THE HOBBIT: THE BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES
Review by Mark Wiechman
Stars: Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman, Richard
Armitage, Benedict Cumerbatch, Orlando Bloom
Director: Peter Jackson
Audio: Dolby DTS English, French and Spanish 7.1, with English French and Spanish subtitles
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.77: 1
Studio: New Line Home Video
Features: See Review
Run Time: 144 Minutes plus features
Release Date: March 24, 2015
Galadriel: “Mithrandir…come back…”
(Gandalf gasps for air and awakens) “He…is here?”
“Yes. The darkness has returned.”
At first I had hoped that once again we have a trilogy that in some ways supplants the amazing original book or books by the masterful J.R.R. Tolkien. But unfortunately while Return of the King was the wonderful and Oscar-winning conclusion of Lord of the Rings, this third installment of The Hobbit has many problems. Clearly telling the story was plenty for two films, not enough for three, so the saga of the huge battle of the five armies was taken from tales told in the appendices of Return of the King and tacked on. In some ways Peter Jackson is setting up the great Lord of the Rings trilogy as George Lucas set up the original Star Wars trilogy, providing back story for the better-known works.
Unfortunately, to paraphrase Bilbo Baggins in the Lord of the Rings, too little story was stretched over too many films.
What is missing from it all is…why? While parts are magical, it is just not LOTR and it never will be. It’s a great ride, but the humans here are not as interesting as we expect, and the CGI battles are not either. The original story has always bothered me in one way: when the dragon dies, and not quite in a way we expect, the story is suddenly over. There is no coda. But here, Peter Jackson and company have attempted to graft other Tolkien material onto the end of The Hobbit. The additional material from Tolkien’s other writings was brilliantly woven into the LOTR but much less so here. It is almost two movies in one but not necessarily better than the sum of the parts.
Since the dragon dies so soon into the film, we are left to wonder what could possibly top that adventure. The dwarves come to take their treasure, and the grip of the Arkenstone on the dwarves is much like the devotion to the precious One Ring.
But Thorin’s madness from dragon sickness and gold lust are a drag on the film, and when he decides to go to war rather than share the dragon hoard, he says: “Life is cheap?” Really? That’s the conclusion of a king? Peter Jackson and company clearly made much more of the original novel and Tolkien’s other writings that anyone could have expected, but the limits of the original material still limit the best of filmmakers. Much of the new dialogue they inserted is weak and the fight scenes are comical.
Perhaps the eeriest moment of the film is when the Elfin queen (Kate Blanchet) is carrying Gandalf from his imprisonment and Saruman and both come to help her fight Sauron’s forces. It has the feel of a video game, rather than a real battle. But it is terrifying nevertheless, especially when Saruman says “Leave Sauron to me.” We shudder when we think what will happen next, much like seeing young Anakin Skywalker struggle with his own power. But this is just a few great minutes of a film well over two hours. It feels out of place and is over too quickly.
Then the battle starts, and stops, then starts again, and goes on…and on…. We see Bilbo knocking down orcs twice his size with nothing more than rocks and the dwarves killing orcs almost bare-handedly…no, that’s ridiculous. We do get to see Legolas run out of arrows, for once. Then he runs upward on stones that are falling as if he could defy gravity. No. The amazing becomes comical. And the comical becomes nauseating and nonsensical when monsters fall into ice water and then spring to life again and old flying friends show up again just in time to save the world again.
Good but not great. The soundtrack is much more pedestrian and traditional than in the other films. I expected much better from Howard Shore’s pen. But the mix is still sterling, and it deserved its Oscar nomination for sound editing.
So many colors, textures, the blending of CGI with real life are yet another high level here.
Interestingly Andy Serkis, better known as Gollum, was a second unit director for The Hobbit! We learn this from the third and final installment of “New Zealand: Home of Middle Earth” and we get to see so many other stars without makeup reminisce about the making of the film. It is short and sweet. The other features are also fairly short, trying to explain how the Hobbit films tie into LOTR and Peter Jackson and his team point out the many references back to events in the Hobbit story. They are pleasant but nothing revelatory here.
Sadly, the trilogy ends with a bang but not an ultimately satisfying or believable one. Viewers of the first two chapters will enjoy it but I doubt anyone will be watching this one over and over again, let alone wondering why it was not nominated for more awards.