The Hobbit Battles to the End

This past Monday I took in a viewing of The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies. I was actually rather surprised to be going at all, as I had no intention of finishing the trilogy in the Theatre after the travesty that was The Desolation of Smaug. My neighbor had insisted for a year that the was buying my ticket so we could finish the story together, and that’s exactly what we did. Had he not purchased my ticket, I would have waited to see this at home.

Sadly, nothing in the movie changed my mind.

The Good

One of the things I was most excited about in this Trilogy was seeing the White Council in action. It’s a major point in the story of Middle Earth to which the novel only makes indirect references. The assault on Dol Guldor, the discovery of The Necromancer’s identity, and the beginning of Sauroman’s descent into darkness would have made a compelling story. In fact, it would have made a much more compelling film than the actual narrative of the Hobbit. Sadly, the White Council only showed up in passing in the first two films. In Five Armies, however, we get a (criminally abbreviated) pay-off. The White council arrives and we see these powerful beings in action. Galadriel unveiling was particularly rewarding. While this was “a good” in Five Armies, I can’t help but think that this story arc should have been 1/3 of the second film.

I was extraordinarily irked to have Smaug still alive at the end of the second film. Five Armies reveals why, Jackson had run out of material for a decent prelude (after all, it was supposed to be a two-film story which got expanded mid-way through production). The destruction of Smaug serves as prelude in Five Armies and it “works” in that it sets the stage for Bard’s journey to the Mountain. So I can forgive the shifting of the act. Unfortunately, it also lays the groundwork for the entire film, which is to rush through what little story there is in order to get to the big fight.

The Bad

Perhaps the worst part of this film is how little emotional connection I have to any of these characters. Martin Freeman does an admirable job portraying Bilbo Baggins, but he’s given so little time to shine that his character gets lost. This is partially because Bilbo’s character arc ends in the first film. After escaping Goblin Town, he changes very little after that. I simply don’t care who lives and who dies in among Thorin’s company – or among the other characters. They function more like props on a set than actual people in whom I feel invested. This isn’t to say Jackson doesn’t try to make these characters meaningful, it’s just that with so little story to tell there’s just no way to build them up.

The Elf King, in these films, is an absolute jerk. Why on earth Jackson chose to portray him this way is one of the most mind-boggling decisions of the entire trilogy. Thranduil is mistrustful in the books, but not bigoted or isolationist. In this film he comes off greedy, selfish, uncaring, and nasty. As the film progressed, I grew to like him less and less. In fact, I wouldn’t have been concerned if Thranduil had lost, and that’s a sad thing to say about one of the films protagonists.

The Battle was just too much. There were too many attempts at “cool moments” which, when combined with my lack of emotional connection with the characters, left me feeling flat. The reliance on CGI for most of the battle shots (including the two main antagonists) further served to make the battle feel less “real.” The effects also seemed more robotic, which didn’t help.  I just wanted it to end so we could get to the resolution, but it kept going and going and going and going and going and….

This story didn’t seem to have a resolution. Dain is never proclaimed king under the mountain, Bard is never shown to take up kingship in a re-founded Dale. We get a Wizard of Oz moment where Bilbo says goodbye to the Dwarves, which follows the book and is nicely done, but after that there just isn’t much worth seeing. Bilbo’s return to Bag End is portrayed nicely, and there is even a nice mention of spoons which will make fans of the book smile, but it felt flat. We don’t get to see Martin Freeman’s Bilbo settle in and begin to tell his stories. We leave him in an empty Bag End, coming to grips with all he’d been through. Then, suddenly, we are transported 60 years in time to the opening of the Fellowship of the Ring – viewing it this time from an older Bilbo’s point of view. While the attempt at coming full circle is admirable, the movie would have been better served by allowing Martin Freeman’s Bilbo to bring the trilogy to a close. After all, we’d already had the full-circle moment in the first film, which was much more emotionally satisfying.

My Verdict

If you don’t mind waiting a few months you might be better served waiting to watch this at home. It will cost less money out of your pocket, and the flaws in the CGI might be less noticeable on a small screen. If you can’t wait, this movie was better than Smaug, but not by much. Go in with little or no expectations and you won’t be disappointed.

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