From Academy Award-winning filmmaker Peter Jackson comes The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, the third in a trilogy of films adapting the enduringly popular masterpiece The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien. The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies brings to an epic conclusion the adventures of Bilbo Baggins, Thorin Oakenshield and the Company of Dwarves. Having reclaimed their homeland from the Dragon Smaug, the Company has unwittingly unleashed a deadly force into the world. Enraged, Smaug rains his fiery wrath down upon the defenseless men, women and children of Lake-town. Obsessed above all else with his reclaimed treasure, Thorin sacrifices friendship and honor tohoard it as Bilbo’s frantic attempts to make him see reason drive the Hobbit towards a desperate and dangerous choice. But there are even greater dangers ahead. Unseen by any but the Wizard Gandalf, the great enemy Sauron has sent forth legions of Orcs in a stealth attack upon the Lonely Mountain. As darkness converges on their escalating conflict, the races of Dwarves, Elves and Men must decide – unite or be destroyed. Bilbo finds himself fighting for his life and the lives of his friends in the epic Battle of the Five Armies, as the future of Middle-earth hangs in the balance.
As I previously published, prior to seeing The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, I went through a marathon binge-watching of the previous films in Peter Jackson’s Middle-earth sagas for the first time. While I’m not in a rush to go back and watch any of them anytime soon, my interest was maintained by the Lord of the Rings trilogy. There’s a lot to digest between the three films (and that’s just with the theatrical versions), and it’s certainly a credit to Jackson just how well these films come together.
If only he hadn’t turned The Hobbit into another Middle-earth trilogy.
Given Jackson’s success with the extended cuts of the previous trilogy, I can understand the rationale behind turning the single-volume Hobbit into two films, as most filmgoers expected when An Unexpected Journey was being promoted. There’s plenty of material to cover, and I’m sure there are economic incentives to making the lengthy production into two separate films as well. But splitting it into a two-parter, then into a trilogy in the middle of production, just seemed strange.
My geek knowledge covers other film universes, but not this one, so I really don’t know what’s been added in for the series and where exactly Jackson has added to the material. But it’s painfully obvious there’s some bloat with the Hobbit series that didn’t exist with the Lord of the Rings trilogy. The bulk of The Battle of the Five Armies covers the battle mentioned in the subtitle, which amounted to one chapter in The Hobbit. While a film can visualize the battle in a way a book might not, I don’t know if it’s worth so much time.
It doesn’t help that anyone who’s seen the original trilogy knows, more or less, where this one is heading. It’s a problem that plagued the Star Wars prequels as well. The new string of films basically become setup films for the original films. That doesn’t mean the journey to those original films has to be inferior, but there needs to be a push to make these films worthwhile – especially when you’re dragging out and adding to the source material in a way that wasn’t done with the original set of films.
The biggest problem with the trilogy, to me, is the diminished presence of the titular character. While the original series is better in pretty much every way to this one, Jackson did a brilliant job casting Martin Freeman as a young Bilbo Baggins. If anything, he’s a more interesting protagonist than Frodo was in the original trilogy. Bilbo has a certain energy that’s sorely missing from this series, and it’s most notable here. The additions to the film revolve more around other characters who simply aren’t as interesting as Bilbo, and it’s to the series’ detriment.
I think that shrinking the narrative down to two films would have been in the best interest of the story. There are interesting things going on here. The dynamic between Thorin and Bilbo reaches new levels here, as Thorin becomes possessed by “dragon sickness,” a particular brand of greed. Keeping the parts of the trilogy that focus on this story intact while condensing the films to two parts would put so much more focus on one of the best parts of The Hobbit storyline. As it is, it gets lost in the films.
There are also parts of the story that just stop the film dead in its tracks. Most notable is pretty much anything with Tauriel, who loves to talk about love. Don’t get me wrong: the dwarf she loves is actually rather cute. But it’s an unnecessary addition, even if her presence gives the film some (small) token gesture to a more diverse film. If Jackson was intent on adding a brand new female character to the mix, which wasn’t a bad idea, making her primarily pine for another character just reduces the idea to a case of “one step forward, two steps back.”
What strikes me is how The Battle of the Five Armies compares to how Jackson ended the Lord of the Rings trilogy with The Return of the King. Instead of a film ending a series with several different endings, here he makes the ending span most of the length of the film. Where The Return of the King was the longest of Jackson’s Middle-earth films, The Battle of the Five Armies is easily the shortest. As a satisfying conclusion to a series, though, The Return of the King just worked. The Battle of the Five Armies feels more like a lengthy journey to a conclusion we all know about.