When The Hobbit was announced I’m sure nobody would have thought it would be three movies long, J. R. R.Tolkien fit the whole story into one book, and even that wasn’t very long. Here we are though with the release of The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies which in theory should be the last Lord of the Rings movie Peter Jackson makes. Unless he can pull more tales of Middle-earth out of the appendices of course (and I’m sure some of us hope he could).
With Smaug (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch) leaving the Lonely Mountain and the dwarves claiming their home the people of Lake-town are left to deal with the repercussions, and pay the price by dragon fire. With the arrival of dwarves, humans, elves and orcs to the mountain it looks like another battle is looming for the wealth now coveted by Thorin (Richard Armitage) and his party. While the tension builds to the start of war an imprisoned Gandalf (Ian McKellen) awaits rescue from the hands of the Necromancer whose true identity has at last been revealed.
In the book The Battle of the Five Armies comes at the end and resolves the tensions caused by the retaking of the mountain, if you’ve read it you’ll know that there isn’t much that will fit into a film that lasts over two hours. This is why Peter Jackson and the other writers have fleshed it out more with things that aren’t in the main story. Luckily for the fans these additions do show Peter Jackson and WETA at their best. We see the expected battles, but more interestingly we also see how the gold corrupts Thorin and how the “Dragon-sickness” can be compared to Bilbo’s (Martin Freeman) obsession with the one ring. Interestingly is the choice to replace Thorin’s voice with Smaug’s unmistakable tones at key moments to highlights his obsession and sickness. Part of me wonders if the audience really needed such a blatant hint as to how Thorin was Smaug-like with his hoarding of the gold. The audience isn’t stupid, they can tell greed when they see it, they don’t need a dragon voice to give that hint.
As The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies is the film to end it all the battle has to be at least comparable to the one we saw in Return of the King. I actually found myself liking the battles seen in Battle of the Five Armies over the Lord of the Rings battles, though there was a certain predictability in what we are presented with. There is a point for example, where Legolas takes a leap and I asked myself jokingly “Oh what is he going to ride now?” and the answer came almost straight away, to my surprise because I’d perfectly predicted what he was going to do. It is almost as if there are certain expected beats in the story, and Jackson is trying to please the fans by making sure they are there. In being this predictable though, I doubt this will please all fans. Sometimes the unexpected is good which is shown when (without spoiling them) events do occur and do darken the movie somewhat because you don’t expect that move to be made in the plot. In a seemingly impossible battle though it is welcome that these moves are made.
When looking at the acting and who stands out it is actually hard to pick, though Ian McKellen plays Gandalf so naturally now he hardly appears to even try. Luke Evans as Bard comes into his element as does Evangeline Lilly whose character Tauriel actually gets some character building moments, even in the heat of the battle. Billy Connolly as Dain is a very welcome addition to the action, unashamedly stealing the scenes he is in.
I have to admit though as a Lord of the Rings fan I truly loved the rescue of Gandalf, to see Galadriel (Cate Blanchett) kick ass and Hugo Weaving and Christopher Lee joining in the battle as Elrond and Saruman is truly awesome. I can’t help but feel that this scene will feel less rushed in the extended version of the film though which which I’m in no doubt is coming.
I’m in no doubt that I enjoyed The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies and I do think it was well worth being extended into its own movie. I can though also see an argument that it tends to feel stretched out in places to be able to fit the full movie length. With a little cutting done to this and The Desolation of Smaug they could have been one film, especially with the added story elements removed. I for one though am happy with the results we see here. Should there be an extended version? I’m assuming there will be, and there are plenty of scenes that have that feel of being rushed, as if there is more to see when added back in for another release, which may seem cynical but when we know extended versions come out at a later date we start to take note what can be extended. It will be interesting to see what will be added, but even in its current form this is a very good closure to the epic story of dragons, rings and hobbits.
The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies is available on DVD, Blu-ray & 3D Blu-ray in the UK from April 20th.