The most surprising thing about the final film in Peter Jackson’s Hobbit trilogy is just how badly he got it wrong.
And, trust me, he’s preaching to the choir here. I love the original ‘The Lord of the Rings’ movies, and I’ve enjoyed (and, at times, really enjoyed) the first two movies in this prequel trilogy. So why did this fail so badly?
First off, let’s deal with the title problem. The Battle of the Five Armies; hmm, I’d wondered, what exactly are they going to be fighting over? Nothing is the answer, nothing. Smaug is slain in the opening 15 minutes and The Hobbit, as I’d known it, was complete. The fight was over, they’d defeated the dragon and Erebor was returned to the dwarfs! . . . Can we go home now?
No, is the answer. For the dwarfs aren’t the only ones who have their sights set of the treasures under the mountain, and thus begins the battle . . . over gold. Where’s the nobility in that? Gone is the honour, gone are the morals; the world isn’t going to end if someone gets a wallet-full.
This is a major narrative issue. There are zero stakes. Quite frankly, I didn’t care who won, I just wanted the whole thing to end. Please?
Jackson’s debilitating over-reliance on CGI also lynched any of the thrills out of the, admittedly huge, battle sequences. Seeing pixel 1 knock seven bells out of pixel 2 isn’t fun, it’s breathtakingly vapid.
And Jackson’s camera doesn’t help. He swings that thing around with gay abandon. Wooshing and swooshing his way through huge valleys, piled high with the bloodless corpses of men/dwarfs/elves/orcs/goblins left fighting a meaningless battle for the benefit of their arsehole leaders.
It’s all so inconsequential and so massively underwhelming.
Even the superb Martin Freeman (who has now, unquestionably, proven himself to be the perfect Bilbo Baggins – I don’t think there’s a single actor alive today that could have done a better job), with his brilliant twitches and tics, can do little to save the film. He’s an absolute joy when he’s onscreen, but that’s the problem, he spends so much of the running time elsewhere.
Likewise, Richard Armitage does some great work as gold-lustful Dwarfen King, Thorin. He has a gravitas unmatched by any of the movie’s other key players and draws the eye brilliantly. But, even his role is rife with tonal issues.
The film takes itself so deadly seriously, whilst consistently ramming hopelessly misjudged comedic moments down our throats. The fact that Alfred, the rat-like right-hand man to Stephen Fry’s buffoon of a mayor, gets so much attention is the final nail in the coffin. The man’s an idiot, why can’t we just accept that and move on?
I sure hope The Battle of the Five Armies isn’t the ‘defining chapter’ it claims to be. But, I fear that statement is slightly too close to the truth. This finale led me to question my love of the original trilogy and that’s the greatest criticism of all. It was so, so easy, but Jackson got it so, so wrong. Farewell Middle Earth, it was a shame to see you grow so old.
And a big heads-up here; avoid the high frame rate (HFR) 3D. It adds nothing. In fact, it lessens the impact of virtually every scene. The actors are left flailing in front of green screens and the boundary between the CG and the real has never been more glaringly obvious.