14 December 2014

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

After more than a decade of film-making, Peter Jackson's Tolkien saga has finally ended, with the third and final film in what unfortunately became a trilogy of the 1937 children's book The Hobbit. Seeing The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies at Wellington's Embassy Theatre, it was prefaced by a brief recap of the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit productions, with warm reminisces from the main cast-members. Then it hurtled straight back into the action with the dragon Smaug's assault on Lake-town, which is suitably wrack-and-ruin until this trilogy's Aragorn substitute, Bard the Bowman, plies his trade. Harking back (or, chronologically speaking, forwards) to the corrupting influence of the Ring on Gollum, Thorin Oakenshield has his judgement clouded by possessiveness and paranoia over the mountains of gold he has won from the dragon. That lasts until the made-up-for-the-movies jolly nasty orc fellow, Azog, the one who has serious difficulty picking his nose, turns up with a whole heap of iron-clad orcs and trolls for a mighty old ding-dong that you were kind of expecting from the title.

It's to Jackson's credit that the enormous barney at the end is a proper highlight and not just a re-hash of the sturm und drang at the end of the second and third Rings films. The film's High Frame Rate 3D imagery shows the action in razor-sharp detail and sets a very high standard for those hoping to follow in the fantasy genre. At times you just want to press pause and savour the beauty of the scenery, the intricate detail in the set-dressing, and the effort that's been put into the costumes and armour. It's also fortunate that nearly all of the regrettable video-game-like moments from The Desolation of Smaug are missing from this film. (Well, there is one now-traditional moment for Super Legolas, but that can be forgiven). The sound design is adept too, of course, making full use of the subtleties and power of a great rig like that in the Embassy.

Apart from an inconsequential love story, which is serviceably handled (Evangeline Lilly already has an elf name to begin with!), there is little in the way of particularly meaty acting for the cast to do, unless fight choreography counts as acting. That's not a complaint, because the fighting is excellent. But The Hobbit hewed much closer to the action film genre than the previous trilogy, and it's only near the very end of Five Armies, when Ian McKellen and Martin Freeman provide a wordless scene with a commendable spot of acting 'business' that you remember that characters can interact with each other without the scenery crashing down around them or gigantic orcs bearing down to cleave them in two. And while the desire to tie up the loose ends and link back to the outset of The Fellowship of the Ring is understandable, Jackson again shows his unwillingness to opt for a snappy ending; instead, goodbyes must be drawn-out and somehow profound.

No matter - at least in the rush to expand two films into three the resulting finale was an entirely bearable 144 minutes long. This is a much more humane length than the epic runtimes of the earlier films. And now we can hope that Jackson & co. leave Tolkien for good, because the last drops have surely been squeezed from that particular source. No Silmarillion, no The Children of Hurin, please! I think like many people I've had my fill, and that's from someone who was a big fan when the series commenced. Now after umpteen views of those smug Air New Zealand inflight videos I'd like a healthy break. Maybe now's the time to make that Tintin sequel, Peter?

See also:
Movies: Sunset Boulevard, 25 September 2014
Movies: Die Nibelungen, 8 July 2014
Movies: The history of film aspect ratios, 28 June 2013
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