Peter Jackson has completed his full six-film Middle-Earth epic over the course of nearly 20 years of work on and off again on the two trilogies that make up the project. That The Lord of the Rings is pretty much flawless (and, oh yes, we can throw down over that), universal consensus on The Hobbit trilogy is much more mixed; the overall feeling seeming to be that the trilogy’s glacially-paced start can be forgiven (if we all agree the Goblin King song never happened) by the action that took the dwarves to The Lonely Mountain and the tragic battle spawned by the greed for the riches that is the equal of any battle in any film ever made.
We’ll bring this full circle and talk about legacy and how the Hobbit Trilogy affects The Lord of the Rings Trilogy in different columns this week, but if you want my simple answer on what I thought of The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, I thought it was the best movie in the trilogy and raised the overall quality of the trilogy and its connections to The Lord of the Rings succeeded in making this prequel trilogy, a bonus to those coming to the Jackson films for the first time, but not a MUST SEE place to start, which is what I think the creative team was going shooting for.
One of the biggest problems in the trilogy is that films two and tree don’t stand on their own. Two doesn’t have a real ending and Three doesn’t have a real beginning because of the badly handled transition from Desolation to Five Armies. The climax of DOS should have been Bard taking down Smaug and that spectacular sequence over Lake-Town that begin Five Armies. The argument that would have then made that film over three hours could be negated through cutting many unnecessary plot lines including one that drifted into Five Armies and polluted the whole film.
The Master of Lake-Town and his henchperson Alfrid is just odious. Are they supposed to be funny? Is it supposed to give a real villain to Lake-Town? Take them altogether out of the film and what’s lost? Quite a lot of time you could used on finishing the finishing Smaug storyline and developing Bard’s character. Instead, after we get a very satisfying death for the Master, Alfrid hangs around the rest of the movie; attaching himself to Bard like a foppish leech for the all of 5 Armies. Popping up, ruining the gravitas of scenes, dressing in drag to smuggle gold out of the city by the end of the film in such a jaw-droppingly awful way I was aghast. The LOTR didn’t have much overt humor, but the mined it from the relationships built over time by the characters and good acting. What was much funnier was the scene later in the film when all had gone to hell and Gandalf just plops himself down next to Bilbo and begins cleaning his pipe and Bilbo turns to him and looks at him like he might be an anthropomorphic boiled egg. People thought Radagast was the Jar Jar Binks of the series; Alfrid is the Jar Jar Binks of the The Hobbit trilogy and has more screen time to boot.
Once Lake Town is charred ash and Smaug slain, you really begin to understand this film has no more of a happy ending in store for you than Lord of the Rings did its viewers. The hints of madness in Thorin’s bloodline (much improved by the Expanded Editions) explode into the full madness of his Grandfather. He walks the vaults with covetous glee that turns gradually into panic as he and his troop fail to find The Arkenstone (the heart of the mountain that give the King the right to command the seven dwarf kingdoms of Middle-Earth).
The meat of this film is here in Richard Armitage and Martin Freeman and this friendship they’ve built tested to brink of death over greed and covetousness. The dwarves find themselves under siege from Bard and the Lake Towners and Thranduil and the Wood Elves. Also on their way are two armies of Orcs: one from Dol Guldur and one from Gundabad. Freeman and Armitage thundering away at one another shows just how far Bilbo has come from the timid home keeper he was at film’s beginning and how far Thorin has fallen from the noble, brave warrior we’ve see just why these dwarves would follow.
The scenes cut in Desolation of Smaug are just unforgivable when it comes to Dol Guldur. Without them, you don’t have any context for the what may be the single greatest throwdown of power in any of the films as the White Council fights Sauron/Necromancer and the 9 ghostly Nazghul. Seeing that piece of Middle Earth history brought to light and watching just how powerful Galadriel can choose to be when she looses it (we only got a taste in her testing scene in Fellowship) and essentially punches Sauron from the North of Middle Earth to the South, where Saruman goes to deal with him and finish him. One gets the feeling that he may have been corrupted before this moment, but there’s no way he didn’t come back from that quest to the South without having switched sides.
Then comes a solid hour of battle from the moment when Billy Connollly (FINALLY WE GET TO SEE BILLY CONNOLLY AS A DWARF!!!!!) as Dain and the Dwarves of the Iron Mountains equal up the army of dwarves to those of Men and Elves and just as that was about to explode, the first of the orc army arrives bursting through cave tunneled through the Earth by cave wyrms (rock dragons basically) and we’re off to the races.
In The Hobbit book, Tolkien, puzzingly chooses to leap frog all past this with by having Bilbo conked on the head and he doesn’t wake until everything’s been settled and the tea’s been broken out. As a side note, since Bilbo’s snoring,, I’ve always been fascinated by the Northern realm of Middle-Earth. I never thought we’d get to see Angmar, Gundabad and the like and possibly more in the EE? LET IT BE SO!
The death toll in the battle are actually not as bad as I thought they would be, staying true to those who fell in the book. I now I’m suffering from “I Just Saw it It Fever”, but I think The Battle of the Five Armies is the best epic battle in all six Middle-Earth scenes. I loved that they didn’t forget to give Legolas a few impossible things to do as is his tradition Morghul Bats fighting The Eagles, Beorn doing a skin changing dive bomb.
As with Lord of the Rings, audiences don’t get a traditional triumphant end. in grand adventure, there is great loss and as Gandalf warned, though he did return back again, he never would be the same. This wasn’t the second of coming of The Lord of the Rings, nor should it have expected to be given the source material is lesser . It could have been three much better films and they missed the opportunity to do that by cutting a lot of dross. The transition between two and three was very clumsy and 2 and 3; neither stands as whole films because one has no beginning and one has no end.
The ending was spot-on, connecting it back to Fellowship, reminding you of the ongoing threat of the ring and leaves you remembering all that was good about these films and the others. I’m glad the trilogy was made, this film most of all. Talent-less humor and editing decisions keep it from a LOTR score, but, especially this year, a 9.50 guarantees you a place in the year-end Top 10 list.