REVIEW: The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies (2014)
As I sat down in the cinema and prepared myself to say goodbye to Middle Earth one last time, a wave of sadness hit me. This final instalment of director Peter Jackson’s epic drama signalled the end of a franchise that had been a huge influence on my childhood years. ‘The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies’ was set to be the last triumphant hurrah for Middle Earth, but sadly, the reality was far more frustrating than I anticipated.
In truth, from the moment they announced that ‘The Hobbit’ would be elaborately spread across three films, any excitement I felt was tinged with a bittersweet scepticism. The way they divided the story dictated that this final film would focus around the epic battle between the five armies of Middle Earth. In the relatively short book however, the passage depicting the fight for Smaug’s gold is no longer than a page or so. This film seamlessly continues from the point at which the last one finished, with Smaug the fearsome dragon bearing down upon Laketown. The ensuing fifteen minutes are admittedly up there with the best that the film has to offer in terms of full on action and visual effects. But I had to question the tactics involved in the way the previous film built up an aura surrounding Smaug, presenting the dragon as an almighty foe, only to see him defeated within the preliminary scenes of this instalment. I mean, this mighty villain just faded away along with the opening credits, rendering all those promotional posters meaningless. Admittedly, this is the point at which Smaug dies in the book, but for some, myself included, this is the climactic moment of the story. By splitting up the events over the three films, the production of ‘The Hobbit’ series struggles to recreate a lot of the excitement and intensity you experience when reading the book. The greatest foe standing between the dwarf king Thorin and his prize, was no more, gone in the blink of an eye, yet another example of a poor transition between books and the big screen.
The plot definitely lacked a certain tension and cutting edge, offering a rather linear storyline. With the majority of the film consumed by continuous, and at times monotonous, battle scenes, there was very little opportunity to form an emotional connection to the characters and their situations. There is no denying that once again, Jackson’s portrayal of Middle Earth is a visual triumph, but by neglecting the crucial character development, I felt ‘The Hobbit: Five Armies’ became almost lost within itself, somewhat overwhelmed by the occasion of concluding the whole franchise. This said, the battle scenes were far from disappointing. Vast and expansive passing shots over the valley, awash with sword and shield conflict are visually stunning, and the intense nature of the battle left me refusing to blink incase I missed anything. Unlike the jaw-dropping, unforgettable moments in the ‘Lord Of The Rings’ series however, because of the sheer number of battle shots, the ‘Five Armies’ scenes all seem to roll together into one, meaning that there are no distinct, stand-out moments that I could take away from the experience. Due to Jackson’s commitment to using various different cameras to shoot with and a heavy reliance on CGI, a move that was condemned by Viggo Mortensen (Aragorn; Lord Of The Rings), I do fear a lot of the authenticity is compromised and therefore I have to side with Viggo on this one. Iconic battle scenes in original trilogy were so impacting because they felt real, a sensation that was disappointingly absent in ‘The Battle Of The Five Armies’.
There was a handful of characters that stood out from the masses, and I thought Richard Armitage was nothing short of fantastic as Thorin, the dwarf king. The expert manner in which Armitage portrays his character’s demise into a loathsome and greedy dwarf, to then return as the film’s tragic hero, evoked a feeling of great sadness in me, a tribute to Armitage’s brilliant performance. Both Dean O’Gorman and Aidan Turner, who played Fili and Kili respectively, as well as Evangeline Lily, should be celebrated for their roles in the film. Martin Freeman, as the star of the show Bilbo Baggins, maintains the cheeky nature of the character that we have all come to love. In the face of adversity, Bilbo is truly a character that we can empathise with and root for, although I feel he too is guilty of becoming lost in his own franchise.
All in all, ‘The Battle Of The Five Armies’ was at times pleasing, yet overall, an unfulfilling finale to Peter Jackson’s Middle Earth Saga. There is no doubt that ‘The Lord Of The Rings’ trilogy will stand the test of time and remain one of the greatest set of films ever made. To compare ‘The Hobbit’ trilogy against the legendary series is natural, but ultimately unfair. This film, and its counterparts, never scaled the heights that its predecessors did. But then again who expected them to? This final offering felt like it was more focused on becoming a successful prequel to ‘The Fellowship Of The Ring’, with many a nostalgic reference back to the original films. As a result, in terms of a resolution to the story of Bilbo and the dwarves, it left a lot to be desired. ‘The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies’ sadly seems to have lost a little bit of that magic, which made the fantastical stories of Middle Earth so special, to so many people, a dissatisfying conclusion to a 13 year journey I so greatly treasured.
DIRECTOR: PETER JACKSON
STARRING: MARTIN FREEMAN, IAN MCKELLEN, RICHARD ARMITAGE