It’s happened: Peter Jackson’s Middle Earth saga has drawn to a close.
And what a concluding film it was.
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies is unique amongst the other instalments in the series for a number of reasons. Instead of a prologue we are thrown straight into the action, with Smaug descending upon Laketown in a blaze of fury, and what follows is the shortest instalment yet. If rumours are true, even the extended edition – which for the record I cannot wait to see – will keep it in that position. And it almost pure action: from Smaug attacking Laketown and Bard’s feats with his longbow, we go to the White Council’s attack on Dol Guldur, and from then on comes the building of the titular struggle before Erebor; finally, in a lovely little sequence, we return to Hobbiton. In all this, Peter Jackson sets the link between The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings firmly in place with wonderful simplicity.
It is not perfect. While I think Ryan Gage’s Alfrid was a fantastic foil to Stephen Fry’s Master, I couldn’t help but feel he was used for one gag too many in this film. Beorn was also cruelly underused, and I only hope that, as with Desolation of Smaug, he gets his just time in the extended edition when it is released on DVD next year. And while Elves are light of foot, Legolas might just have been pushed that bit too far in his ability: it’s a real shame, because it has been fun to watch, although I should say it is only one instance I’m thinking of here. And a few missing pieces to the plot at the end – those who’ve read the book will notice it too, although there is enough to hazard guesses if you haven’t. To be honest, the majority of my gripes here stem from the fact that it has had to be trimmed for the cinema. These films need the space to breath, to flow in their own time.
But, and there is a but here, it is an enjoyable romp. A very enjoyable romp. In the midst of all the action, a plot has been constructed and runs through it with surety. The cliff-hangers, the questions, they are answered, giving us a clean ending. Bard comes into his own in magnificent fashion, Thorin’s descent and ultimate redemption is incredibly intense, and Bilbo… Bilbo is as brilliant as Galadriel was terrifying. Every expression, every emotion, every little quirk, Martin Freeman could have been born to play that role. He is Bilbo. I cannot imagine anyone else doing what he does here.
When I wrote about the extended cut of Desolation of Smaug, I wrote about hoping this would be the transition for certain things, and so it has proved. Bemoan Tauriel all you want, but she has been a great addition. I also applauded the use of the appendices, and do so again. I enjoyed the little references throughout, and the White Council sequence was truly memorable: note Saruman here. Awesome.
I left the cinema feeling somewhat moved after the spectacle, but also impressed on another matter. Yes, Billy Connolly was outrageous as Dain, brilliantly so, but it was the way his army from the Iron Hills had their big moment. They formed a shield wall in the face of attack. A proper, shields locking together, shield wall. To some this is a tiny, perhaps even unworthy thing to comment on, but not for me. In An Unexpected Journey, we saw the traits in Thorin of the heroes in the great sagas of old, but here we see the oldest tactic of battle: the shield wall may have turned into the thin red line by the age of horse and musket, but the underlying principle is the same. Like I said, that little touch impressed me – it might not have been for long given the structure of the battle and the way it was built up, but it’s great to see such a grounding in real history visualised. I applaud those who designed, and indeed decided that the Dwarves of the Iron Hills would react as such. It is such influences that make watching the appendices of the DVDs so rewarding, and I look forward to watching this particular process.
When I have another day off from temping I reckon I’ll see it again. You know, #OneLastTime. For old time’s sake.