The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

The last of the Hobbit trilogy and the ending of the Lord of The Rings epic cinema journey that started half a generation ago. I will dispense with the usual description of a back-story just to say that this film takes up where the last finished, exactly. One of the more painful initiatives of Hollywood studios in the last few years is the introduction of a two-part film offering. Not only have we had to work through various trilogies, but we are now having “Concluding Film Part 1” , part 2, etc. With these movies I think we got a compromise. The Hobbit is a much shorter book, with in many ways a far less complex story-line.

I enjoyed, but was not a fanatical follower of the original trilogy and also to an extent these current Hobbit movies. Indeed I felt there was something lacking in the original cinema releases which needed the Director’s cuts to improve. When I bought the DVD’s for the first three films I made no bones about using the fast-forward button at certain times to move past what seemed like story filler. Indeed you got a sense of Epic when watching the first three movies. With This Hobbit series, the lack of additional storyline showed with a much tighter production.

And so I come to “The Battle of the Five Armies”. Some purists consider this movie as essentially “filer” with all of the key elements of the story having been covered in the previous offerings. Such is cinema, that often a “footnote” in a book can turn in to the major element of a movie, and so it was with the five Armies.

The movie, opens quickly with Smaug having been woken and stirred from the mountain, now attacking Lake Town with the Master (Stephen Fry, Ros na Rún, 2011) firmly focused on ensuring the town’s gold escapes under his care while Bard (Luke Evans, Dracula Untold, 2014) struggles to escape from jail. He does and eventually manages to Kill Smaug. I have to say the Smaug slaying scene reminded me of the writing of Sir Terry Pratchett, in one of his earlier books the men of the night Watch have to shoot down a dragon but must first ensure it is a “million-to-one” shot as they are the only ones that work.

Once Smaug is dead, the scene is quickly set for what is to come. It is made clear to all that now that Smaug is no longer protecting the mountain. There will be a number of people laying claim to the mountain and its contents. Faced with the growing popularity of the mountain and the associated military build-up outside Thorin Oakenshield begins to suffer the same fate as Smaug, falling completely under the spell of the gold, in a manner that closely resembles the power of the original Gold Rings.

From here on the film works to serve the main title. As we see the armies build up. I did find myself counting the armies to who were all five. One thing that is noteworthy is that the epic nature of the earlier movies is not there to the same extent. An example of this is the army brought to the mountain by Thorin’c cousin, Dain (Billy Connolly, Brave 2012), not only does he bring some much appreciated dwarfish humour but his army is clearly limited, we can see from one flank to the other, likewise with the elves, there is an obvious limit to resources. Gone is the vast scale of the previous battle scenes.

This difference actually works. When I heard that the climax to the film/series was a 45 minute battle scene my heart sank, however, it was, as ever, nicely done and nowhere as intense as in the first trilogy.

Overall this and its companion two movies are, or at least feel, shorter than the previous offerings, not in terms of actual screen time but in how they feel. The editing is so sharp the movie almost feels episodic in parts, I could nearly predict a scene ending so that we could jump to elsewhere in the story.

Overall I preferred these films to the earlier set. The cast is well mixed from the series stalwarts such as Legolas (Olrando Bloom, Romeo & Juliet , 2014) to Kili (Aidan Turner, Being Human, 2009). As sequels go they work far better than Star Wars Ep’s IV-VI (granted, I thought they were not as bad as other said they were). Here they did not need to create a new legend and back-story, we already knew it. However it could be argued that certain elements were need to fall into place to position the original LofTR’s films, this is perhaps best seen when Lady Galadriel (Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine, 2013), Lord Elrond (Hugo Weaving, Cloud Atlas, 2012) and Saruman (Christopher Lee, Dark Shadows, 2012) fight the Wraith Kings to save Gandalf (Ian McKellen), we see after the fight a glint in Saruman’s eyes as to what the future holds, but that is the only clue, one look into his eyes.

The plot is as simple as ever – Good guys on a mission, need to face their own issues as well as the world ganging up on them, while the world around them is getting ready for an Armageddon scale battle, just to complicate things. However faced with seemingly insurmountable challenges, they still manage to overcome everything and as usual the series ends with the necessary Hobbit quota returning to the Shire. One final word to Martin Freeman (Sherlock, 2010) who gives us a fantastic Bilbo Baggins who manages to keep us with him the entire way along (I could have quite happily edited out a number of Hobbit (the people not the movie) related scenes out of the original LofTR, but that’s just me.

Sharp and well assembled this film works on its own as well as part of the famous series. Certainly work some free time over the vacation period.

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