Blu-Ray Review by Dominic Messier, Founder, Editor and Shorter Saga Enthusiast
Sometimes, you just have to know when enough is enough…
As enthused as I was by the idea of Peter Jackson revisiting familiar fantasy lands we all partook of a good decade ago, I still shook my head at the concept of turning a moderately sized novel into an eight-hour plus trilogy, one padded with so much appendix and index-borne filler that the whole affair reeked of exploitation and profit.
Sadly, despite two relatively stronger installments, namely An Unexpected Journey and The Desolation of Smaug, this final chapter (thank the Gods of the North) is so stretched out it feels cartoonish in comparison.
To start off, it’s fair to say the title doesn’t mislead: hordes of armies, with Elves, Dwarves, Orcs, humans and other species converging onto the battlefield set between the town of Dale and the gold repository of Erebor, kingdom of the Dwarves of old.
The film briefly deals with the threat of the Wyrm Smaug (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch) before setting itself to the task of creating the conflict between the Middle-Earth races.
With Thorin (Richard Armitage) quickly laying claim on his birthright, it becomes apparent to Bilbo (Martin Freeman) that the exiled king is becoming sick with the same greed and paranoia that afflicted his forebears in ages past.
Meanwhile, all parties approach the mountain asking for their share of the loot, or at least what was owed to them in previous bargains and pacts designed to unite and defeat the dragon in the mountain.
When Thorin decides to snub them and barricades the front entrance, a battle begins that pits formidable adversaries against one another, with a plethora of creatures attacking in the most creative of ways. Think of Return of the King‘s decisive battle in the original Lord of the Rings trilogy, only with more oomph.
Whether any major characters remain standing once the smoke clears is a surprise to the audience, but not to the seasoned readers of Tolkien’s works.
At one point during the screening of this film, I absentmindedly found myself wondering why, at this juncture in the overly crowded narrative, the film should even be called The Hobbit, given this third chapter’s habit of relegating major characters to the sidelines. Barely seen are Ian McKellen’s Gandalf, Martin Freeman’s Bilbo and other familiar staples the likes of Galadriel, Elrond and Saruman. Despite their might and relevance to the overall mythic arc of Middle-Earth, their inclusion here feels shoehorned and superfluous, given the lead conflict between Thorin, Thranduil and the human leader Bard (Luke Evans).
Many subplots are wedged in only to be dismissed out of hand or underused, such as the Romeo & Juliet tryst between dwarf Kili (Aidan Turner) and She-Elf Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly), Legolas’ (Orlando Bloom) scouting mission to the Orc ramparts or the all-too brief “Sauron is Coming” subplot, an obvious nod to the later story, or in this case, the previous cinematic trilogy.
Despite this hodge-podge of characters and places, one thing is for certain: if you’re into copious battle scenes running for what feels like hours on end, well Merry Christmas to you, ladies and gents.
It’s incredibly difficult not to criticize the robotic, generic way in which CGI-battles start to look, at least when it comes to thousands of bland yet detailed figures vying for attention within an anamorphic movie screen.
Is the action, swordplay and carnage worth the cost of admission? Yes. Is said action overwhelming and possibly headache inducing? Also yes.
While I’ll concede that the whole point of this final chapter was to see the major players face off for a whole lot of loot, it just doesn’t make for that exciting a story, especially when factoring in over half a dozen subplots desperately fighting for space within the film’s last act.
See below, a quick glance at some of the marvelous CGI effects for the opening scene of the film:
Altogether, does The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies make for a visual spectacle worthy of the other five Peter Jackson films of the same ilk? Most definitively. As a piece of a larger franchise, it is finely crafted and pleasing to the eye, replete with your favorite characters and actors. That having been said, despite a great landscape built as a stage for these wonderful characters, as a doomed Shakespearian prince once said, “The play’s the thing.”
Despite all the bells and whistles of a LOTR-based film, prequel or not, you just can’t keep throwing spears, arrows, swords, daggers, giant bats, catapult-wearing giants and fireballs and hope that, much like its extraneous elements, something sticks to the wall as a result.
2.5 out of 5
Dominic Messier is a media veteran who’s written and discussed movies for almost 20 years, from entertainment radio shows to newspaper columns to websites. Follow him on Twitter via @dommessier or join the Pop Culture Landscape with Dominic Messier page on Facebook.