Nobody can take away from Peter Jackson, the fact that he has gone the extra mile to give us an extensive adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s literary work. The Fellowship of the Ring screened in every cinema around the world back in 2001, and now, The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, seems to tie a knot in Peter Jackson’s exploration of Middle Earth – at least for now (there is always Silmarillion).
The comparisons to The Lord of the Rings movies are tired and old, and lends nothing new to the discussion about The Hobbit movies, so I will avoid those as best as I can. While I adore both The Fellowship of the Ring and Two Towers, I have quite a few reservations about Jackson’s other work. Especially when it comes to An Unexpected Journey and The Desolation of Smaug. Therefore, it was with no small amount of scepticism I entered the screening of The Battle of the Five Armies this week, and while much of my overall criticism surrounding the aesthetics and audiovisuals are still present, it managed to entertain me from beginning to end.
Smaug is loose on Lake-Town, kicking the movie off were The Desolation of Smaug ended. Destruction, fire and death is everywhere, and Bard (Luke Evans) has to fight the devilish dragon (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch) all by himself. As the fire licks the black skies above, only interrupted by the occasional view of raging dragonscales, the battle seems larger than life and hugely important. Back in the mountain, Bilbo (Martin Freeman) and his dwarven companions has their own issues, as greed and power has already corrupted the mind of Thorin (Richard Armitage), causing him to lash out against his friends.
With the mountain abandoned by its former inhabitant, quite a few parties wants to take it for themselves. Orcs, elves, dwarves and humans clash in a huge scale battle at the foot of the mountain. It has been stated somewhere, by someone, that this battle sequence takes up about 45 minutes of the entire run time (144 min), and it sure felt like it did. Whether this is good or bad, is entirely up to you. I found it somewhat entertaining, but the non-stop camera movements, and entire shots composed from CGI characters and actions, become tiresome very quickly.
It is also the CGI and overall visual aesthetics of the movie(s) that really drags it down for me. Obvious CGI does not equal bad in my mind, but with The Hobbit movies, Peter Jackson has decided to use one of the most uninspired color pallets in the most recent years of cinema. Combine this with the glossy and marble-esque texture, and it looks more like a poor mans attempt at animation, than a full blown feature film with stunning locations and strong performances from actors like Ian McKellan, Martin Freeman, Lee Pace and more. Orlando Bloom’s, Legolas is difficult to watch at times, especially early on in this entry. One could argue it tries to encapsulate the adventures feel of the books, but as the movie takes the thematics in a much darker direction, so should the aesthetics follow.
For those of who is not bothered by this, the rest of the movie delivers on many levels. There are tons of fan service moments for those who have followed the movies, from short appearances by a handful of characters, references to future characters (one of which feels inconceivably dumb and forced) and shots of Gandalf that seems taken straight from the original trilogy.
It is a nice and fitting conclusion to The Hobbit trilogy, tying a nice knot in not only the story of Bilbo Baggins, but also what is to come. While The Lord of the Rings trilogy seemed to be something right of the bat – a cinematic hallmark, a new standard for adventure and fantasy in movies – The Hobbit comes of as pure mindless entertainment. Not striving to be anything else, they work their magic just as well as one should expect. While there is some wasted potential to be found, its difficult to argue against their overall qualities. I, personally, still cannot get past the aesthetics, but for those who do, I believe The Battle of the Five Armies is just what you are looking for.