The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies
(M) Warner DVD/BD
After 13 years and five films — which, between them, have grossed US$4.9 billion internationally ($A6.3 billion) — we have reached the final instalment in Peter Jackson’s adventures in Middle Earth.
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies provides no time for a “previously on The Hobbit” recap, as it gets straight into the action at the point where previous film The Desolation of Smaug ended. Laketown is under attack from awakened dragon Smaug, but some ingenuity from Bard the Bowman brings the fire-breather’s demise. Meanwhile, Thorin and his companions hole up in the halls of Erebor, fortifying the entries to protect their gold. But the news of Smaug’s death spreads quickly: with Erebor and its ocean of gold no longer under the dragon’s protection, it is up for grabs. So, armies of dwarves, elves, men and orcs arrive on the scene to stake their claim upon the mountain and its treasure.
The Battle of the Five Armies is Thorin’s film, a tale of the corrupting power of greed.
Despite being the titular character, Bilbo Baggins is relegated to a supporting role in this final instalment. The Battle of the Five Armies is Thorin’s film, a tale of the corrupting power of greed. Once Thorin finds himself King Under the Mountain, he is overcome with ‘dragon sickness’ — an intense paranoia about, and protectiveness of, his gold. His integrity is sacrificed as he questions the loyalty of his companions. His unwillingness to keep his word about reimbursing the people of Laketown — who earlier aided his cause — is central to the descent into war. This shift in character focus is a bit unfortunate, as Bilbo remains the most interesting character in the film, thanks largely to Martin Freeman’s wonderfully understated performance. On the other hand, Richard Armitage does his fair share of scenery chewing as Thorin — particularly in those “dragon sickness” scenes.
Thorin’s travelling company of dwarves (and hobbit Bilbo) reached its destination towards the end of The Desolation of Smaug so, where the first two Hobbit epics were journey films, The Battle of the Five Armies has a different feel to it. It is a war movie. The crowning achievement of the film’s CGI team, dragon Smaug is defeated in the first 15 minutes, which leaves the rest of the run-time to preparations for battle and, then, the battle itself. As such, we see a shift in the prominence of different characters. Those interchangeable dwarves thankfully take a backseat, with the spotlight more focussed on those characters who can fight: Bard, Fili and Kili, as well as the elven trio of Tauriel, Legolas and Thranduil. The battle commences at about the 70-minute mark and accounts for the majority of the second half.
At 144 minutes, The Battle of the Five Armies is the shortest of all the Middle Earth films by quite some margin. And importantly, given how long the first two Hobbit films felt, it moves quite quickly. It doesn’t feel like a two-and-a-half hour movie. This action-heavy film really is all go, to the point that some elements even feel a bit rushed. That said, with the battle taking an hour of screen time — as we cut back and forth between different skirmishes and characters — battle fatigue will become an issue for some viewers. Thankfully, though, The Battle of the Five Armies doesn’t make the same errors the final instalment of the Lord of the Rings trilogy made, by dragging out its ending.
When Jackson decided to venture back into Middle Earth for The Hobbit, the original plan was to divide it into two films. With the benefit of hindsight, you can’t help but feel that would have been the right call. However, while some will see it as a cynical money grab, I’m more inclined to see this undeniably flawed trilogy as the work of a devoted fan. One who was so enamoured with the material — and the world that he had helped create — his desire to spend as much time as possible there, perhaps, clouded some of his better judgement.