The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies

WE REJOIN the multitude of heroes and heroines at precisely the point we left them: with the brilliantly realised Smaug The Dragon, luxuriously performed by Benedict Cumberbatch (both voice and facial capture), about to attack Laketown. 

In the dragon’s absence at Lonely Mountain, the dwarf king Thorin (Armitage) is now succumbing to ‘dragon sickness’, a disorientating condition that sees his usually heroic judgement impaired by an insatiable lust for the gold that now surrounds him. 

Outside, the armies of men, elves and Sauron’s orcs converge in a bid to lay their claim on the treasure. It’s up to the titular Hobbit, Bilbo Baggins (Freeman), to negotiate between them in a bid to minimise the bloodshed.

A consistent vision 

THIS TIME sees director Peter Jackson not so much drop the ball as give the impression that he’s been less serendipitous while carrying it. The sense of wonder one got from first entering Jackson’s Middle Earth, back in 2001, may be precisely that which we’re missing here. 

While a welcome sense of familiarity came with this The Hobbit trilogy, and Jackson should be commended for his consistent vision, The Lord Of The Rings had central performances that resonated powerfully with audiences – the wide-eyed Elijah Wood and the affable Sean Austin completely disappeared into their roles as Sam and Frodo and, for better or worse, they will always be associated with those characters. 

By Return of The King, their chemistry had earned them some big emotional pay-offs. Here it’s clear that Jackson is scrambling to pull off that same feat with Bilbo and Thorin. 

Pale comparisons 

THERE are other obvious parallels, like the burgeoning romance between the dwarf Kili (Turner) and the elf warrior Tauriel (Lilly), which is touching but ultimately pales in comparison to the romance between Viggo Mortensen’s career-defining turn as Aragorn and Liv Tyler’s Arwen. 

Similarly, in place of Serkis’s iconic Gollum we have Alfrid, whose toothless cowardice contrasts with all the heroism around him to much comic levity, but he can’t hope to replace the reservoirs of character that once occupied this deep Serkis-shaped hole. 

A satisfying ending 

OFTEN it feels like an appropriation or embellishment of Tolkien (in addition to the final 22 pages of The Hobbit, Team Jackson culled from various appendices and notes) that serves largely to bridge the trilogies and to emulate the emotional highs of LOTR. 

With regards to the latter, precisely because Jackson set that bar so high, it fails – if only by his own standards. To his credit, this outing does engage throughout and Jackson seems to have conquered his indecision, enough to conclude with a singularly satisfying ending – sparing us his customary eight. 

A final plea 

FINALLY a note on the presentation: Jackson is reportedly a big fan of Doctor Who, which may explain his preoccupation with high frame rates (48 per second rather than 24/25). This tech makes everything look like a 1970s BBC production they couldn’t afford to shoot on film and instead opted for video, the less expensive option. 

HFR is the most mind-boggling step backwards for cinema exhibition and I beseech thee: boycott the tech, see it in 2D or the non-HFR 3D and stop studios charging a premium for cinema that feels like cheap television.

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