The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (Jackson/14)
The final part of "The Hobbit" trilogy, "The Battle of Five Armies" (2014), directed by Peter Jackson, is a hard film to judge. Shot at the same time as its two antecedents, "An Unexpected Journey" (2012) and "The Desolation of Smaug" (2013), for a speculated total cost of $745 million, it really has to be seen in the context of the entire three films. Certainly, Jackson seems to feel this way, the film opening with a direct continuation of Smaug laying waste to Laketown, offering no introduction for those unversed in the saga.
There's further development of Richard Armitage's character, Thorin Oakenshield, leader of the band of dwarves seeking to claim the gold under the Lonely Mountain, who descends into megalomania and greed. It's an intriguing turn and one based in character, which gives an emotional centre that might have otherwise have been lacking. That's due to the fact that, as per the title, the series' climatic battle dominates the film. It's thrilling, masterfully choreographed and the special effects utilised are impeccable but there's always the danger that the vast armies clashing can become distinctly impersonal. Jackson confronts this by a memorable fight between Thorin and the orc Azog (Manu Bennett) on a frozen river that reduces the conflict to a more thrilling, intimate level.
It seems perverse to comment once more on the scriptwriters (Jackson, Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens and Guillermo del Toro) lack of faithfulness to J.R.R. Tolkein's original 1937 novel. From the start, it was clear they weren't interested in making an accurate version but rather an expansive Middle-Earth epic and the detail surrounding its fantastical environment has always been the films' strongest suit. Here, the veracity of the characters' surrounding is compounded by the 3D and the high frame rate (48 frames a second as opposed to the standard 24 used for all other films) that puts the audience truly within the drama unfolding.
The performances are fine, although one wishes that Martin Freeman's Bilbo Baggins, ostensibly the main character, had more screen time. Jackson is cutting between so many story strands that it feels as though Bilbo gets lost in amidst the web of plotlines. Yet it's the most succinct of any of the films in the trilogy or The Lord of the Rings for that matter, which this acts as an extended overture to, and there is a certain satisfying quality to the final epilogue bringing to an end a series that has lasted thirteen years. Taken as a whole, "The Hobbit" films may not have reached the same mythic resonance of their forbears, yet when viewed without such retrospective judgement, the films themselves come alive and dazzle the viewer like nothing else.