By Joe Strange
Well it’s Christmas time, which means one thing; we’ve got a new Hobbit film courtesy of Peter Jackson to enjoy. Well, actually Christmas time means a whole mess of things, but that’s what I’m talking about today, so there.
The Hobbit the Battle of the Five Armies marks Jackson’s sixth and, for the time being, last excursion into middle earth and the myriad of characters and lore that Tolkien has created, and after the Return of the King, which won more awards than the Eagles have ‘convenient rescues’ on their resume, The Battle of the Five Armies had a lot to live up to as a trilogy finale.
Running at 144 minutes it’s the shortest of the three Hobbit films, and while the pacing drags in some places, with a few of the set pieces during the eponymous battle seeming particularly unnecessary and with some of the overall themes lending themselves to some heavy handed dialogue and repetition, the general air is an energetic and exciting one. It also has about half a dozen fewer endings than Return of the King; Bilbo’s journey comes to a nice, brief and touching end in good time.
Jumping back to themes a minute, while An Unexpected Journey has a lot to say on the topic of moving out of your comfort zone and coming to terms with adventure, The Desolation of Smaug lacked a clear set of themes, suffering from ‘middle child syndrome’ that we see so often with part 2’s in trilogies, where it tried to set up too much without much pay off.
Thankfully the Battle of the Five Armies has plenty to think on; the main piece is the evils and greed of men (and dwarves), and how we keep our word. This is almost completely centred around Thorin and his ‘dragon sickness’, which leads to paranoia and distrust amongst the dwarves, and this is mentioned a lot. I mean, a whole lot, and by the end I found myself not sympathising with the Dwarven leader, and when his moment of clarity hits I found myself thinking ‘about time too.’
The more satisfying theme is what gives the Five Armies a sense of completeness; as the action winds down and the dust settles we see our characters closing chapters of their lives and looking onward, in some cases it’s a nice nod to what we know will come and in some cases it’s just really nice to see; Bilbo’s homecoming is especially great.
But now the nitty gritty, as I mentioned above, there’s an awful lot of CGI in the film, and some of it seems unnecessary and distracting, Thorin’s weird fever dream is especially out of place, now this is WETA effects, so they’re not going to age too badly. There just doesn’t seem to be the incredible attention to detail that we see in the original trilogy and there are a lot of cases of assets and scenery disappearing and reappearing at the will of plot convenience.
The action is intense and fun, and the scale is tremendously epic, with many little battles taking place on all fronts as oppose to one head on collision that we were used to in the original trilogy. There’s a lot of nice lore and creature design in these pieces, and the characters’ mounts, as much as they may randomly appear, are a nice change from the myriad of horses we’re used to.
As is expected, the design of the armour, the armies and just, well, everything is top notch, even if it’s a little more digital than we’d like, and it also makes it nice and easy to differentiate the different factions on screen.
While its generally accepted that the entire original trilogy was excellent the whole way through, the same can’t be said for the Hobbit. Between criticisms of long run times, an overindulgence in CGI and having a small book stretched into three films, the Hobbit trilogy isn’t without its faults, but the good news is the Battle of the Five Armies surpasses its predecessor, the Desolation of Smaug, in entertainment and book loyalty. It’s guilty of a few misteps, but overall it’s a solid finish to a series that was a little longer than everyone expected, and it may be the most fun of the Hobbit films just because of the ease of watching it.