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Sunday, December 28, 2014

Movie Review: The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies

Hey there Chaos fans and fanatics! We here at the Eye of Terror hope that you all had a great holiday and that you got plenty of Chaos-goodies in your stockings or under your tree or whatever. I know I sure did- my wonderful (and understanding) wife got me the Sector Imperialis battleboard! Wow! This thing is huge and very nicely detailed. I'm so excited that I have already started to paint them! My wife is the best (or an enabler, depends on how one views the plastic crack habit that is 40K). In addition to that, I have been working on several projects, some of which I will show on this site later this week.

At any rate, my wife and I saw Hobbit 3 just over a week ago, so I decided I'd do a small-ish review. So, without further ado:

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

As my long time readers may remember, I love the original Lord of the Rings movies. Each of those films are both personal and epic, filled with action, emotion, and character. These three movies elevated "fantasy" films to an art form. The LoTR trilogy is without peer. I suppose, one day, I should review them on this site--- if only I had the time!

As my long time readers will also remember, I have been less than satisfied with The Hobbit films. I thought that Unexpected Journey was just awful (see review HERE). Total lack of characterization, tension, respect, filled with stupid CGI battle scenes- yikes. Though it had some good points, UJ was a letdown in nearly every respect. I have very rarely emerged from a movie so completely disappointed. A year later, Desolation of Smaug hit theaters (see my review HERE). While still not as good as LoTR, it was light years ahead of UJ- it felt much closer to the feel of LoTR, and Smaug himself was a fantastic creation, a worthy addition to the entire Middle Earth Saga. The movie had a bigger theme, had some good character beats, and felt like a more fulfilling experience. I left the theater excited for the 3rd part. Would Five Armies manage to keep up the momentum built up by

Well, the answer is sadly mixed. Five Armies starts out promisingly enough- Smaug takes his frustration out on Laketown, with only Bard standing in his way. It is a fantastic scene, and Bard come across as both brave and desperate to stop the murderous dragon. The confrontation makes for a thrilling start to the film, but the movie never builds on it, unfortunately. Nothing that follows is quite as exciting or well done as the incineration of Laketown, which hurts the remaining two hours of film time. The remaining film is entertaining, but never rises to such heights as DoS or the rest of LoTR.

While the movie moves much faster than UJ, it has similar problems. Bilbo is pretty much a side character, which seems to defeat the entire purpose of the series. Martin Freedman does the best he can, but the focus is placed on others, and thus Peter Jackson himself seems to forget it was the 4 Hobbits which made LoTR, not the action scenes or special effects. Gandalf is similarly relegated to the sidelines, though his rescue from the Necromancer is thrilling (the only part that comes close to the battle with Smaug)- its great to see the White Council in action, and Jackson is smart enough to barely hint at Saruman's eventual fall rather than telegraphing it (sadly, Jackson poorly telegraphs everything else that will lead to LoTR).

The weakness is again the Dwarves. None have been developed well at all. Balin (my favorite from the other two, acting as the conscience of Thorin) barely gets any time. Killi is still in love with Tauriel (absurdly, in my opinion, and the resolution to that tries to be dramatic but just feels unearned). The other Dwarves are still just bodies. They add nothing to the proceedings. Ironically, a new Dwarf King, Dain, introduced in the midst of the "Battle", has more verve and character than the Dwarves we have been with since the start, and that must tell you something.

The only Dwarf developed at all is Thorin, and here is where the film truly goes awry. DoS built up the theme of greed as a corrupting influence. Now that Thorin has reclaimed his kingdom, what will he do next? The answer is that he suddenly becomes a greedy, selfish, and paranoid nutjob. And why? No, its not a moral failing- its only "Dragon-Sickness". Ugh. So suddenly Thorin isn't responsible for his own actions, and he just as suddenly recovers from his "Dragon-Sickness" just in time to save the day. Cartoonish and convenient, exactly the opposite of his development in UJ and DoS. Thus, when his heroic moment and sacrifice comes, it again feels odd and unearned. I think it would have been better to tone down his "Dragon-sickness" and instead build up his fears of losing his Kingdom again- walking a fine line between legitimate concern and selfishness.

Legolas and Tauriel do fine here, and Legolas' arc seems to be what I thought earlier- he awakens to the needs of all Middle Earth, not just his kingdom and his father. Thranduil fares worse though. His selfishness hits new heights (which is fine), but toward the end he suddenly reverses himself and becomes nice, even sending Legolas on a mission to find Aragorn (talk about telegraphing- not only did I groan, but it makes no plot or character sense to have Thranduil change so suddenly and without good enough reason).

Bard and the people of Laketown get the shaft as well. After defeating the dragon, Bard becomes the leader of Laketown's survivors. Luke Evans does well: he's a family man put in a tough situation. Where can his people go? How will they survive? Don't the Dwarves owe all the people some help? Bard becomes a reluctant warrior, willing to fight to keep his people safe. He is a welcome addition to the story, even if there are shades of Aragorn in his character. Sadly, once the "Battle" is finished, the movie suddenly forgets Bard and his people- what happens to them now? Do the Dwarves, Elves, and Men make an accord? Who knows? Once the "Battle" ends, Jackson decides to run back to the Shire as quickly as possible, seemingly afraid of having too many endings...

Which brings me to the end. Once Azog is killed the battle comes to a sudden end (almost inexplicably abrupt, the more I think of it). The movie swiftly concludes with Gandalf and Bilbo going back to the Shire. Their relationship, which was so warm in LoTR, is virtually non-existent here. Again, Jackson telegraphs the influence of the ring too much, and Gandalf seems VERY suspicious. Huh? Then why the hell does he wait DECADES to do something about it? The worst of it is, though, the film ends with LoTR Bilbo (Ian Holm) greeting Gandalf just before the birthday party in Fellowship. But because Gandalf and Bilbo had little to no relationship develop in the Hobbit trilogy, this ending just feels hollow and reminds you that LoTR are such better films.

Despite my many complaints, there are certainly things to recommend the film. The movie moves quickly, with very little drag, which makes it better than UJ immediately. The actors do their best, even the sidelined Martin Freedman (seriously, it is not his fault). The action pieces are fairly well done. While there is a ton of CGI, you expect it in the larger battles, and it works, with the action not being cartoonish (as it was in UJ)- plus the "Battle" has some stakes, which helps. Watching a Dwarf army go to war is interesting and unexpected in its execution- and I loved it when Daine's dwarves formed a phalanx against the charging Orcs! The single combat between Thorin and Azog is good (though it reminded me of Batman Begins. Seriously- watch and you'll see the resemblance, trust me).

Overall, "Battle" was a fun time at the theater, but as part of the Middle Earth saga, I expect more than that. Way more. So, since I liked it more than Unexpected Journey but less than Desolation of Smaug, I'll give it 2 1/2 Marks of Chaos out of 4.

So, The Hobbit trilogy is now closed, and it was a decidedly mixed bag, at best. It's too bad, because I love LoTR so much that I'd love to spend more time in Middle Earth. Unfortunately, The Hobbit trilogy ultimately forgot so much of what made LoTR so good: the big and the small, the grandiose and the subtle, the personal and the historic- those in combinations made LoTR shine, and the Hobbit lacked so much of it.

Ah well. I think I'll fire up the LoTR blu rays to make me feel better. Now THERE'S a saga well told...

"I wish none of this had happened".

"So do all who see such times, but that is not for them to decide. All we can decide is what to do with the time that is given to us". 

Until next time!