Director Peter Jackson Starring Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Richard Armitage, Luke Evans, Orlando Bloom, Evangeline Lily, Lee Pace, Ryan Gage, Manu Bennett, Aiden Turner, Graham MacTavish, Billy Connolly, Cate Blanchett, Christopher Lee, Hugo Weaving, Benedict Cumberpatch, Sylvester McCoy, John Tui, Dean O’Gorman, Ken Stott, Mark Hadlow, Jed Brophy, Adam Brown, John Callen, Peter Cambleton, William Kirchner, James Nesbitt, Stephen Hunter, Stephen Fry, Mikael Persbrandt, Ian Holm

Well, all good things must come to an end.

When I heard that The Hobbit was to be a trilogy, my first reaction was concern that they had jumped the shark, turning it into something it wasn’t meant to be. When I saw the first film I felt at ease, it was exactly what I hoped it would be, but by the second I started to feel a little anxious. The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies is where Peter Jackson and co. have jumped the shark. In theory it was a good idea, but putting it into practice is something entirely different, especially when you’re dealing with content as extensive as the work of Tolkien.

The concept of a faithful adaptation is slowly dying, and it’s really sad, because the quality of the film is what suffers. I would much rather pay for one great film than three that are sub-standard, and while The Hobbit never dives anywhere near the lowest of the lows, as it’s a fantastic story with some really good performances, the idea of what is pretty much guaranteed box office success got in the way, I can’t help but lament for what could have been.

The Story

Bilbo (Martin Freeman), Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage), and his company of dwarves can only watch on as the catalyst that they unleashed, Smaug (Benedict Cumberpatch), the former primary antagonist, now just a fifteen-minute teaser, wreaks havoc on Laketown. Following the devastation the people of Laketown wash up on the nearby shore. Bard the Bowman (Luke Evans) is reluctantly handed the mantle of leadership and leads his people on a trek towards the city of Dale in search of promised aid from Thorin. Meanwhile, the Dwarves left behind in Laketown, including Kili (Aiden Turner), Fili (Dean O’Gorman), Oin (John Callen), and Bofur (James Nesbitt), make for the Lonely Mountain.

We’re force fed a scene between the token female character, aka Tauriel (Evangeline Lily), and her forbidden lover in Kili, before another, less faithless, addition in Legolas (Orlando Bloom), who has yet to unfurl his brow, head north to investigate an army led by Bolg (John Tui), marching towards the Lonely Mountain. Elsewhere, an all-star White Council of Lady Galadriel (Cate Blanchett), Saruman (Christoper Lee), and Lord Elrond (Hugo Weaving), free the battered Gandalf (Ian McKellen) from his prison in Dol Goldur, defeat the Ringwraiths, and banish you-know-who (Benedict Cumberpatch). It serves to set-up a teaser to the trilogy this precedes as a certain wizard is subtlety corrupted, promising to deal with the dark lord himself.

Gandalf, helped by Radagast the Brown (Sylvester McCoy), makes for the Lonely Mountain, to warn all of Azog (Manu Bennett), and his marching army of Orcs. The thirteen Dwarves reunite in the Kingdom of Erebor, but unfortunately their king has become unnaturally obsessed with his treasure, is consumed with finding a jewel called the Arkenstone, and will not part with a single coin despite pledging a share to Laketown. Having found the Arkenstone long before, Bilbo tries his best to remind us this story is meant to be about him by presenting the stone to the Elven king Thranduil (Lee Pace), who has aligned with the people of Laketown and marched an army all in the name of claiming some jewellery for himself, the importance of which is never touched upon. You can just assume his efforts are justified.

When the paranoid Thorin learns of Bilbo’s treachery he nearly kills him, but he’s far too easily subdued by some words from a conveniently timed Gandalf that were missed due to incessant background noise. This scene of convenience takes continues as a Dwarven army arrives, led by Dain II Ironfoot (Billy Connolly), who is so enveloped in CGI you can tell all his scene’s were filmed on a stage somewhere, surrounded by green screen without another actor in sight. After that a conveniently timed Azog arrives, aided in his journey by gigantic were-worms, who could’ve easily won the day for them had they stayed to fight but for convenience just went home.

The battle is amazing. It could’ve fallen in a gigantic heap but it had a structure all of it’s own and it played out quite well. Thorin solidifies his descent into madness by admitting to Dwalin (Graham McTavish) that he is no longer Thorin Oakenshield but a king. So obsessed with his wealth he is more focussed on moving it deeper into Erebor than helping those fighting outside, but he has a moment of realisation and a hallucination in which he is literally engulfed by gold, after which he simply throws his crown away and returns to normal. For a Dwarf who had almost gone mad with paranoia to the point he believed one of his own to be deceptive, his turnaround was far to abrupt. He leads his company out onto the battlefield, and conveniently thirteen is the magic number needed to turn the tide.

Thorin then turns his attention to Azog, who’s commanding his army atop Ravenhill. He leads some cannon fodder into a trap, is warned by Legolas and Tauriel of Bolg’s approaching army, who help dispatch of the near-indestructible Bolg, then faces his mortal enemy in a battle to the death. After the battle he makes his peace with Bilbo, who followed the Elves up Ravenhill, using the one ring just to remind us he has it, because he needed something to do. Though, in one brief act of defiance Bilbo shows he has become the self-assured and worldly burglar Gandalf always believed him to be.

Then the whole thing just stops. Bilbo bids farewell to the Dwarves, Legolas leaves to take up company with a ranger from the north (you know who they’re talking about), and the rest just kind of disappear from our screen’s and we have absolutely no resolution for any of them. I really scratched my head at this, because I felt that a longer ending was needed to round out the film, with some better resolution for certain character’s. Nevertheless the final moments of the film are oh so sweet, as a reminiscing Bilbo (Ian Holm) on his birthday receives a knock at the door from a “very old friend”.

The Characters

There are two really good performances I have to mention. The first is Martin Freeman, who is just perfect as the titular Bilbo Baggins. He started out as this loveably buttoned-down, stuffy fish-out-of-water and becomes this risk-taking, experienced burglar. Originally it was his lack of assurance that carried the film forward as he traversed further from home, but by this point he’s more than willing to take matters into his own hands. Unfortunately Bilbo becomes lost in the grandeur, the film-makers lost sight of what this story is meant to be about, and who it’s about, and instead Bilbo becomes little more than a supporting character who only maintains focus when it’s necessary. Nevertheless Freeman did a brilliant job, when given the screen-time he commanded it and played the reborn Bilbo perfectly. I was able to believe the old fish could learn to walk on land, and his return to Bag End, carrying with him treasure and robes, commanded attention as this worldly experienced Hobbit the likes of which nobody in Middle-Earth had ever seen before.

The other actor who I thought commanded presence was Richard Armitage, who convincingly played the lost king of Erebor, and was able to transition into the king gone mad almost effortlessly. The scene with Bilbo were he detected a betrayer and unequivocally refused to part with any of his treasure, though enhanced with a bit of dramatic slow-motion, really stood out. His return to the Thorin we know and love was a bit rushed but Armitage made it work, and his scenes out on the battlefield reminded me of why I thought so highly of the character and the actor. Armitage showed his experience here as a trained Shakespearean actor. Playing a king is a cakewalk for him, but his performance translates well into mainstream epic cinema. He may never become an A-list Hollywood star, but he doesn’t have to. He’s crafted this great filmography and now has a role under his belt that people will remember for a long time.

As is the case with ensemble casts, things drop off in terms of depth. I can ignore the bit-parts and cameos because there’s obviously very little room to move there, but for the more substantial roles it was disappointing to see so many actors let down with too little development compared to ample screen-time. Ian McKellen as Gandalf is the same Gandalf we’ve seen before, and while McKellen is a class act all round you can’t help but notice the character doesn’t change a single bit in what is more than sixty years of his history. Two actors who I thought did good jobs but needed more rounded characters were Lee Pace’s Thranduil and Luke Evan’s Bard the Bowman. The former is flat as his motivation is illogical and his relationship to his kin and own son are hollow, and the latter has moments as a reluctant hero thrust into a position he doesn’t want, motivated to protect his young family. Unfortunately Bard just disappears from our screen’s at the end with no resolution whatsoever.

On a more positive note I give props to Ryan Gage as he played his role as the comic relief in Alfrid Lickspittle superbly, and Orlando Bloom is great as Legolas, but his inclusion cramped the little space there was left. Him, along with Evangeline Lily’s Tauriel, could have easily been cut from the film to make room for, say, Bilbo Baggins and the company of Dwarves.

The Making Of

Look, I love the Middle-Earth films, but this prequel series feels like one big cash-grab by Peter Jackson. Three films worked for LOTR because there were three books, but this time around it’s bloated and spread thin to the point that Jackson has had to pad it out, not only the extensive writings of Tolkien but by taking a fair few liberties. It’s still not enough to justify an entire film and because of this it’s a bit messy to begin with and the ending felt abridged, lacking a lot of closure with Bilbo returning home and it quickly jumping ahead in time with only one goodbye scene. But it keeps a good pace and manages to hold things together, despite a distracting love story, additional characters we didn’t want, and a gigantic war right in the middle. I give credit where it’s due with the elongated battle of the five armies as it could have easily devolved into a great mess but seemed to have its own three-act structure that worked really well.

The first film had some great tone to it, it was almost like a fairytale with some light-hearted music to carry the adventure, giving it a life all of it’s own. Unfortunately all that magic and music is gone, and what gave these films their own identity has been replaced by a LOTR prequel, thanks to these clunky references, such as a ranger from the north and Bilbo using the ring, as well as a score from Howard Shore that, while still good, is far to reminiscent of his LOTR work. The invention of characters and story-lines cements my belief that a trilogy wasn’t required to adapt The Hobbit.

It struggles to find roles for it’s large ensemble, leaving many with very little to do. Some are wisely used, such as the White Council confronting the Necromancer, but others, such as ten of the thirteen Dwarves, literally become apart of the scenery. Instead Jackson has us focus on things like the strained relationship between Legolas and Thranduil, and the Kili-Tauriel love story. Both are lacking, in the case of the love story it feels like a tacked-on ploy by Peter Jackson just for some female representation to get more women buying tickets. It took us places we never wanted to go and sidetracked us from what we came to see; the story of Bilbo, the Dwarves, and the dragon in between them and their home.

In Conclusion

With his attempt to recreate the grandeur of his last trilogy Jackson seems more focussed with creating an epic and getting an overall good score with Rotten Tomatoes than he is with producing a faithful adaptation for the Tolkien lovers who make up the majority of the audience. The film struggles because of this, as it’s more akin to LOTR than it’s own story, with an shortened ending and characters with as much depth as the copious amounts of CGI that are used to bring them to life. But you can forgive it as it’s not a winner but you will get your money’s worth if you buy a ticket. It’s less than perfect, but the fact remains; Tolkien did write one of the greatest stories ever told, and personally I’m grateful I got to experience it on the big screen in my lifetime.

6 of 10