A Wizard, some Dwarves and a Halfling go on and adventure to slay a dragon and retrieve a hoard of treasure. No, this isn’t Dungeons and Dragons, it is The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies.
Since 2001 Peter Jackson has been immersed in JRR Tolkien’s fantasy realm of Middle-Earth. With The Battle of the Five Armies, we see the end to almost two decades of a fantasy world that was said to be impossible to translate to film. The adventure started with Fellowship of the Rings and ending with the prequel trilogy’s Battle of the Five Armies.
“To me, it [Battle of the Five Armies] has a significance because it is the moment in time where a 6 film series comes into focus. The first two Hobbit movies are the first two acts that virtually made our story and this is the climax of our story but it is also the film that is the missing piece to continue on to the Lord of the Rings”, said Jackson in a recent interview with Legendarium Media, “So to me it is, until this film actually existed, there were these parts floating out there that can now be together.”
The movie continues right where we left off in the second film. Smaug has been set upon Laketown spreading death and destruction as the Dwarves watch from the mountain. As the destruction of Laketown rages we see Bard the Bowman (Luke Evans) racing to stop the dragon, Smaug. With the help of his son, the dragon is eventually defeated. This is where we see Bard, not only as the savior of Laketown, but as a caring Father. It is a tender scene where Bard assures his son that no danger will come to him as he helps him aim the arrow.
From here, the film changes direction to the politics and drama that surrounds the former Dwarf kingdom and riches. Each race in the area has been affected by the desolation of Smaug and each feels they are owed for their hardship.
Peter Jackson creates a perfect atmosphere of suspicion and tension. From the Laketown refugees moving into the former Dwarven kingdom, the Elves invasion to the impending attach of the Orcs. Throughout the political pandemonium, Bilbo [Martin Freeman] inserts as the moral voice of reason.
It is at this time, we see Thorin descend into his retaken home and descend into madness. Richard Armitage [Thorin] plays this descent brilliantly with a quiet fearsome paranoia and sudden explosive delusions. Unlike the awkward and clunky fall to the Dark Side of Anakin Skywalker in George Lucas’ Star Wars Episode 3, the fall of Thorin builds convincingly and in time. I would consider this, Armitage’s best performance of the Hobbit films.
Let’s talk Tauriel and Kili…
There has been a massive nerd uproar over the “artistic licensing” regarding the romance between Tauriel and Kili. I understand the argument that Tauriel was a created character and that the relationship/love triangle can be considered contrived but…in my opinion, it works. Here’s why.
Firstly I will say, I am not hung up on the need to have an identical reproduction from the book into the films. With all movie adaptations, there are changes. It is unavoidable. Sometimes, those changes involve a created character. The story adaptation may also take on elements or familiar tones that reflect the times it was made.
Much like Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, there is a human element that is missing – romantic love. This may not be important in his written work or trivial to some, but as a Director of a film (especially a film adaptation on what most said was “un-filmable”) and studio executives, it is an element that is needed in the “Hollywood equation”. Romance, even a little in a film, draws in those to the theater that may have not gone or given the film a chance. In Lord of the Rings, there was the increased presence of Arwen. This created the romantic tale of Arwen and Aragorn that was needed to add emotional depth to the film for those “non-fans”. Travel ahead 15 years and we now have Tauriel and Kili.
The attraction between Tauriel and Kili was subtle enough in The Battle of the Five Armies that I was able to overlook the controversial side story. There is a tension between this attraction that they are unable to express due to racial differences. This is also compounded by the intrusion and notice of their own races to this unlikely union.
Of course, this affair was not meant to be as Kili is cut down in battle during the epic finale scenes. With this romance and the death of Kili we get a greater look at the emotions and soul of the Mirkwood Elves, as Tauriel laments over the fallen Dwarf saying to Thranduil, “Why does it hurt so much?”
“…Elves feel things in a very deep way, deeper than a human. They’re very far from human. Those emotions, that love is profound.”– said Lee Pace during the interview.
This profound love was also shown between Thranduil and his son Legolas. We know that Legolas’ Mother is dead and he is all that Thranduil has. There is a moment when Father and Son exchange words and as Legolas is walking away, Thranduil says “Your Mother loved you”.
“Thranduil was an interesting character in terms of what we had to make up” said Philippa Boyens, with Pace adding, “It was such a purely creative process. To take the little clues we were given in the Hobbit and mine them for the essence of what that character was – this Elven King who had fought in the great battle , fought dragons, and is now refusing to fight. Now avoiding this epic battle between good and evil.”
The Rescue of Gandalf introduces the return of the “Necromancer” and showcases the awesome power of the White Council. Elrond, Galadriel, Radagast and Saroman battle the forces of evil and free our favorite Grey Wizard. During the rescue, there are two instances of “closeness” between Gandalf and Galadriel. One could interpret this as a deeper affection than respect and friendship. This speculation started in the first Hobbit film because of the scene where Galadriel moves hair from Gandalf’s face. During the press conference in New York City, Ian McKellen explained this away as an inadvertent action from Cate Blanchette. Maybe Peter Jackson saw an opportunity to build on this and create some fun controversy?
Then there is Legolas and “Middle-Earth physics”
This is the only aspect of the films that has bothered me throughout. I understand that the Elves are an ancient and graceful race, unmatched in finesse and agility. That said, the sometimes exorbitant physics defying actions of Legolas can appear to be over the top. I do see the irony of criticizing a fantasy movie for realism, but even a fantasy movie can go too far. Happily, there was no shield surfing but what made me squirm a little in my seat was Legolas grabbing onto an enemy giant bat and using it to fly to a cliff above the battle while steering the creature by by its leg. He eventually arrives at the cliff, letting go and almost floating to the ledge as he sends a rain of arrows into unsuspecting Orcs. Luckily, it is only the character of Legolas that is portrayed like this and the rest of the battles and combat are solid and in order.
The BATTLE begins…The armies are HUGE!
Obviously, with a title of The Battle of the Five Armies, a good portion of the film was going to be devoted to “battle”. It is only with the arrival of Dain Iron Foot and his Dwarven army that we are treated to an epic encounter! The Dwarves are an amazing collection of warriors, disciplined, skilled and tough. What stole the battle for me was the“Dwarven shield wall”! A fantastical defensive maneuver that took me by surprise! I had to refrain myself from cheering out loud, as I was surrounded by other screening critics. My only complaint was with Billy Connolley’s voicing of Dain. I would have preferred if he would have “gruffed” up his voice a bit for the role. When he spoke, I kept visualizing the Disney movie, Brave, where he voiced Merida’s Father.
“I would ask Peter,” said Pace,“the army is going to be big, right and he would say yeah, it’s big but then I watched the move and the army is ten times bigger than I could ever conceived!”
One of my favorite parts of the battle was the one on one fight between Thorin and Azog. I felt this as the defining fight within that battle itself. It is a fast and furious fight and among the best choreographed in the series. There is a point where Azog is standing in the middle of a frozen pond surrounded by mist with sword in hand waiting for Thorin. As they meet on the ice, there is that pause that reminded me of the Samurai movies where the warriors pastured and squared off before the fight that both knew only one would survive. That would have been enough, but… the ice breaks in parts forcing a balancing act fight scene that started to remind me of the “lava balancing” fight scene between Anakin and Obi-Wan.
As with the previous Hobbit films, Martin Freeman delivers another fun performance as the out of place Hobbit struggling with the politics and battle at hand. Freeman’s performance as Bilbo elevated to a new level for me during the scene of Thorin’s death. As Thorin takes his last breath Freeman, as Bilbo, lets out a whimpering sob that is absolutely heart wrenching! I was reminded of the innocence of Bilbo and the Hobbits at this moment.
Even though Bilbo has grown through his adventure and has seen battles and dangers, he always had one foot in The Shire. I felt that it is only at the moment of the death of Thorin that Bilbo is fully brought into the war and the painful realities.
The side of good is victorious but at a tremendous cost. Bilbo steals away humbly from the celebration to start the journey back to The Shire. There is a melancholy tone as Bilbo leaves and I was reminded of the realities and costs of war in our own history, which I am sure was Tolkien’s intention.
“We were never adapting the Hobbit of the 1937 version”, said Jackson, “We were adapting that Hobbit plus the two that he retrospectively put into it from Lord of the Rings plus the appendices of The Return of the King . We were sort of adapting the Hobbit as it existed in the 50’s, and not within just one book and once Tolkien had fleshed it out more.”
The mood is elevated again as Bilbo arrives in The Shire to discover that, in his absence, he was declared dead and his possessions are being auctioned off at that very moment!
Peter Jackson Delivers an Epic and Emotional Farewell to Middle-Earth with The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies
In my opinion,The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies is the redemption of any criticism from fans and Tolkien fans in the previous two films. It successfully pulls the trilogy and complete movie series together, solidifying its place in the lore. The additions and liberties taken by Peter Jackson and Philippa Boyens in the adaptation work and only enhances the original story that will satisfy the modern Tolkien fan. The film not only features some of the most intense battles we’ve seen since Return of the King, but also a more intimate glimpse at the characters from the previous two films.
Thank you Peter Jackson for taking us there and back again.
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies is in theater NOW!