Peter Jackson concludes his time in Middle Earth with a big spectacular battle. You expected something different? Note: No spoilers within… sort of.
Is it really possible to “spoil” something based off a book published more than 77 years ago? If there’s ever a good and solid case for a statute of limitations on spoilers, that’s probably got to be it, but then The Hobbit: Battle Of The Five Armies is a rather interesting case, given the shift during production from making two films out of J.R.R Tolkien’s novel into making three.
I had the opportunity to watch an early pre-screening of The Hobbit: Battle Of The Five Armies (with thanks to New Zealand Trade and Enterprise, Tourism New Zealand and Air New Zealand) last night, and in preparation for that viewing, I sat down and watched the first two films, “An Unexpected Journey” and “The Desolation Of Smaug“. Not all in one sitting, because that’s a lot of movie to get your way through, but in one hour chunks, mini-series style. That’s an approach that works surprisingly well, because it avoids the issues of Hobbit fatigue that I suspect will be hitting a lot of moviegoers by now.
It’s not accidental that part of the marketing around The Hobbit: Battle Of The Five Armies uses the #OneLastTime hashtag, because they’d very much like you to have warm fuzzy memories of watching all three Lord Of The Rings movies and the previous two Hobbit flicks. Still, at two hours and twenty minutes The Hobbit: Battle Of The Five Armies adds yet more bulk to what was a relatively light story in its original conception, bearing in mind that Tolkien didn’t set out to explicitly write The Lord Of The Rings when The Hobbit was written.
That’s not the path that Peter Jackson’s taken with The Hobbit: Battle Of The Five Armies, which has been subtly shifted to be more of an explicit build up to The Lord Of The Rings. Again, I don’t want to particularly go into spoiler territory here, but there are some changes that Tolkien purists may find slightly irksome, or, in one case, rather too strongly overdone.
What The Hobbit: Battle Of The Five Armies does manage well, because Peter Jackson’s now got plenty of form in this area, is epic scale battle balanced against personal conflict and tragedy. As such The Hobbit: Battle Of The Five Armies arguably manages this rather better than The Lord Of The Rings: Return Of The King does. The plot moves forward, and so does the action at a relatively brisk pace, although there’s never been a New Zealand vista that Jackson didn’t love to linger on for a good long while. As a straight up advertisement for New Zealand tourism, The Hobbit: Battle Of The Five Armies should pay off. I’m certainly keen to go if I can rumble together plane fare.
It’s also the first of The Hobbit films that I’ve bothered to watch in 3D, largely because (and this is totally a personal observation, but then that’s film criticism in a nutshell) I don’t get on that well with 3D, and it’s a largely overused and abused technology in my opinion. Jackson’s take on 3D actually does work well in creating believable and consistent depth, which is nicely immersive, but the unfortunate flipside of that is that it makes certain CGI model shots rather painfully obvious. There’s one sequence with creatures scaling a mountain that almost looks like it’s stop motion as a result, and another of a character running away from a collapsing structure that could have fallen directly out of a Super Mario Bros game.
The central character performances are handled very well, especially Martin Freeman’s gradually evolving Bilbo Baggins, who naturally takes centre stage at a number of critical junctions. It’s not just a case of the character having to be in certain places at certain plot critical times, but of Freeman carrying the emotion well enough that you can see what Bilbo’s thinking, and where he’s trying (and sometimes failing) to avert disaster.
That’s not to say that every bit of casting, character and dialog works flawlessly. There’s one particular late movie scene that wouldn’t look out of place on The Bold And The Beautiful both for the dialog that the actors are given and the way that they deliver it. There’s no real way of telling if Peter Jackson or Andy Serkis handled the direction on that particular scene (spoiler hint: “Love”), but whoever did blew it, and big time.
Mind you, it stands out because a lot of the rest of the film is very well handled indeed, and that’s my own lasting impression of The Hobbit: Battle Of The Five Armies. Yes, we could argue until the wargs come home that it should have been two films, or maybe even a very brisk single. I’ve seen no shortage of comparisons of book lengths to film minutes doing the rounds right now, which strikes me as a meaningless metric, given that some excellent movies have been made from very short children’s books, and equally some cut-down movies have been made from dreadfully long novels, but equally there’s been stretching to make The Hobbit into a sequence of three movies. It’s still well worth seeing because a lot of the very important developments happen in The Hobbit: Battle Of The Five Armies, and they couldn’t have happened earlier.
That being said, there’s also a few missing scenes from the book, and at least one whole cloth character’s fate that remains somewhat unresolved, and that I’m hopeful will be in the rather inevitable “extended” edition of The Hobbit: Battle Of The Five Armies.
If you’re suffering from serious Hobbit fatigue then there’s little in The Hobbit: Battle Of The Five Armies that’ll disavow you from that position, and as such you might do better to pick up a copy of the novel and find out how it all finishes, at least according to book canon. Peter Jackson’s vision is subtly different, and rather more tied into his earlier films. If you’ve enjoyed those, however, The Hobbit: Battle Of The Five Armies is highly recommended.
Four invisible magic rings of power out of five.
The Hobbit: Battle Of The Five Armies opens in Australia in cinemas on Boxing Day.