I’m probably going to to go a slightly different path on this review versus my previous film reviews about the Hobbit and not give you a standard walk-through. I mean lets be honest, most people have read the book now anyways and know the story based on where the previous movie ended and what happened at the beginning of the Lord of the Rings (for those that have no clue … here’s a hint – Bilbo lives!) and for those that haven’t there are lots of other sites online that will do this for you. I think in this review (which will still contain *SPOILERS*) I am going to focus more on my opinion and thoughts and while I might at times refer to specific elements of the movie, that won’t be the primary way throughout this guide.
OK, with all that out of the way, lets get down to it shall we?
The Battle of the Five Armies is the 3rd part of Peter Jackson’s rather epic trilogy of the Hobbit. The Hobbit (book) while only a relatively short book (especially in relation to the Lord of the Rings) was targeted more towards a younger audience than its successors and that is evident in the first two films also. There is singing & lots of humor in the earlier films and while there are some darker sequences and scenes the earlier films manage to balance this out. By contrast however the Battle of the Five Armies is much darker in context and scope. It focuses a lot on “lust” – in this case, the lust for gold and how that can drive even the strongest of willed (Thorin Oakenshield) to ruin.
By the end of the 2nd film – The Desolation of Smaug – there was really only 65 pages remaining to the Hobbit … basically a sequence in which Smaug the dragon sets fire to a town built on a lake; another sequence in which some dwarves, elves and humans bicker over which of them gets to keep the dragon’s gold; and a battle between these bickerers and an orc army. It’s not much material for a two-and-a-half-hour film. So how does Jackson fill the running time?
Well I think its fairly obvious that Peter Jackson also has realized that he won’t be revisiting Middle Earth again (unless of course he is able to do something with the Silmarillion) – he has perhaps gone a bit overboard in this movie as to some extent it almost feels like a travelogue of/for New Zealand while at the same time its very obviously a going away present for himself.
Some key complaints that I had are probably as follows:
- Legolas – while I know in my previous post I indicated that his inclusion while not necessary didn’t really detract from the book, in this film it really did. His scenes were pointless really and overly complicated. The fight sequence on the bridge was way too long and the whole sequence with the bat was a bit ridiculous.
- Dain the dwarf – Thorin’s cousin was actually really funny & both myself and the children laughed as he knocked the orc’s out right and left … but doing it by headbutting them? That seems to be a bit silly doesn’t it? Is he only hard headed dwarf? If it was that easy, why bother with an axe or hammer?
- Thorin’s whole fight sequence too was perhaps overly belabored and could have ended sooner
- Bilbo & Smaug – perhaps my biggest complaint about them was that we didn’t really get enough time with them. Smaug specifically appeared only to die in the opening minutes of the film – this should probably have been concluded in the previous film as it simply didn’t have the same impact.
Now lets talk about the positive – this movie was epic. The fight scenes while long were glorious & the CGI is immeasurably better than it was in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. While the sequence with Gandalf and Sauron was perhaps also a bit contrived, it showed in no uncertain way, why these wizards and Elf Kings and Queens were paramount in the land. While you would not expect a wizard to be a martial arts expert at the same time, their skill is evident and they have power!
However with that being said could this have been shrunk to two movies and retained its impact? Overall I’d have to say yes. While the fighting was glorious – it was also long and in parts your mind tended to wander. As scary as the villains may be (as ever in the Middle Earth films, beauty is equated with virtue, and ugliness with evil), they’re awfully easy to kill. In one scene, Bilbo throws three stones, one after the other, and each time he hits a towering orc between the eyes, leaving it stone dead. I’ve already mentioned my complaint about Smaug and I think if he’d died in the previous film, it would have definitely had a much greater impact as with a year in between films you lose the awe that he inspired. Legolas as a whole could have probably been cut from this film without it hurting the continuity in any significant way (although I do have to admit the final line where he’s told to seek out a ranger in the west are quite cool).
So why did he do it? Why did he take a small childrens’ book and transform it into this huge 3 film epic? Its probably a question that only Peter Jackson can truly answer, but he has stated that he wanted all of his Middle Earth films to work together in one cohesive whole. This is why he’s transformed a children’s story into a darker and more grim tale … one that works well with the Lord of the Rings. Personally I’m not sure if he was successful and I can see that this might be the first (& only) time that a Director’s cut of a film will actually shrink the length of a film versus increasing it. I know that if he doesn’t do it – someone else will & will also give us the film we all really want to see.