The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies was seemingly our last foray into the wonderful world of Middle Earth. I am of the generation that grew up with Lord of the Rings, having watched it in high school. I saw how the Lord of the Rings brought the fantasy genre into the mainstream and how suddenly Tolkien was cool among my classmates. I read the books long before I watched the movies, but the movies were an essential part of my youth. So my last journey into Middle Earth was somewhat bittersweet. There are no further plans, so as I watched the final installment of the Hobbit, I couldn’t help but feeling like an era of my life was coming to a close. But that is merely my sense of nostalgia, I could always pop in the DVDs for another venture into the fantasy world of Tolkien.
Like the rest of the Hobbit movies, the Battle of the Five Armies left me with clashing emotions. There were some wonderful aspects of the movies and yet other parts that were less than shining. Let’s take a look at some of the good and bad of the movie. Warning, there be spoilers ahead.***
First the good:
1. It is a visually stunning movie. If there is one thing that Peter Jackson is skilled at it is his ability to bring to the big screen the world dreamt up by Tolkien. Visually sumptuous scenery leaves you dazzled and entirely immersed in another world. Partly due to New Zealand’s natural beauty and partly due to Jackson’s masterful use of the natural world, the film is simply put, beautiful. Like in the Lord of the Rings, his set creators brought to life fantastic features of the world that were realistic and exciting. I wanted to visit Erebor and I could practically smell the fish (ugh) of Laketown.
2. Any true fan of Tolkien knows that the book focuses more on prose and elaborating a narrative history rather than character development. Tolkien was writing an epic in the same vein of the Nordic sagas. While heroes are abound in Lord of the Rings and Hobbit alike, the focus is on the narrative and exploration of the world rather than on the individual characters. Peter Jackson manages to bring to life the world of Tolkien while also giving life to the characters. Each character has a back story, personality, and instantly becomes recognizable and familiar. He does this skillfully by hinting at depths and avoiding unnecessary explanations or exposition. He does this with the dwarves and especially with Thranduil. We get a hint at why Thranduil is the sass master we’ve all come to love. Jackson did this in the Lord of the Rings and I’m happy to see him continue it in the Hobbit movies.
3. Fans of the Lord of the Rings are thrilled with the little hints in the Hobbit that allude to the Lord of the Rings. In the first two installments of the Hobbit this was done mostly through sets, props, and scenery. From brief glimpses of the shards of Nasril in Rivendell to Weathertop, there is something familiar to the Hobbit. In the third movie there is a more overt linking of the Hobbit to the Lord of the Rings. We get to see the behind-the-scenes machinations of the Enemy and the White Council hinted at in the appendices that set the battlefield for the struggle to come in the War of the Ring, plus some kick ass ninja-fu from Saruman, Elrond, and Galadriel as the cherry on top. You also get to hear the familiar name of Strider mentioned as the story sets up the relationship of Legolas and Aragorn. The book of the Hobbit and the Lord of the Ring is far less overtly connected, but Jackson does a great job bringing in the original trilogy and truly establishing the Hobbit movies as the prequels.
Now, the Bad:
1. There are certain tendencies of Jackson–affectionately or not so affectionately called Jacksonisms by fans–that leave you rolling your eyes. We saw glimpses of this in the Lord of the Rings–especially as he became more comfortable–often in the form of Legolas doing something entirely outlandish. While I understand it is his attempt at alluding to the otherworldly nature of elves or fantastic nature of the world or whatever, he makes a big mistake in confusing the silly for bad ass. We saw this in the ludicrous barrel scene in the last movie and they are certainly abound in this movie too. It almost seems like it can’t be a Peter Jackson film if someone isn’t surfing on a shield, cart, or defying gravity in some manner. It doesn’t ruin the movies, but it certainly takes away from the moment. Just as you are engrossed in a battle or scene, Jackson throws in those moments that break your immersion and leave you with a strain from all the eye-rolling.
2. The technology didn’t always work. Now don’t get me wrong. Peter Jackson is ahead of the curve here. I think he definitely understands the way the film industry is heading and is daring in his use of technology. I few years ago 3D was just making a comeback to much skepticism, but today 3D is taken for granted. I think the same with the High Frame Rate stuff. Don’t ask me how it works, because techno-skpetics like me don’t know, but I definitely think that Jackson is on to something here with the future of film-making. The problem is that it doesn’t always work. There are certain instances in the movie where it shines. The scenes with Smaug were made for this type of filming. The 3D and High Frame rate brought Smaug to life in ways that were unthinkable even a few years ago. You can see the advancements in technology from Lord of the Rings to the Hobbit. But that success was inconsistent. In other parts of the movie, it looked like you were watching a video game, or the movie was sped up. In particular it took away from the White Council scene and when Thorin was standing on the pool of gold. Same thing with the CGI. His overuse of CGI definitely hurt the movie. One of the fantastic things about Lord of the Rings with the level of detail that went into every scene. The make up, the prosthetics, the costumes all brought creatures and armies to life. CGI was used but deftly. In the Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies it is heavy-handed. While the technology has certainly advanced to the point of being life-like you are still left feeling like you are watching a video game. CGI orcs just aren’t as cool as old school orcs. Don’t believe me? Do your own little fashion show, put up an image of an Uruk against Azog and tell me who’s the prettier orc, warts and all?
3. Then there is the utterly useless love triangle between Tauriel, Legolas, and Kili, also known as the handsome dwarf. Being a fantasy purist, I already had an issue with the elf-dwarf romance, but even in regards to the movie it was just plain bizarre. It was a calculated decision on his part to include some romance and it ultimately ended up being a poor calculation. Tauriel goes from being an ass-kicking female elf fighter to just a romantic throwaway. There is no logic to why Tauriel develops feelings for Kili other than he’s “tall for a dwarf,” nor an explanation why their brief encounter leaves her with such an impression that she betrays her liege lord, abandons her duty, and risks it all for him. It’s a weird part of the story that is never fleshed out and I’d rather forget about it.
Like most of the Hobbit movies, I am left with mixed feelings. There is no denying that its a fun and epic movie, but it definitely falls short of the Lord of the Rings. Peter Jackson’s efforts do pay off and the movie is something that I’ve watched, will buy, and watch again. It’s definitely good enough to forgive him for all the times Legolas pulls off some gravity defying stunt. At least for now.