Peter Jackson brought his epic homage to J.R.R. Tolkien to a close in December 2014 with the release of the last entry in the Bilbo Baggins company of dwarfs adventure, The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies, but sadly it didn’t quite live up to expectations. It has massive battles, a big budget and a raft of huge names behind it, but it doesn’t quite strike the right chord when it comes to the overall delivery of the finals chapters of the story.
While it misses the mark, it’s still going to be hard not to make it a key addition to your DVD collection, or at least rent it whenever you want to cap off a Middle Earth marathon. It’s not without its redeeming features either, but these are more to do with the movie’s origins and exceptional characters than they are to Peter Jackson’s personal creative vision for the last of his films.
The story is unquestionably great, building on the exceptional work of J.R.R. Tolkien, so it was always going to be a lot of fun to watch, even if it doesn’t add much more in terms of value. The fact that a relatively small book has been carved up into sprawling thirds takes little away from what is a great tale of fantasy fiction, and it’s hard not to get swept up in it all once again, in spite of the movie’s notable limitations.
It’s a similar situation for the cast, who are a pretty mighty bunch in general, but if we were were being completely honest we’d have to say that Peter Jackson hasn’t managed to create the perfect canvas for them to anchor against. Sir Ian McKellen (X-Men: Days Of Future Past) is still the epitome of Gandalf the Grey, just as Martin Freeman (Captain America: Civil War) has managed to make the young Bilbo Baggins come to life with, but they’re let down a little by a lack of balance in the film.
Lee Pace (Guardians Of The Galaxy) brings a lot of gravitas to the role of Thraduil and he’s added to by well weighted performance by Orlando Bloom as Legolas and Evangeline Lily (Ant-Man) as Tauriel, with the latter being one of Peter Jackson’s best new additions to the original storyline. However, the dwarfs come across a little too much like they’ve been ported from Disney’s Snow White at times and while it’s pretty funny when Thorin’s brother Dáin arrives and turns out to be Billy Connolly, it does make it a bit of a farcical battle as a result.
In fact, Jackson has probably got a lot to answer for in terms of the negatives that have crept into The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies, including the direction he has taken the dwarfs in, considering the praise he’s had for many of the previous movies. There’s just a bit too much in the way of him missing key elements of the original story, or taking things in his own direction at the detriment of fidelity to Tolien’s creative vision, which for us is the most important aspect for any adaptation of his work.
The list of minor annoyances is exhaustive, ranging from the people of Lake Town looking and sounding more like they should be on the set of the BBC kids show, Maid Marion, than they do a part of one of the greatest battles of Middle Earth, to the madness of Thorin Oakenshield’s “dragon sickness” lacking the powerful overtones that it aimed for, missing out on seeing him glory in his golden hoard. The focus that the sniveling Alfred gets in the story is unnecessary and weak, while the attention given to Smaug’s demise is limited and misses out on its importance to the story; the climactic salvation of man, elves and dwarfs by the wildlife of Middle Earth is sadly a fleeting footnote in the progression of the film; and
On a positive note Gandalf’s opening gambit against the renewed might of Sauron, in the form of the Necromancer of Dol Guldur, makes for an impressive portent for the story of The Lord Of The Rings, uniting the two trilogies well. Cate Blanchett (Jungle Book) is ferocious as the incandescent Galadrial and Christopher Lee did it as beautifully as ever in the role of Saruman, hinting at the influence that Sauron would come to hold over him.
Peter Jackson isn’t entirely to blame for the criticism that can be levied at The Battle Of The Five Armies as there are also significant shortcomings in terms of both special effects and set design. Maybe it’s the fact that the Hobbit trilogy has been produced in yearly intervals that has resulted in it looking less polished and awe inspiring than it should be, but either way it’s sort of unforgivable for such a high grossing movie series not to deliver the goods when it comes to special effects and set design. Check out the movie still below to see an example, where the CGI is very noticeably evident, looking more like a 7th generation computer game than a big budget blockbuster, which is the equivalent of a puppet show where you can see the strings.
The costumes and makeup department make up for this a little with some very cool armour, outfits and physical reconstructions. The elves in particular look very cool, especially the main characters, Thranduil (see image at the top of the page), Legolas and Tauriel.
Music, on the other hand, is not one of the film’s strong points, doing so much to sound parochial, folksy and fantastical that it comes across as a bad pastiche of what it was aiming for. It’s also mixed a little out of step with key developments of the story with trumpet blasts sounding randomly without any real link to what’s taking place on the screen.
With all of its failings and slightly rushed finish, The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies is a long way away from being the classic it should have aspired for. We almost feel bad for giving Jackson such a hard time for the final movie, considering the brilliance of a lot of his earlier work, but then you’ve got to take the rough with the smooth, so if it’s good enough for us it’s good enough for him unfortunately.
Nothing should stop you from watching this movie though, as it’s still an important part of Jackson’s massive movie sequence, but you’ll probably find at least as many cracks as we have. It’ll also be a decent enough DVD to throw on any time you want a fix of fantasy fiction action, but it will probably be you least favourite of the six movies.
If you’re thinking of plumping for the 3D Blu-ray version of the movie, we’d probably advise against it, because the 3D visuals don’t really work that well, which was a similar problem with The Desolation Of Smaug. The DVD doesn’t come with much in the way of great extras, with just the second trailer and the third installment of the New Zealand: Home of Middle Earth features. Let us know what your review of the movie is in the comments below.
The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies DVD review: 3/5