Over the last 3 years the Hobbit trilogy has been subjected to a large helping of snark, for not living up to the LOTR films. Truth be told some complaints were valid. The first two Hobbit films felt padded, perhaps even sluggish at times, but ultimately for fans it was just great to be back in Middle Earth, being part of Peter Jackson’s majestic vision.
The most surprising thing with Battle of the Five Armies is how it addresses the single biggest complaint these three films have had levelled at them. It seems almost everyone at some point has moaned that the Hobbit did not warrant being stretched to 3 films. The worry was that there wouldn’t be enough material. But in this final film Jackson has created easily the best entry in the series, which basically comes from a couple of paragraphs of Tolkien’s writings.
Testament to Jackson’s cinematic prowess is that the film begins with a scene that would be at home as a third act climax in most directors’ movies. The defeat of Smaug over Lake Town is our opening ten minutes and is as thrilling as anything seen on screen this year; here used as a warm up for the epic war to begin.
After some brief build up, the titular fight is soon in front of us and from this point the film never lets up. This is action storytelling at its best. Vast sweeping shots of battle hordes coupled with intimate one on one melees, allow individual story threads to continue even in the midst of chaos. This is Jackson’s greatest strength; each and every fight is there to push the physical story or an emotional journey forward, and because of this the audience investment is never less than total.
You will be warn out by BotFA. I certainly was. The tension is unbearable and the stakes are so high. All the time Jackson has spent building relationships in the previous films makes the losses that occur (and they do occur) all the more heart wrenching.
The thing that suffers under all this non-stop scrapping is the music. The themes feel lost as they jump around frenetically, and as I try to recall a single moment where the music took centre stage all I can hear is a wash of brass and strings vying for a moment of clarity and pause. Aside from the dwarf theme from An Unexpected Journey, I’d say the score has been the most disappointing element compared with LOTR across each of the Hobbit films.
What’s important is that each of our hero characters gets their moment in the sun. And every arc is resolved in a satisfying way. The connections are made to Fellowship of the Ring, and but for a horrible piece of exposition from Thranduil to Legolas, these connective tissues are nicely thought out, and will have you pining to watch all 6 films together (when that opportunity finally arises (and it will)).
At the end of all things, Jackson has proven himself a true maker of magic. Despite the snarky comments and cynical complaints over the last few years, the fact is that these films have stayed true to themselves and the vision put forth for them. I, along with millions of others have been so excited for another December to come around as it has meant a trip back to Middle Earth. And just as with The Return of the King, I now find myself in that bittersweet place of fulfilment and emptiness; so happy to have been a part of this journey as it unfolded on the big screen, but sad that next year there won’t be a chance to go back. This was it. And it was glorious.