Should I Watch..? The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies
What's the big deal?
The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies is an action fantasy film released in 2014 and is the final film in Peter Jackson's Middle Earth series. Based on the novel The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien, the film acts as both conclusion to the two earlier Hobbit movies - An Unexpected Journey and The Desolation Of Smaug - as well as a prequel to Jackson's Lord Of The Rings trilogy. The film sees Bilbo and the rest of Thorin Oakenshield's company attempt to defend the Lonely Mountain and its vast treasure from both a vengeful Elven army and a mighty Orc force led by Thorin's nemesis. The movie stars Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, Evangeline Lilly, Lee Pace, Orlando Bloom, James Nesbitt and Ken Stott among many others. Despite mixed reviews, the film still earned an enormous $956 million worldwide and an Academy Award nomination.
What's it about?
Following his accidental release from the Lonely Mountain, the dragon Smaug flies over the helpless community of Laketown and lays waste to it before being slain by Bard the Bowman with the legendary Black Arrow. As survivors make their way to shore, Bard finds himself a reluctant leader of the townsfolk and decides to head toward the Lonely Mountain to seek shelter and recompense from Thorin Oakenshield. With the dragon now slain, Thorin begins his fevered search for the Arkenstone while ordering the entrance to the mountain blocked - much to the dismay of his kinsmen and the hobbit, Bilbo Baggins.
Meanwhile, Gandalf is rescued by the other members of the wizard's White Council and Elrond who escort Gandalf to safety to recover. However, he has no such intention - with the true nature of the evil at Dol Guldur exposed as the formless Sauron, Gandalf knows that a massive Orc army will descend on the Lonely Mountain and slaughter any who stand before them. As Legolas and Tauriel scout the enemy to confirm Gandalf's fears, the Elven forces led by Thranduil also make their way towards the mountain seeking an artefact contained within.
Gandalf The Grey
Bard The Bowman
Smaug / Sauron *
Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson & Guillermo del Toro *
Release Date (UK)
12 December, 2014
Action, Adventure, Fantasy
Academy Award Nominations
Best Sound Editing
What's to like?
Although it's easy for seasoned Tolkien viewers like myself to forget, the quality and detail in the setting is still second-to-none. Every costume feels legitimate, every set is beautifully decorated and every scene is a glorious canvas on which Jackson can paint. You have to applaud the sheer level of enthusiasm and interest in the film, bringing the book to life in a way I doubt Tolkien himself would have imagined.
The film feels much more of an ensemble piece than before with so much going on in so many places. Thankfully, the story is relatively easy to follow as it essentially boils down to an almighty scrap for the Lonely Mountain and the hoard of treasure buried beneath it. Yes, there are numerous sub-plots to try and wrap up such as the budding romance between Kili and Tauriel, the dark changes in Thorin's character and the business with the mysterious necromancer among others. But even viewers used to the minutiae of Tolkien's world should be able to grasp what is happening and, naturally, where it all leads to.
- Lee Pace's parents visited the set and were given cameos as villagers of Lakeside, even filming alongside Ian McKellen. Sadly, their scenes were cut because Pace's father was "hamming it up".
- Billy Boyd co-wrote and performed the film's closing song The Last Goodbye. Boyd played Pippin in the original Lord Of The Rings trilogy.
- Ian McKellen and Cate Blanchett, who played Galadriel, are the only actors to appear in all six Middle-Earth films.
What's not to like?
As much as it pains me to say it, The Battle Of The Five Armies feels a long way from Jackson's earlier heights. The story-telling is muddled and from what I recall, barely featured that much from the book so it almost feels like an original story. And what story is in there is pretty weak, despite the numerous narratives going in to this picture. The action, much like Return Of The King and earlier instalments of this series, is predominantly in CG and it ruins the plausibility of the film. Sweeping camera angles, vast marching armies and impossible numbers of extras are all well and good but it doesn't feel right against the cast, who almost all do a remarkable job of making this feel like a living, breathing world.
However, there are a couple of issues I take with some of the cast. Armitage, having been a determined and righteous dwarf in the previous films, suddenly switches to a treasure-obsessed baddie with little evidence to suggest what might have caused this jarring change in personality. I also didn't like Ryan Gage as Alfrid, who is frankly little more than wet hair away from being Wormtongue and he doesn't seem to fit in anyway once the film moves away from Laketown. Throw in more cameos from recognisable actors like Stephen Fry and Billy Connolly and I found myself wanting the film to be over. It feels less like a satisfying conclusion to a cinematic trilogy and more like a party being thrown by Jackson to say farewell to the books that have given him so much success over the years.
Should I watch it?
Assuming that you've come this far, it should be a foregone conclusion that The Battle Of The Five Armies will be essential viewing - if only to see how the story ends. But for audiences who have watched and loved every one of Jackson's Middle-Earth movies then this does feel a bit of a disappointment. Over-long, bloated with too many characters and with only the barest links to the original novel, it's a sad way for the series to end - perhaps Jackson has out-stayed his welcome in Middle-Earth.
Great For: fans of epic cinema, swordsmen, viewers of the previous movies
Not So Great For: long-time Tolkien readers, cynical viewers, anyone hoping for a cohesive narrative
What else should I watch?
Much as I'd feared, Jackson's second trilogy isn't a patch on his first. The Lord Of The Rings is still the greatest fantasy series of films in history, each film being expertly crafted and brilliantly performed. The Fellowship Of The Ring is the most accessible, introducing most of the principal characters that we'll see as well as being a rollicking adventure full of trolls, goblins, orcs and fiery demons. The second film The Two Towers is actually my favourite of the three, carrying the story down two separate paths involving Frodo and Sam's quest to destroy the ring and their interactions with the vile Gollum while Aragorn, Gimli and Legolas hunt orcs who has captured Merry and Pippin. The Return Of The King concludes the tale with an almighty clash between good and evil with the fate of Middle-Earth hanging in the balance.
By contrast, the preceding films comprising The Hobbit lacked much of the scale and grandeur of the first trilogy despite Jackson roping in old favourites like Legolas (who never appeared in the original book). They also struggle to escape the feeling that there were made more due to studio demand than a passion for the book, which was never going to sustain three films of this length at any rate. However, if you crave anything Tolkien or have an appetite for filler, these films make a worthy watch for any fans of fantasy films.
© 2017 Benjamin Cox