The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies,
directed by Peter Jackson
(Warner Bros., 2014)

It's been a wonderful ride. I'm glad this part is drawing to a close.

Peter Jackson's finale is a great one. It's very grand, quite sweeping, and right in line with the previous work while advancing the form. Battle scenes are as epic as they are captivating and, overall, the effort is quite spectacular.

And that's what it should be taken for: a massive, glorious visual spectacle, with a healthy helping of love triangles, wave upon wave of ugly bad guys and bravery galore, from men, elves, hobbits and dwarves alike. The Lord of the Rings mythology essentially revolves around adventuring and battle after battle, and The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies lives right up to that by being one long war scene. It's all about sound, scoring and visually stirring scenes.

Richard Armitage sells the descent of Thorin into madness very well, and Martin Freeman's plucky Bilbo is as admirable as ever, their relationship being the main one that carries the film. Luke Evans gives his one-dimensional Bard the Bowman role his best shot and comes through well enough.

There's a lot of great drama, mostly revolving around leadership, with nearly unbelievable stunts by a superhuman Legolas (Orlando Bloom), who can't seem to leave off making the most fantastic leaps and bounds over and through and on anything and everything in his way, including falling bridges. And bats. Gigantic bats. And everyone is dealing with besieging armies of orcs arrayed with monster goat creatures and mountain-tunneling worms.

It's a vast, complete world, one that the CGI can hardly keep up with, which explains the occasional strain on both the eyes and on the suspension of disbelief overall. A film in 48fps/digital/3D can be a real jump, and it's even better when the story fits the frame fully, but it seems at times as if the production may have been using a technology whose post-production values they didn't anticipate, which only adds to the reach-exceeding-grasp feel in both the story and the actual, physical filming. It's great tech, fantastic in most places, even, but it only makes me sorry that it wasn't there for LOTR, since it's way overused for a much smaller story.

And yes, The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies is very much a smaller story than LOTR, for all it's been expanded to the same triple feature length. It is very interesting in its own way, certainly magical but not in the poetic, more dense way of the previous trilogy. That's why a third chapter feels rather like a bit much.

Some of the post-production felt rushed, especially the ending credits. The orcs were merely ugly, not frightening, more like ugly chaps who'd walked into a particularly heavy cloud of chalk dust. It was even possible to see the glue in the beards and the weaves in the wigs. For whatever reason the elves looked menacing, almost vampire-like. Swords clash and arrows fly and good and bad guys die, but for all the action there's a curious lack of satisfaction, with more of a video game kill feel than actual, the-good-guys-won. There's a lot of slapstick humor that snags the drama at the wrong places. The plot add-ons are hard to get your head around. There are too many climaxes to follow and, by the end, too many characters to follow.

Like popcorn, marathon battle action is fun to chew on as long as it's not relied on to be more nourishing than that. The conflict at the center and denouement of the story is the best character in the film, effective enough so that the lack of a story with an emotional punch isn't too obvious. It's a fitting end to a long rather bloated trip, but there are enough moments to make for a decently thrilling ride.

review by
Mary Harvey

7 March 2015

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