13 years and 5 epic movies later, does Peter Jackson’s Middle Earth still succeed and deliver a glorious bow one last time? He does, all be it a little scruffy and forced.
In this final instalment, Lake Town must deal with the wrath of Smaug as Thorin succumbs to the dragon illness from his treasure; an obsession that plunges dwarf, man and Elf to war… only to be joined by an army of orcs and goblins for one massive smack down grudge match to depart Middle Earth with a bang.
The cast go out valiantly; Freeman is Bilbo, McKellen is Gandalf and Armitage is Oakenshield, there’s heavy drama and emotion and they all capture it fittingly. Though the dwarves don’t speak that much, you always know what they’re feeling and Pace as Thranduil is appropriately melodramatic yet three dimensional. Azog remains terrifying.
This will divide the audience; those that take Tolkein’s words as gospel will probably hate it. In this instalment, Tolkein’s Hobbit story is well and truly second fiddle to Peter Jackson’s development of his 6 part saga. It’s exciting, it’s fast paced (almost too fast paced, for the first time ever of these movies, this one feels quite short) and it packs an emotional punch. This is not just from the actual events of the film, which more often than not detract from the humour of the first two and encroach into the drama of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, but from the pure nostalgia of our journey into Middle Earth ending, concluded by Jackson in suitably restrained style, with a glorious return to the ‘Fellowship’ and a hauntingly good credit song ‘The Last Goodbye’ by Pippin.
However, this ending is far from perfect. Jackson’s CGI is impressive and works in many ways, but often it remains distracting. The battle never feels as raw as Helm’s Deep; replacing some CGI with real actors would have helped the impact of this greatly. Similarly, some of the setting and lighting is overbearing; the original trilogy relied on the beauty of New Zealand’s landscape but this trilogy relies on too much green screen. Again, it works great on some instances, but 2 and a half hours is too long to be subject to this constantly.
And so we have the main problem, the run time… or more appropriately, stretching the Hobbit into 3 movies. I’ll take as much Middle Earth as I can and I defended the first two movies to the last in Jackson’s approach to extending the novel into a trilogy, but here is where it shows strain. The first hour or so, before the battle, is the best of the entire trilogy. Politically engaging, depth of character and the building of a great battle. A battle so great, it takes priority over story… the seams are impossible to hide their splitting.
This is not to say the battle is disappointing; it’s a thrilling affair. Thorin’s insanity and Bilbo’s conflict are endlessly watchable, especially with the expectedly beautiful score from Howard Shore (which really does elevate these movies to a whole different level.) The CGI allows the insane fights to play out on screen.
However, it’s the small moments amongst the relentless action that steal the show. With some fantastic writing and poignant scenes, this is Jackson’s love letter to his fans. It may not be how Tolkein viewed Middle Earth, but it doesn’t really matter. When a film this exciting and emotional comes to the big screen, no one should chastise it because ‘it shouldn’t exist.’
Emotional, beautifully filmed but stretched out a little too far… The Battle of the Five Armies is a fitting end, as well as a necessary one, to our venture into Middle Earth. Will you follow Jackson one last time?