The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies review

So this should be, in theory, the final instalment of Peter Jackson’s middle earth double trilogy extravaganza. In some ways I’m relieved. Instead of The Battle of the Five Armies maybe this should have been called Elves v Orcs: The Final Smackdown, although as events happen before The Lord of the Rings it’s not really a final anything.

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The title gives away all you need to know. Following events of the last film where Bilbo (Martin Freeman) and the dwarves – led by Thorin (Richard Armitage) – managed to wind up the dragon Smaug, who then took off to torch the nearby Laketown, home to the manly Bard the Bowman (Luke Evans), we pick things up mid action where the dragon is wreaking havoc.

Bard does his thing with a bow, some elves pile in to help and the dwarves, realising the dragon (spoiler!) is dead, retreat into the mountain to claim the gold for themselves. We then end up in a sort of Middle Earth Mexican standoff, with elves and laketown men outside the mountain demanding the dwarves give up some of the booty. At the same time Sauron is on the rise (initially as a necromancer hellbent on keeping Gandalf locked in some sort of birdcage) and so he sends orcs and trolls and other beasties to claim the mountain for its strategic value.

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With this (hopefully) being the final outing of Middle Earth, you can see Peter Jackson and the gang have put a lot of love into the making of this film and they really don’t want to let this world go. Yet go it must. And with the final film being basically an epic battle, the challenge was to ensure the audience can find a way in – if it’s just elves and dwarves smashing into orcs then we’ll have moved too much into Michael Bay territory, which no one wants to do.

The key to the original Lord of the Rings trilogy was that, at every step of the way, you really cared about each and every one of the characters. They got lots of screen time to develop, so that when they got into battle situations you wanted them to make it. I am not sure the same can be said as much for The Hobbit trilogy, particularly this final film. As ever, Bilbo is our way in and the story is (mostly) told from his point of view. With so much going on in terms of dragons, battles and so on, he gets a little lost, in the same way he did in the preceding film, The Desolation of Smaug.

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Granted, he gets a few good moments, but it almost seems (despite the film being the third in a bloated trilogy) that he doesn’t get the time on screen we’d like him to have. Also, Jackson doesn’t tug on our heart strings in anywhere near the same way he did for the Rings films. Perhaps it’s just the nature of this type of story. It’s a journey to a mountain, a face off with a dragon, then a big battle. And that is that.

In order to inject a bit more emotion for the audience Jackson introduced a female elf, Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly) in the last film. She got a bit of a love story with the best-looking dwarf Kili (Aidan Turner), and that was further developed this time round. Book purists will probably sneer at this, but I honestly didn’t mind it. She was a good addition as a character and helped give the audience an emotional outlet – as Tauriel’s chemistry with Kili felt genuine, unforced and refreshing in an otherwise testosterone laden environment.

Evangeline Lilly as Tauriel in The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

Throughout the five armies battle (dwarves, elves, men, orcs and, er, bats and eagles possibly?), the most interesting battles were the one on one contests, as we can relate to them. Legolas (Orlando Bloom) gets his fair share, as do a few of the dwarves and elves, leaving the best one to Thorin, facing off against what can only be described as a giant orc with anger management issues.

Originally this story was written as a children’s book, an adventurous romp with perhaps a few scary bits, but overall something that was designed to entertain. I think perhaps, in order for Jackson to tie up the two trilogies, he’s moved the tone quite quickly from adventure to something altogether darker and more brooding. There’s a few moments where the playful exuberance you’d have hoped he would bring to it comes out (the barrels down the river sequence in the second film springs to mind), yet these are occur less and less as the trilogy wears on.

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There’s basically no fun to be had in this final film at all. You could say it’s a big battle so that’s to be expected, but just the odd line or two to lighten to mood wouldn’t have gone amiss. Jackson managed this perfectly well in the Rings trilogy, why not here too?

Ultimately, there’s some inventive moments to this film (Thorin’s descent into madness is quite well handled for example), yet it half collapses under its own seriousness. And you get the sense that the filmmakers are so sad that they’ll no longer be making these movies anymore, their sadness seeped through into the film’s overall tone – which made for a slightly depressing ending in a way.

The Hobbit – Freeman and Jackson’s adventure!

The Hobbit: An Unexpected JourneyWatched The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey with my family recently. Once the credits rolled my dad turned to me and said, ‘Is that it? What about the rest of the story?’ Upon hearing the film was going to be a trilogy and we’d have to wait to 2014 to see the lot, he wasn’t too pleased.

One film to rule them all
To the casual cinema goer, splitting Lord of the Rings into a trilogy made sense. It was three, distinct books. The Hobbit, however, is merely one slim book. So why three films? Well it was always going to be two, till Jackson realised how much material they had – it made sense to become three. Remember, it’s not just the one book, they’ve drawn from Tolkien’s other work, such as The Silmarillion.

Let’s assume that you’re familiar with the LOTR story. Think of The Hobbit as an origin tale. Bilbo passed the ring to Frodo in Rings – this is Bilbo’s tale of how he got his taste for adventure and originally acquired the ring. There’s more than enough going on for it to be three films without feeling padded out. Indeed, this first film moves along at a good pace.

gandalfIf it loses, we eats it whole
In terms of actors and performances, this is first and foremost Martin Freeman’s film. In various interviews he’s remarked how it was strange to be congratulated for a film that people had yet to see. I think, perhaps, because everyone knew he’d be perfect.

Richard Armitage was well cast as Thorin Oakenshield, fulfilling the Aragorn-esque role as the strong, silent leader. The rest of the dwarves all fought for screen time, some better than others. Ken Stott as Balin, the white-bearded wise dwarf of the group, stood out. As for the others, no doubt they’ll get time to shine in the next two films. Radagast the Brown (Sylvester McCoy) was suitably unhinged and comical as the woodland wizard who plays a key role in the darker part of the story.

We also get most of the LOTR alumni reprising their roles: Elrond, Galadriel, Gandalf, Saruman, Bilbo senior, Frodo – and of course, Gollum. With two wizards and a hobbit, you’ve got three knights of the realm there. Talk about keeping the British end up!

Dark action Jackson
Considering Tolkien wrote The Hobbit primarily aimed at children, the film is pretty dark in places. Whilst you get rabbit-drawn sleds and cute, little hedgehogs, you also get fairly gory battles, bloodshed and tense moments. But then, where’s the danger and drama otherwise?

To his credit, Jackson has created a film that’s going to appeal to fans, but also those new to the Rings’ world, young and old. He’s also ensured the film fits into the LOTR universe seamlessly. Something Lucas didn’t manage too well with the modern Star Wars trilogy.

Gollum in the film of The HobbitWhat is Bagginses?
There are some great scenes too, the introduction of the dwarves to Bilbo’s house is classic Jackson, right down to the song about the washing up. The company’s encounter with the trolls is well managed. The cave troll the fellowship fight in Rings just has to growl, here three trolls converse convincingly. The group’s encounter with the goblin king should appeal to younger cinema goers, although the goblin king doesn’t quite work for me and feels a little out of place, a little childish, even for kids.

Stand-out for the fans will undoubtedly be the ‘riddles in the dark’ sequence with Gollum. Subtle improvements have been made to Gollum in the ten years since Rings, all worth it. Andy Serkis, again, showing why he’s king of motion capture with a fantastic performance, bouncing off Freeman’s Bilbo. Each locked in a mental battle. Freeman brilliantly demonstrating his mettle as the perfect Bilbo – an unnatural hero, afraid but also courageous, quirky and comical.

Ultimately, it’s a great opener to this latest Middle Earth trilogy. The cast has bonded well,  Jackson’s worked his magic again and – in Freeman – he’s found a brilliant Bilbo.

There and back again – Martin Freeman’s tale

the hobbitI recently heard – well, a few weeks ago – that The Hobbit would not be a single film, but a trilogy. Apparently the prequel to the Lord of the Rings trilogy will be drip-fed to us Middle Earth fans in three instalments. The first, An Unexpected Journey, is out this year. Secondly, The Desolation of Smaug, is out in 2013. Finally, the third instalment, There and Back Again, is out 2014. That should keep fans busy at least.

In some ways this decision – presumably by Warner Bros – is both good and bad. There’s more than enough material in Tolkien’s world for a trilogy to happen. The cause for concern is that it was announced after filming. At least that’s how I understand it. So it’s essentially getting turned into three films in post production.

Some say this is a bad thing, an afterthought, a chance to cash in. Perhaps it is, however there is no need to fret little Tolkinites and Tolkinistas, it’s Peter Jackson. He knows what he’s doing. In case we need reminding, let’s just watch the trailer for the upcoming film below.

Something that’s had nearly 20 million hits and over 100,000 likes suggests that, whilst expectation is huge, this film will be truly epic. I’m quite excited at the thought of another trip back to Jackson’s Middle Earth – whether that’s as a single film, a double whammy, or a trilogy.

Anyway, this post so far has literally been my ramblings as usual. What I wanted to discuss was Mr Martin Freeman aka Bilbo Baggins – that tricksy hobbit!

Peter Jackson aside, a massive reason for my excitement about this film is his casting. I’m SO glad they chose him. It’s been discussed before by others the reasons he got this part – his comic timing, everyman qualities, the awkward, hesitant nature he instils into characters. Don’t believe me? I’ve compiled some of his best moments for your enjoyment.

  1. Tim kisses Dawn – The Office
    I’m not talking about their proper kiss where he finally wins her over. No, in this instance – in relation to why he’s going to be a great Bilbo – I mean the moment where he first kisses Dawn. Awkward, tender and sweet.
  2. Arthur’s factory trip – Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
    The sense of wild-eyed and innocent wonderment he shows here suggests he’ll be a great Bilbo, in terms of giving the character that sense of adventure.
  3. Dr Watson – Sherlock
    In case you were concerned he doesn’t have the emotional depth to play Bilbo, watch this scene in BBC’s Sherlock.  He won a BAFTA last year for his portrayal of this character.
  4. John gets his kiss – Love Actually
    Putting Martin Freeman and Joanna Page (Stacey from Gavin &  Stacey) together for this film was pure casting genius. Both totally sweet and adorable. You end up pulling a big, stupid grin when they kiss for the first time.
  5. Tim gets rejected – The Office
    I probably shouldn’t just make this a list of his top moments from The Office, but I had to include one more. The moment where Dawn rejects him is hard to watch. You wish you could save him the embarrassment.

We’ll just have to hang on until the first Hobbit instalment is out this December. I feel I should leave you with some sort of fantastic sign off. So, in the words of Looney Tunes, that’s all folks!