An Unexpected Final Journey

I’ll preface this review with the fact that I am a HUGE fan of Peter Jackson’s “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy since the first film came out in 2001.

I cried when “The Return of the King” won every Oscar it was nominated for in 2003, I watch the extended editions of the films (including the appendices!) at least once a year, I own and regularly listen to the complete recordings and I nearly sharted myself when I walked past Billy Boyd on the street.

I can go on about my deep love for these films and the memories and emotional attachments I have to them, but maybe it’s better that you don’t goad me — I’ve gotten into far too many spirited debates about characters than I’d like to admit. Fuck Tom Bombadil.

Jackson’s visual interpretation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s fantasy masterpiece made the intimidating epic accessible to a wide audience through a breathtaking and groundbreaking trilogy of cinematic art.

Imagine my elation when it was announced almost 10 years after “The Return of the King” that “The Hobbit” was also going to make it onto the big screen! A return to Peter Jackson’s Middle-Earth, especially in context of Tolkien’s extremely endearing children’s story, would be the perfect companion to the established LOTR trilogy

The first “Hobbit” film, “An Unexpected Journey,” was a charming treat despite its weird deviations from the novel. However the second film, “The Desolation of Smaug,” nearly made me walk out of the theater midway through, which is why I made my way to “The Battle of the Five Armies” with gnashed teeth and extremely low expectations.

In this final installment, the film opens immediately with Smaug, the dragon (Benedict Cumberbatch) laying waste to Laketown while the protagonists, the hobbit Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) and the dwarves, led by Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage), watch in stunned silence from Erebor.

Smaug matters little in this film however, and the focus instead is on the aftermath. With all the wealth that lies in Erebor, all of Middle-Earth is coming to claim their share. Bard (Luke Evans) wants Thorin to keep his promise and pay back enough to rebuild the destroyed Laketown, while the Elven king Thranduil (Lee Pace) has his eyes set on gems that once belonged to the Woodelves.

Meanwhile, Gandalf (Ian McKellen) is busy unraveling a deeper treachery — the Dark Lord Sauron has returned and plans again to dominate Middle-Earth with his army of evil creatures. This all culminates to a battle of epic proportions at the gates of Erebor.

In an effort to make the “Hobbit” trilogy as iconic as the LOTR films, Jackson has fallen extremely short. The “Hobbit” book was written for children and Jackson tries to inflate the story into a darker epic. From the viewpoint of someone who could sense how much love and dedication was poured into the LOTR film trilogy, these attempts just feel plain cheap.

Surprisingly, “The Battle of the Five Armies” didn’t make me want to gouge my eyes out. It does have its problems, but it is far more succinct and entertaining in comparison to “The Desolation of Smaug.” If I were a viewer with little or no prior context to the films or books, I would have enjoyed it as a fun winter blockbuster.

The visuals, despite the heavy-handed CGI (i.e. Orlando Bloom’s digitally remastered face) were quite a feat and the performances, especially Freeman and Armitage, are strong points of the film. The highly underrated Lee Pace’s scene-stealing performance as Thranduil remains one of the best things about the entire “Hobbit” trilogy.

Sadly, the charm and the warmth of the story is sapped away by an onslaught of special effects, cliché on top of cliché, a shoehorned romance, blatant fan service and bloated excess. Does a battle scene really need to be over half an hour long? The heart of the story, Bilbo, is lost amongst it all.

And yet! I found myself shedding tears for the end of it all despite my qualms with the films, when the famous line is uttered to our dearest Bilbo:

“If more of us valued home above gold, it would be a merrier world.”

I don’t own any of the “Hobbit” movies and I have little interest in seeing what any of the extended editions hold, but “The Battle of the Five Armies” rounded out a nearly 13-year journey for me.

While it is true the “Hobbit” trilogy fell far short to me beyond anything I had imagined, there is something to be said about the long road Jackson has led his fans, and this final goodbye to his Middle-Earth still stung in the way the best goodbyes should — a strange mixture of sorrow, nostalgic warmth and deep love.

 

RECOMMENDED: Despite its flaws, the end of an era is worth the viewing.