One last time. Back to Middle Earth and the battle that rages for the Lonely Mountain. When we were last with our travelers they had woken a very angry Smaug, who flew from the mountain in a fiery rage towards the settlement of Laketown. How does Laketown, the hobbit and his band of dwarves fare? The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies is reviewed after the jump.
Thanks to the bravery of Bard (Luke Evans) some of Laketown’s residents make it out alive and regroup on the lake shore. Their aim is to seek shelter and Bard believes they can also claim payment from the dwarves for their assistance in reclaiming the mountain. After all, the dwarves are now sitting on an immense treasure, and Laketown only needs a pittance to rebuild. However, the men aren’t the only ones who are hungry for some gold. The word spreads quickly that the dragon is out of the mountain, and there are many who want to stake a claim.
Thorin (Richard Armitage)is becoming increasingly mad in the mountain (‘dragon sickness’ they call it). He seethes with bitterness at his inability to find the Arkenstone and turns on friends, accusing them of plotting against him. When word comes of the armies on their way he chooses not to negotiate with his allies and instead lets them face the war. What’s a little hobbit to do here? He may be small and nimble, but he can hardly take on multiple armies.
For a movie with ‘the hobbit’ in the title, there is nowhere near enough of Mr Baggins in this film. Martin Freeman’s Bilbo is the heart and soul of the trilogy and the film shines when he is on-screen. This is a story which works best when focusing on the relationships between the characters rather than the CGI spectacle of war, as spectacular as it often is. I was transported to Middle Earth when Bilbo wrestled with his conscience, when he tried his darnedest to help his friends, no matter how hopeless it seemed. The interactions between Bilbo and Thorin (played wonderfully by the stoic Richard Armitage) were by far the highlight of Five Armies.
As for the rest, there are (as always) some extremely well-made action sequences which make the effort to see this on the big screen worth it. Smaug’s attack on Laketown was wonderfully realised, while I also enjoyed the faceoff between the wizards and the Ringwraiths – incredible to think 92 year-old Christopher Lee is able to move like that.
For all of the well executed battle sequences, there are many that don’t work. The special effects have carried even a heavier burden in Five Armies, with extended sections looking like they were lifted straight out of video games. This isn’t a slight on games, but it took me out of the film and hindered my ability to believe in the world on the screen. Jackson’s addiction to panning shots had a similar effect on me. New Zealand is gorgeous, but the constant use of these shots lessens their impact and pulls your attention from the story.
Also heavy on the CGI, or at least the make-up, was Orlando Bloom’s face. Legolas may have eternal youth, but unfortunately us mere mortals do not. I found his appearance distracting and his part in the story to be of no consequence. The same could be said of Evangeline Lily’s Tauriel, whose relationship side-story was nice enough, but whose interactions with Legolas had no value.
Annoyingly, there’s also a few plot strands that don’t seem to work when you think about the LOTR timeline, but I can’t go into details here without spoiling. Errors or asking a lot of your audience? I’m not sure.
We’ve been visiting Middle Earth with Peter Jackson for 13 years now and I would be lying if I said I didn’t get emotional at this film’s end. Jackson’s impact on the fantasy genre cannot be disputed – he is a man with big ideas who has wowed me with what he and his team have been able to bring to life. Five Armies may not be the best way to exit this world, but it is what we have. You’re home now Bilblo.
By Sam McCosh
Director: Peter Jackson
Writer(s): Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson & Guillermo del Toro (screenplay); J.R.R. Tolkien (novel “The Hobbit”)
Starring: Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, Cate Blanchett
Runtime: 144 minutes
Release date(s): New Zealand: December 11 2014; USA: December 17 2014; Australia: December 26 2014