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 The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

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Donald McKinney
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PostSubject: The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies   Thu Jan 08, 2015 1:49 am

And so it's come to this, the final trip to Middle-Earth, done by Peter Jackson anyways. It's a miracle he stuck with the Hobbit franchise at all. It was a horribly troubled production from day one. Jackson had already bequeathed direction to Guillermo Del Toro in 2008, then co-producer MGM went bankrupt, pre-production was held up, and Del Toro, fed up with the delays quit. Jackson was reluctant to direct, as he'd already done Lord of the Rings, which had taken up nearly 8 years of his life, and he didn't want to revisit Middle-Earth again, as he was planning other projects. Besides, Jackson had recently sued New Line Cinema for withholding profits from Lord of the Rings, and it looked like Jackson had burnt his bridges with revisiting Middle Earth anyways. However, New Line was subsequently bought by Warner Bros. and with no other director suitable to take on The Hobbit, Jackson took it on. What was going to be 2 films ended up being 3 films, and there was a lot of grumbling from Tolkien aficionados who said it was pointless making the original 310 page book into 3 films, even some saying it would it would end up like the Star Wars prequels. But, that's not the case, while it was nothing like the Lord of the Rings trilogy, even though it was lighter in tone, it's a great visual experience. The first film, An Unexpected Journey, was finding it's feet, and when the second film, The Desolation of Smaug, came around, the tone changed gear, it became darker and much more action orientated, and it found it's feet. The third film, The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, brings the trilogy to a crashing climax, with more action you could shake a stick at, but is there such a thing as too much of a good thing?

Smaug the Dragon (Benedict Cumberbatch) has escaped from his lair in the Lonely Mountain, and now he ends up destroying Laketown. But, Smaug is brought down by Bard the Bowman (Luke Evans), and with the people of Laketown now homeless, Bard decides the people of Laketown should seek refuge in the ruins of Dale. Meanwhile, up at the Lonely Mountain, Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) seems to be succumbing to power, and he wants everyone there to look for the Arkenstone, which is the symbol of whoever should rule the Lonely Mountain. However, what Thorin doesn't know is that Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) is in possession of the stone, as he was trying to hide it from Smaug. With Thorin's patience running out, he has the party of dwarves, Dwalin (Graham McTavish), Balin (Ken Stott), Kíli (Aidan Turner), Fíli (Dean O'Gorman), Dori (Mark Hadlow), Nori (Jed Brophy), Ori (Adam Brown), Óin (John Callen), Glóin (Peter Hambleton), Bofur (James Nesbitt), Bifur (William Kircher), Bombur (Stephen Hunter) seal up the entrance to the Lonely Mountain. Meanwhile, Gandalf (Ian McKellen) is saved from his capture at Dol Guldur by Galadriel (Cate Blanchett), Elrond (Hugo Weaving) and Saruman (Christopher Lee), and Gandalf heads off to warn of the Orc army on the way, and the elves, led by Thranduil (Lee Pace) are also trying to stake their claim to the Lonely Mountain, while Legolas (Orlando Bloom) and Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly) find out how the Orcs are getting to the Lonely Mountain.

Ironically, this is the shortest of the Middle Earth films, at a sprightly 144 minutes. Indeed it makes you wonder whether it was worth splitting it from 2 films into 3, as the whole enterprise does reek of cash in. However, it's the ending the franchise deserves. The only problem is the 45 minute battle sequence which does become a bit samey after 10 minutes, and non of it has the bonkers moments like the barrel chase in Desolation of Smaug or the chase through the Goblin colony in An Unexpected Journey. It could have been a tighter film, and Jackson does have fun throughout. It would be good to see a longer cut, as there does seem to holes throughout. If Jackson does a longer cut, remove some of the battle sequences and focus on more on the story. It's well filmed by Andrew Lesnie, who has a good visual eye on the world, and was one of the main people who brought Middle-Earth to vivid life over a decade ago. Dan Hennah's production design is grand and epic, and full of detail as well, and the film is topped off with Howard Shore's music, no matter where in Middle Earth we go, each place seems to have it's own theme and anthem. Jackson always gets the best out of his crew, and indeed the grand epic vistas of his native New Zealand, which have acted like a character throughout the 6 films.

Jackson always gets the best from his cast, and Martin Freeman has made a brilliant young Bilbo Baggins, who went from stick-in-the-mud fuddy duddy, never wanting to venture out beyond Bag End, to courageous and crafty hero who uses his wits and prowess, (and a certain ring), to get out of dangerous situations. If there were accusations that there wasn't enough of Ian McKellen as Gandalf in Desolation of Smaug, then don't worry, there's more screentime for him here, escaping his almost certain doom to help stop an impending war. Lee Pace is still uncompromising and badass as Thranduil, while Orlando Bloom as Legolas and Evangeline Lilly as Tauriel act as the voices of diplomacy and reason in this meaningless, impending battle. Luke Evans as Bard the Bowman gets to show a heroic side and unlikely hero to the people of Laketown when they've lost everything, and Bard suddenly comes into his own, plus Richard Armitage as Thorin Oakenshield suddenly becomes a dark, brooding character, obsessed with power and everything that goes with it. The film should have focused more on Thorin's inner struggle rather than the overlong battle sequence that comes. It's also good to see veterans from Lord of the Rings back again, including Cate Blanchett as Galadriel, Hugo Weaving as Elrond and Christopher Lee as Saruman, the latter of whom hints at dark days to come. There's cameos from a mo-capped up Billy Connolly as Thorin's cousin Dain, and even though you can't recognise him, you can tell by the voice that it's Connolly, and Sylvester McCoy makes a quick appearance once again as the addled Radagast the Brown. Yet there's not much of the dwarves in this one, but not the glue that held the first film together. Maybe the extended cut will rectify that.



So, this bring's Jackson's take on Middle Earth to a satifactory finish, and what a journey it's been for him and us. Nobody thought Lord of the Rings would have the impact that it did, in fact Jackson went from director of low budget schlock to an epic director that David Lean would envy, it's transformed him and he's made new audiences and generations appreciate the works of J.R.R. Tolkien. While he did expand the story of The Hobbit a lot here, he did it because he loves the story, just like he loved the story of King Kong and wanted to make it his own. While it isn't the perfect film and nor is it the perfect franchise, it was going to be impossible to beat The Lord of the Rings trilogy at what it did, those were event films, and it showed fantasy films could be taken seriously. While The Hobbit trilogy was clearly lighter in tone, and it knew it, it has great respect for the original source material, and there's been some brilliant moments throughout this trilogy. Now, all the ultimate Middle Earth fan needs to do is clear an entire weekend, and watch the entire 6 films, either in their original form or extended cuts, back to back to see the full saga as it should be told. From An Unexpected Journey through to The Return of the King. While this might not be easy to do with something like Star Wars, which should only be seen from IV to VI, The Hobbit films have a fun life of their own, and there's been some very good moments in them. They're very good films, and as for Jackson, he's visited Middle-Earth twice, and now it's time to move on, and get back to more smaller, personal filmmaking. Oh, and Tintin 2.
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