The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

Bilbo Baggins: "One day I'll remember. Remember everything that happened: the good, the bad, those who survived... and those that did not."

How can something so impressive leave me feeling underwhelmed? I wanted to like this movie a whole lot more, but I'm mostly just mildly disappointed.

There was a lot to like in this movie, mostly in the first twenty minutes. Don't get me wrong, the epic battle that lasted for most of the second and third acts of the film was amazing, but it was also familiar and occasionally looked fake. The first part though? Well, that was just awesome. It should really have been the final moments of the last film, but Jackson must have thought for some reason that it was the wrong note on which to end The Desolation of Smaug.

I'm not here to rip this movie to shreds, because that's not the message I want to convey. It was a technical achievement, it was an end to a fifteen-year-long journey, it was the final nod to a franchise that has captured the imagination of the world, and it did its job in spectacular fashion. I had no major problems with the plot or the acting. I had some issues with the directing, but nothing major. But I think the pacing was off, and so was the focus. The thing that bothered me the most was the fact I had no emotional connection to this particular installment.

It's been a year since the last movie, and there was no recap. There were no significant emotional moments in the beginning of the film that connected me to the characters we've gotten to know over two movies. The entire first act was taken up by Bard and his journey. Even though I loved that segment, I feel it segregated our main characters from the action in a rather unpleasant way. Now I imagine this is also true of the book, but there were some choices that didn't make sense to me.

For as talented as Jackson is, there was an absence of his usual attention to detail and character. If this had been an action franchise movie, I probably would've been okay with the total lack of explanation and to a degree logic behind the actions of the characters. But not here, not for this franchise. I expected more. I didn't understand the motivations and the simple reasons behind one of the main characters' choices. Sure, you can simply say 'magic' and that's an explanation, but it is a piss poor one. I know I'm dancing around spoilers now, and that means I should probably just stop my current rant. So I'll leave it with this; if you are going to completely change a character, let that change at least make some sense, and don't write it off to some mystical disease that isn't really a disease! Sigh.

I guess I should probably mention the other major flaw with this movie: the effects. For the most part, this movie featured the most gorgeous battle sequences I've ever seen, with attention paid to both bigger battles and more intimate fights between the foes that have been set up since the beginning of the series. Most of these fight sequences were treated with a deliberate and attentive hand, with the highest polish on effects that couldn't be done practically.

That is, except when those effects just didn't work, and the rubbery CGI showed its ugly face. There were times where things looked so unreal that if I had come into the theater during that sequence I might have thought this was an animated feature. The worst offenses were when CGI took over the actions of the human characters, and my god, did they look wrong. To be fair, these shots were better executed than a lot of movies that have attempted the same type of visual trickery, but they were still not even remotely convincing.

I guess the overall package wasn't the issue here. It was just a few badly chosen elements that spoiled the experience for me. Perhaps the source material isn't as strong as The Lord of the Rings, or perhaps it just doesn't translate as well to a big screen. Did Jackson add too much, or take away too much in the end? I honestly can't answer that question, but I'd like to know. But no matter the answer, I am left torn and disappointed. On one hand this was a very good series that ties beautifully to The Lord of the Rings. On the other, it is a poorly paced mishmash of good ideas and iffy execution.


Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly) wasn't quite as amazing as she was in the second movie, but she definitely stood out. At the same time her character arc felt a bit under-written, as if her big emotional discovery wasn't fully set up.

Thranduil (Lee Pace) kind of annoyed me on several occasions, but wow did he have a cool mount with amazing antlers. It just goes to show antlers are as useful as they are beautiful.

Perhaps the coolest scene outside of the opening conflict was the rescue of Gandalf. It really showed what the major powers of the realms could do, and I wish we could've seen more of that.

There was a secondary human character that kept showing up and doing shady things. I'm not sure there was a point to his character, as in, I think if they had edited him out entirely, the movie would've flowed better. Much like the human antagonists in the previous film. I assume he was a book character that fans would've been upset over being cut out.

Thranduil: "So this is the Halfling who ate my food and stole keys from my guard."
Bilbo: "Yes. Sorry about that."

Despite everything I said above, this is still a very enjoyable experience that I do recommend.

3 out of 4 Epic moments of mighty heroism

J.D. Balthazar is a confirmed nerd who loves most things sci-fi or fantasy-related. He reviews Arrow and Farscape and cool new movies that strike his fancy.


Juliette said...

I liked it a lot - it probably helps that I never really liked or understood this chapter in the book anyway! And it was great to see Galadriel in action. The worst part for me was the human character you mention, Alfred (I think) - he's not in the books, he was deeply irritating and completely pointless. urgh!

J.D. Balthazar said...

Alfrid wasn't in the books!?! Wow, that makes him SOOO much worse.

Brett K said...

Alfrid is the Jar Jar Binks of Middle Earth.

Billie Doux said...

LOL, Brett K. And I haven't even seen the movie yet.

Juliette said...

Brett K, that is so true!

J.D. Balthazar said...

Totally true, Brett and very funny.

Yet I find I wanna go a bit deeper into that thought.

Jar Jar really is the embodiment of corporate meddling in a franchise, combined with a creator with a poor understanding of stereotypes and what makes a character good or funny.

Alfrid feels like an idea a group of executives came up with to have a 'funny' character. And a writer/creator who doesn't understand how to create said funny character without resorting to stereotypes.

So in essence Jar Jar Binks and Alfrid are very much the same type of character. A character that truly doesn't belong, and actively detracts from the experience the film is trying to convey.

I think there is yet a greater problem with this 'funny' character. In Lucas' case, there was a shift about a year before the filming of Episode One. The suits got a rough draft of the original script for the film and came back with this huge list of things that were simply too dark (the abuse of Anikin by Watto being the biggest problem).

They warned him that parents taking their children to see the film as written could potentially even sue Lucas for the content. So he went back and dumbed it down for a younger audience, and specifically created a character that the suits wanted for comic relief.

Perhaps it was because Luca lost heart in the project when his original vision was stomped on, in the end result was a movie which tried to appeal to very young kids and succeeded. Except the by-product of that choice made the vast majority of adults generally despise the movie, especially the people that grew up loving the original trilogy.

The Hobbit is a different beast, it is also a prequel, but it was originally written to be lighter. So Jackson spent a great deal of effort and time putting in the darkness found in LotR, but at the same time let loose with some of the more absurd and silly aspects of the story.
Unfortunately, this particular installment is almost all battle and death, so perhaps he felt that a 'funny' character was needed to break the tension.

Suffice it to say, it didn't work.

Alfrid is basically Jar Jar Binks, and that is so unfortunate.

mazephoenix said...

Oh dear, I haven't even seen this yet and I dread Alfrid already.
Too bad.

Mark Greig said...

I like the film, not as much as the previous one, but more than the first one. Alfrid didn't annoy me too much. What annoyed me was how obvious it was that a lot of material was being held back for the extended version.

JRS said...

I have a feeling this movie's much cooler if you haven't read the book. At this point I've read the Hobbit so many times-aloud-to classrooms-that half the time watching the first movie I felt it was making fun of itself.