The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies ★★★★

I'll start out by saying the exact same thing I said when reviewing The Desolation of Smaug, if you didn't like the other films, don't watch this one. It'll be torture as Jackson approaches his material the exact same way as he does in the other films.

I happen to love the first two parts. I am completely in tune with Jackson's vision of Middle Earth and absolutely love and cherish the time he has allowed me to spend there. The Battle of the Five armies also, once again, confirms that we are not watching a mere adaptation of Tolkien's novel, but a translation of the novel and other materials to transport it to the way Jackson envisaged The Lord of the Rings. By transporting the story to his cinematic universe he has stretched and embellished Tolkien's small story into something darker and operating on a grander scale. I have absolutely no problems with that, in fact, he has done it exceptionally well in the first two films.

When the decision was made to turn this story into a trilogy instead of two parts, Jackson claimed that there was enough story to tell to warrant three films. And after seeing what he had done with part one and two, adding a potentially interesting female character and leaving the story the way he did after part two, I had high hopes for this one as there was still Smaug messing things up and the epic battle to look forward to.

After having seen The Battle of the Five Armies I unfortunately have to come to the conclusion that Jackson was wrong. I guess he listened a bit too much to the criticism he got after Return of the King, that it had 7 endings and didn't know when to quit. The Battle of the Five Armies has one ending. He just stretches it over two and a half hours. He basically had two major events left, with some plot threads running through them. First, Smaug vs Laketown. This takes about fifteen minutes and that is when alarm bells started ringing as I, for the first time ever while visiting Middle Earth, became aware of 'real time'. There were still two hours and fifteen minutes left.

Second, there's the titular battle which fills the remaining running time. If this is really the way Jackson envisaged the justification of a third film then I, unfortunately, feel that this is a very poor choice indeed. He does two things wrong. His creation of Tauriel does not fulfill its potential as it is turned into a shallow and completely superfluous melodramatic affair and he forgets his other, more important characters. There are a couple of truly outstanding scenes and they all involve either Thorin or Bilbo. These are the guys we are invested in and the guys Jackson should have spent more time on. If you're milking every ounce of story here, why not milk Thorin's madness more? It would have suited the darker approach really well. What's there is fine, but it feels like an afterthought and could have carried a lot more weight. Freeman is, again, outstanding as Bilbo, I just wished he would have gotten more moments to shine. The second thing is a completely disjointed focus. It's not that the pacing is off, it is actually the best paced film of the three, but it is the way the narrative focuses on these two major events left in the story and how it bridges them. It's like the hop, skip and jump event in athletics. It takes two short jumps and a very long one to get from A to B and that felt uneven.

And yet.

It's a goddamn epic battle of two hours. As difficult as it is to step over mistakes made this time, I honestly cannot say that I was bored once. The opening fiery devastation by Smaug is truly spectacular. Jackson's knack for creating fantastic set pieces features prominently in this film and the destruction of Lake Town is definitely one of my favourites. The continuous onslaught of the central battle is fantastic and just when you feel it lingers a bit too much, it changes perspective to bring yet another fantastic action sequence. This still is something I love in these films, these huge armies having a go at each other with the camera just sweeping over them. Throw in Billy Connoly on a goat and my heart is won over pretty easily.

This whole Hobbit project has felt like a fanboy's pet project and this films is that feeling reaching maximum overdrive. As many problems as that brings along, it still has an enormously infectious effect on me. The scene with Gandalf & Co in Dol Guldur is just astonishing and one of the best pieces of fan fiction I've ever seen, it's also probably the best scene in the film. Jackson still treats the source material with respect, adding lovely details from the story, giving sly winks to the Tolkien fanatics in the audience.

It's over now (assuming they're wise enough to leave The Silmarillion alone). Six films spanning some 13 years. I've always felt the Hobbit films were never given the proper chance they deserved. Jackson was firmly set aside as a money grabber and most criticisms I saw had little to do with the actual films, but more with the way they were created. I have often wondered how these films would have been received had they not been called The Hobbit and were not based on a book but written by a couple of Lord of the Rings fanatics as a precursor to that particular trilogy. I honestly don't know if that would have made a difference, I just know that that is how I have experienced these films. Sure, it doesn't end on a pitch perfect note, but what a fantastic ride it was yet again.

Too bad it's over.

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