament. The characters that do die are not given a proper burial scene, or any farewell at all. There is only a short scene between Bilbo and the dwarves that are left saying goodbye. It’s a shame that they were given a bit more development in the first film, but fell quick to the wayside and given nothing in the end.
The Battle of the Five Armies is a bit rushed, with so much action it goes by in the blink of an eye. This may have been due to studio pressures urging Jackson to cut it down. The first film An Unexpected Journey is the longest, and the films get shorter and shorter, BOFA being the shortest. I believe the Extended Edition of Battle of the Five Armies will offer a lot more.
Visually the entire trilogy is a mixed bag. There is an incredible amount of depth to many of the shots, the art direction and computer animation of the sets and world is simply astounding and beautiful. But my biggest gripe would have to be Azog, his computer animation was a poor choice. I feel he would’ve been much scarier and realistic if they had used prosthetics instead. He often looks incredibly fake, which is surprising since they were able to so extraordinarily create Smaug. There’s also a CGI Billy Connelly, as Thorin’s cousin, which looks strange against real-life actors. Although the CGI choice may have been due to the actor’s illnesses.
Narratively, as a whole, I feel it was a good choice to make The Hobbit a trilogy. Many people wanted to see The Hobbit on screen, but also a Lord of the Rings bridge film. The Hobbit trilogy serves as both- telling the story of The Hobbit and a prequel leading up to the events of The Lord of the Rings (albeit in an, at times, overlong and bloated way) The actual battle of the five armies did deserve it’s own film, rather than being squeezed in with the other events in The Hobbit story. Jackson used all of these storylines and extended them, ultimately giving us more time in the Middle Earth universe.
Viewing the trilogy as a whole, it becomes apparent that it is really just one adventure after the next, one fight scene or conflict after the other. Most of the character development is shorehorned in, or not developed well at all. At times, it can feel more like a video game than a film. But at other times that can be a heck of a lot of fun.
The Hobbit is not quite the epic good vs. evil story like The Lord of the Rings. It is based on a children’s book, and is a simple story. Bilbo goes on a quest and returns happy. Unlike Frodo, who goes through the ultimate horrors on his journey to save the world. In the end, Peter Jackson’s Hobbit trilogy was a worthy endeavor. It may not be a perfect adaptation, and could have stood to do a lot more development between the dwarves and Bilbo, but it has a lot of incredible sequences as well. Particularly Gollum and Bilbo telling riddles in the dark, and Bilbo meeting Smaug.
The Battle of the Five Armies is action-packed, rousing, and a lot of fun. Martin Freeman is pitch perfect as the brave Bilbo Baggins, leading a worthy trilogy that gave us all more time to immerse in our favorite fantasy world, the beautiful Middle Earth.