Inside a warm pub in the shire, four Hobbits share knowing glances. We’ve taken every agonising step with them, through fire and bloodshed and yet they’re brimming with relief that the darkness that nearly enveloped Middle-Earth did not encroach on their Shire. Even thinking about the love, and unbreakable bonds between Frodo (Elijah Wood), Samwise (Sean Astin), Merry (Dominic Monaghan) and Pippin (Billy Boyd) in one fraction of the tiered ending of the epic conclusion to The Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Return of the King, I still can’t help but start to well up.
Fresh out of the conclusion of The Hobbit trilogy’s final chapter, The Battle of the Five Armies (BOFA), I feel nothing. There’s no fiery hatred that the film didn’t do justice to the source material, or particular performances that coaxed me into a rage, instead BOFA hypnotised me into one of those dispassionate elves, sans an obsession with straightening my hair.
In the final seconds of The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, the titular dragon bursts forth from the bowels of Erebor proclaiming “I am fire, I am death.” We open BOFA in grubby Lake Town, feeling Smaug’s wrath; and while he’s able to lay waste to the entire floating city, he’s defeated. The echo of his passing reverberates around Middle Earth and armies of Dwarves, Elves, Men and Orcs converge on the foothills of the Misty Mountain.
Peter Jackson is a genius filmmaker. His writing collaborators Fran Walsh, Phillipa Boyens, and Gullermo Del Toro, have done a fantastic job with An Unexpected Journey and The Desolation of Smaug juggling to keep the focus tight on the company of dwarves (and our titular Hobbit) and expanding the story to flesh out insights into the Middle Earth power brokers orchestrating their moves along the figurative chessboard. However, having last visited the franchise in a theatre on December 31 2013, all the frenzy that we were whipped into during Smaug’s confrontation with Bilbo and the Dwarf company seems so distant when we arrive at the beginning of BOFA. The company’s connection, or conflict is hard to remember and it’s not long before we’re strangled by Thorin’s mad pursuit for the ‘Heart of the Mountain’ a gem with the lure of one of the rings of power. The company retreats into ‘extra’ status to provide Richard Armitage the space to break Thorin down.
There are so few highlights. Seeing a confrontation between the Necromancer imprisoning Gandalf and Middle Earth’s Avengers Saruman (Christopher Lee), Elrond (Hugo Weaving), Galadriel (Cate Blanchett), watching a giant troll sprint into the battlements of Dale (the settlement across from Erebor) like a kamikaze battering ram, the character played by Billy Connolly (and that’s all the detail I’ll provide) and the frustratingly brief time that you get with Bilbo are the rare sequences and moments take you back to the overwhelming heights of The Lord of the Rings Trilogy.
The rest of the film is computer generated gluttony of the highest regard. While one can’t help but be impressed with the glorious wide shots of gargantuan hordes marching into battle, you’re distracted by their perfect synchronicity. Everything’s too polished, too perfect, and the harmony between steps and motion makes the streaming lines of Matrix-esque binary code that’s informing it almost visible. Remember the bloody ferocity of the confrontation between the Uruk-hai leader and Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen). The hits that cause flesh to look tenderised and the terrifying intimacy of watching that giant Uruk snatch Aragorn’s sword as it’s skewering him to drag him toward his body is replaced with utterly bombastic environmental obstacles and distractions, one supposes, to inflate its importance.
There’s a reason why the critical chorus smashes the use of the 48 frames per second higher frame rate imagery, and that’s because it makes everything in The Hobbit trilogy that isn’t computer generated look like it’s been homemade for a high school play instead of a several hundred million dollar production. The once celebrated production design is drastically underdone by the harsher appraisal that the audience gets with enhanced hyper vision.
The more time I take thinking about it, the more I feel like Gary Busy’s Mr Joshua in Lethal Weapon. He gets ordered to ignite a cigarette lighter and hold it under his forearm. While he is resolved to endure, once the flame truly laps at his skin you see him reveal the pain he’s experiencing. The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies was a deadening and then painful ending to something I loved.
Blake Howard – follow Blake on Twitter here: @blakeisbatman and listen to legacy audio reviews on That Movie Show 2UE here or on top-rating film podcast Pod Save Our Screen, available now on iTunes.
Directed by: Peter Jackson
Written by: Fran Walsh, Phillipa Boyens, Peter Jackson, Gullermo Del Toro (based on the book ‘The Hobbit’ by J.R.R Tolkien)
Starring: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellan, Lee Pace, Evangeline Lilly, Benedict Cumberbatch, Richard Armitage, Luke Evans, Orlando Bloom, Cate Blanchett, Aiden Turner, Billy Connolly, Hugo Weaving, Christopher Lee, Graham McTavish,