“The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies” (2014)

hobbit-battle-five-armies-bilbo-posterThe Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (2014)
Directed by: Peter Jackson
Running time: 144 minutes

Here we are: a new year, a new Hobbit to review. And this one is allegedly the BIG one. “The defining chapter” as the poster states, even though I would have thought the defining chapter of a story about a bunch of Dwarves trying to reclaim their home from a dragon would be when they actually confront the dragon. But then again, what would I know! As I mentioned when writing about Desolation of Smaug, there was not much story left to tell from The Hobbit novel so I did not know what would be contained within Armies. Well, now I do know and there was somehow two and a half hours of it!

OK, and I shall throw up a mild SPOILER WARNING here as well. Sorry.

Now Showing this week is The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies directed once again by Peter Jackson. Opening with what really should have been the climactic conclusion of the last film, Armies begins with a bang as Smaug the dragon’s destructive tirade of Lake Town is ended by Bard the Bowman piercing his hide with the last Black Arrow in existence. With the mountain reclaimed, Thorin and his company begin their search for the Arkenstone, the glowing gem that honours its owner as king under the mountain. But word has spread that Smaug is dead and other forces begin to converge on the mountain, thus leading the titular battle.

First off, the way they managed to find another two and a half hours to fill this story is because of all the “prequel to Lord of the Rings” junk the studio decided to add so they could get three opening box office weekends of money rather than the originally planned two. And again, all of these scenes are pointless and add nothing to the main story. Sure the fight scenes involving Elrond and Saruman against Ring Wraiths were cool and all, but there was no tension in them because the introduction of Sauron is not a shock and all those characters are in Lord of the Rings so we know that nothing bad is going to happen to any of them. This has been consistent throughout this entire trilogy, and by this point it is just frustrating.

The rest of the film is really a build up to an incredibly lengthy battle scene, which in Lord of the Rings worked really well because every character involved were ones we’d grown to know, like and actually give a damn about across the previous films. But in Armies, the only ones who’ve been developed enough for us to actually like are all ones we know the fates of in Lord of the Rings so they’re automatically safe from harm. We know Bilbo survives to have an eleventy-first birthday; that Gandalf goes on to wage the war to end all wars, and Balin the Dwarf (one of the only Dwarves that is given any emotional depth) is found buried in the mines of Moria in Fellowship of the Ring. So the only stakes we are given are whether or not Thorin, after a suddenly convenient bout of “dragon sickness” (aka GREED), will come around and actually share the spoils he promised to those who’ve helped him. Suffice it to say, it doesn’t really make for compelling drama.

But, in a film that’s entire premise is centred around an epic battle, surely the visual spectacle makes up the difference! Well, not quite…

Don’t get me wrong, Armies in no way looks awful. But the CGI crowd scenes and characters looked overly fake, more fake than I’ve seen in any movie of late. It’s as though they were running low on their visual effects budget but had a quota of characters to include so they skimped on the details to fit them all in. Smaug looked as amazing as he did in the last film, but fast forward to the actual battle and you will see Thorin’s cousin Dain, a CGI Dwarf voiced by Billy Connolly, show up and he looked abysmal. He did not look real at all; like something out of a video game cutscene, but a circa 2005 video game cutscene. I know I’m picking on one example here, but it was so jarring that it feels necessary.

Look, we’re three movies in here, so you already know your position on The Hobbit trilogy. Will the third installment save it for those who’ve been disappointed already? Not by a long shot. Is it the best of the three? Not in my opinion, but it is certainly the most quickly paced and pulse pounding one so it makes up for the tedium of the previous two.

Personally, I have not been overly impressed by The Hobbit trilogy. It was overly bloated by unnecessary prequel links, and added side plots no one cared about because the films lacked any sort of characterisation for at least ten of the thirteen Dwarves. But, as I have said before, at least Jackson and his team nailed the most important part of the story: the dragon. Smaug was an amazing feat of special effects, and his conversations with Bilbo in Desolation have stuck in my mind as a cinematic experience to behold much like the Balrog on the bridge in Fellowship of the Ring.

But maybe thirty minutes of brilliance among eight hours of film? Still not a great result.

See you next time!

Check out other sweet, dragon-like things by following Tom on Twitter: @tomdheath
Also, he co-hosts a podcast of newsy-type stuff and things called Unnatural Selection. It will pleasure your ears in ways no amount of K-Pop can!

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