Saturday, January 17, 2015

Film Review | The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies


  The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies is the third and final movie in Peter Jackson's Hobbit trilogy and the sixth and final movie in the director's Middle Earth saga. Jackson's "Tolkienverse" (named for the author, J.R.R. Tolkien) concludes after more than a decade of Holiday box office dominance and nearly eighteen hours worth of movie. From the highs (2003's The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King) to the lows (last year's The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug) the franchise has never failed to maintain a consistent, signature style and a pedigree of production. There is little else in cinema history that compares to the Jackson-Tolkien six movie, twenty hour magnum opus of fantasy and there is a degree of sweet sorrow in seeing it finally laid out to rest.

     The Battle of Five Armies is a marked improvement over The Desolation of Smaug and a worthy end to The Hobbit trilogy. Five Armies very much plays the role of The Return of the King to this series, with grand, epic battles spiced with blunt, sometimes heavy-handed drama. Like The Return of the King, The Battle of Five Armies is the ultimate battle between good and evil for the fate of Middle Earth. Everything in the film strives towards climax and closure with unbridled momentum.

     The film's refusal to take its foot off the gas both works in its favor and to its detriment. On one hand, this approach makes The Battle of Five Armies feel much more exciting, emotional, and consequential than The Desolation of Smaug. On the other, it makes the film a bit exhausting and repetitive as there is barely any of the nuance and world building found in the first film, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. The Battle of Five Armies is aptly named, especially compared to its original subtitle There and Back Again, as nearly the entire movie is one giant war. This is exciting material as the grand climax of a story that has been being told in installments for years, and is fabulous to watch on the big screen of the local multiplex, but I suspect may not lend itself to making the film one to be watched time and again.

     Just as in The Desolation of Smaug, the titular Hobbit and his world take a backseat to the grander happenings of Middle Earth in The Battle of Five Armies. It should come as no surprise to anyone that Jackson continues to stretch and take liberties with the material to craft an overarching narrative between The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings that did not exist so explicably in the books. The insertion of characters like Legolas, Sauraman, Elrond, and Galadriel alone reaps and sows plenty of connective plot material but the casting of the character known only as "The Necromancer" in the book to Sauron incarnate firmly sets the stage for The Lord of the Rings. Little things also, like Bilbo and Gandalf's reactions to (what we as the audience recognize as) the "one ring of power" foreshadows the following stories in ways that Tolkien himself never had (as he hadn't fully conceived of The Lord of the Rings when he wrote The Hobbit). Whether all of this effects your experience of the films positively or negatively depends on how much of a Tolkien purist you are. Personally, I welcome the changes and think its the only sensible and natural way to handle the unique situation, and perhaps even a rare and valuable opportunity to further thread one of the greatest yarns ever spun.

    The Hobbit trilogy is not as good a The Lord of the Rings trilogy. This is as close to indisputable fact as something can get in the subjective world of analysis and criticism, but its fair to factually state that The Hobbit hasn't had the commercial, critical, or cultural success of The Lord of the Rings. Even with the success The Hobbit films have had (and make no mistake, they have still been quite successful), they probably aren't everything that everybody involved - the fans, the crew, the studio - once dreamed they could be. Still, we all could do worse than too much of a good thing and The Hobbit trilogy is a solid and enjoyable extension of Jackson's Tolkienverse. The Battle of Five Armies may not be everything that is required of the capstone of a six film saga but it is the perfect bridge between the two trilogies, which was a wise play for the long game as the grand Middle Earth saga now sails off for the distant shores of cinema history.

Grade: B

Posted by Terry Pierson, Library Clerk