Film - The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies

Battle of the five armies

Ren Zelen dons very fetching 3D glasses and an Elf T-shirt to watch The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies...

Director: Peter Jackson

Writers: Fran Walsh (screenplay), Philippa Boyens (screenplay) Peter Jackson & Guillermo del Toro (screenplay)

Starring: Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, Orlando Bloom, Evangeline Lily, Lee Pace, Aidan Turner, Ken Stott, Luke Evans, Ian McKellen, Graham McTavish, Cate Blanchett, Hugo Weaving, Christopher Lee - a cast of thousands

Surveyed from the tower By Ren Zelen

‘You had me at Bilbo…’

Peter Jackson is much beloved by the thespian brigade - they will literally go to the ends of the earth to work with him. In a land far, far away from the cut-throat shenanigans of Hollywood, from predatory paparazzi and stalkerish fans, he creates a self-contained community – cosy, supportive, experimental. It’s a little piece of thespian green-screen heaven. Outside lies the picturesque, under-populated landscape of New Zealand, now forever identified with Tolkien’s ‘Middle Earth’. Some of them never want to leave.

As I have previously admitted - I’m no fan of Tolkien (even though I originally come from what was Tolkien’s actual ‘Middle Earth’) but since my revered head honchos last had me watching and reviewing three hours of movie and an additional nine hours of extras, when the ‘extended’ DVD of ‘Smaug’ was unleashed upon an unsuspecting public [read that review here] it was only right I should continue the bittersweet experience by reviewing the DVD and extras pertaining to the final movie of Peter Jackson’s Hobbit trilogy: The Battle of the Five Armies.

Jackson originally assigned the visionary Mexican director Guillermo del Toro to helm The Hobbit, and it was initially planned as just two films – but Jackson found himself somehow compelled to take over. He wanted The Hobbit for himself, just as he had possessed the LOTR movies (‘My Preciousssss!’) And once back in control, spurred by his connection to the source material and his eagerness to expand on the CGI artistry pioneered by his Weta Workshop, Jackson made three feature-length episodes …and many, many, MANY extra features ….

After the mortiferous first act, An Unexpected Journey (2012), the trilogy sprang suddenly into dramatic life with the entertaining action set-pieces of The Desolation of Smaug (2013), including a giant spider attack on the Dwarves, an escape from the Elves’ castle down a white-rapids river, the siege of Lake Town and Bilbo’s climactic confrontation with Smaug the dragon (a smoky-voiced Benedict Cumberbatch).

In The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies(2014) Jackson and his screenwriting colleagues Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens open with Smaug torching Lake Town with his fiery, dragon breath. The smug Master of Lake Town (Stephen Fry) tries to slip out with a boatload of gold (but ends up satisfyingly smooshed – hurrah!). The burning of the settlement, however, provides the perfect opportunity for Bard (Luke Evans) to prove his skill as a bowman and to pierce the beastie in its only vulnerable spot (don’t ask).

Meanwhile, the dwarves are holed up in the castle observing the devastation with varying degrees of concern. Their king, Thorin Oakenshield, doesn’t care much, as he has gone bling-crazy. Doing a very good job of smouldering amongst the ashes is Richard Armitage as the tragic figure of the Dwarf king Thorin, who, having recaptured his people’s ancestral cave bursting with treasure, comes down with a maddening case of ‘dragon fever’. Much to the dismay of his fellow dwarves, he goes as far as to break his word rather than to part with a single coin. Consumed with preserving his fields of gold, Armitage's voice begins to take on the tones of Smaug with a touch of Gollum. Having a bit of a personal battle with Thorin in the steamy, deep-voiced stakes - Elf king Thranduil (Lee Pace) asks him if he will honour his debt and make peace, or have war and bloodshed in order to keep his stash intact. Bard the Bowman (Luke Evans) pipes in sounding a wee bit Welsh and is out-bellowed by Thorin’s magnificent theatrically-trained-voice-projection, “I will have war!” Thus the titular five armies — Dwarves, Elves, men, Orcs and an unexpected fifth contingent — amass for a battle that consumes the last 45 minutes of the movie.

Contemplating the Five Armies too closely is about as productive as working out which dwarf is Nori and which one is Ori (Clue: it’s the one with the beard). Though I gathered that the prettier dwarves are brothers that can fight, Fili and Kili (the clues are in the names). The latter is played by Aiden Turner (now reportedly wowing the ladies with his bare-chested Poldark on TV). He’s a sensitive dwarf and has some kind of interspecies romance going on with elf Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly), a character not in the J.R.R. Tolkien novel but created by Peter Jackson to add a romantic angle and an explanation for Legolas’s preference for the single life in LOTR. (Diehard Tolkienites choked at this sacrilege but I continued to vacuum up my popcorn and fruit-shoot with nary a qualm.)

Be warned though, if one side appears to be winning a battle in a Peter Jackson movie, someone or something is bound to appear over the horizon to turn the tide. More Orcs, Giant Bats, Great Eagles, Bears, Walking trees, or possibly some giant sandworms from Dune - will show up to change the course of the action. Having said that, I can add that the battle scenes are again spectacular, nearly matching The Two Towers in their masterly visual choreography and sustained combat. With platoons of visual-effects artists and with New Zealand providing magnificent (albeit digitally enhanced) backdrops - Jackson never fails to deliver state-of-the-art eye candy. (Serkis, absent as Gollum but here contributing his talent as second-unit director.)

From the outset, Martin Freeman as Bilbo has played his part in buoying up this protracted trilogy by making his Hobbit persona whimsical, self-deprecating and entertainingly spunky – not much of a stretch for Freeman, some might say, but he provides the tale with its moral core (and was the only reason I got through the plodding An Unexpected Journey, at all). Legolas (Orlando Bloom) again performs some wonderful video-game-like acrobatics – hitching a ride on a giant bat and skipping nimbly up the stones of a collapsing bridge. The appearance of Gandalf (Ian McKellen) Galadriel (Cate Blanchett) Elrond (Hugo Weaving – I gave a cheer) and Billy Connolly in a cameo are all inevitable crowd-pleasers - and one must give an honourable mention to Christopher Lee. He is 92 years old and looks like he can do his own stunts, thank you very much. Plus, the man once met Tolkien – yes, in real life, not just on a soundstage in New Zealand.

J.R.R. Tolkien wrote The Hobbit from 1930 to 1932 and when published five years later, the book introduced the world to the Middle-earth land of Dwarves, Elves, humans and the small, hairy-footed Hobbits of the Shire. By 1949 the Oxford don had completed an epic sequel, published in three volumes as The Lord of the Rings in 1954 and 1955. I may not be a Tolkien fan, but being an academic, I must place these amongst the great fantasy books of the 20th century.

Jackson’s Lord of the Rings film-trilogy version became the first fantasy movie to win the Oscar for Best Picture, as well as many for its technical achievements. The filming of The Hobbit served as a prequel. By nature, prequels are difficult to do - requiring to be connected and yet independent of the movies they follow. If The Hobbit doesn’t equal the coherence or achievement of Jackson’s earlier trilogy, it is still a thrilling effort, and this final chapter will undoubtedly satisfy fans and engender a sense of sadness as, seventeen years later, the tale has finally drawn to a close.

Copyright R.H. Zelen – ©RenZelen 2015 All rights reserved.

The DVD extras comprise of Featurettes:

‘Recruiting the Five Armies’ - comprising of interviews with Extras about their experiences playing Dwarves, Elves, Orcs and Men in the battle sequences.

‘Completing Middle-Earth’ - outlining how the film-makers wove together the narrative threads of the LOTR and The Hobbit trilogies to make one cohesive story.

‘A Seventeen-Year Journey’ – describing the journey the film-makers had to undergo to bring Middle-Earth to the screen in both trilogies.

A section devoted to the writing and recording of the ending credit song by Billy Boyd plus a video created for the song.

Two trailers.

Image - Warner

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