A review by Nalini Haynes
The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies (extended edition) is part 3 of Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit, inspired by J R R Tolkien’s Hobbit and Silmarillion. My review copy is on DVD, over 2 discs.
Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) is under the mountain with Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) who has dragon sickness: like banking executives and mining magnates, he’s screwing over the little guy to hoard wealth beyond measure that he’ll never be able to spend. Bilbo, a hobbit or half-man, represents the common folk like those found in Yorkshire in the early 20th century; he mourns while Smaug destroys Laketown, killing hundreds of people and leaving the remnant to become refugees trying to seek shelter and the previously-agreed payment for helping the dwarfs. Thorin rejects the refugees’ legitimate claims because he needs ALL the gold. Anyone would think Tolkien was an acute observer of humanity!
Meanwhile, the elves rock up, not to help the refugees but to make a bid for some priceless gems that form part of Smaug’s (now Thorin’s) hoard. Thorin sends a raven to the dwarfs for help (I have NFI where the bird came from but it was in the book) so an army of dwarfs attacks the elves in spite of Gandalf’s warnings that orcs are on the move. (This also happened in the book.)
Attempts at injecting humor into the story were mixed at best. Stephen Fry as the Master of Laketown and Ryan Gage as his sidekick Alfred were obvious Black Adder-types. Later Alfred’s adventures imitated scenes from Monty Python and other old comedy sketches with a finishing touch à la Jurassic Park. Some of the best bits of The Hobbit — like Bilbo sneaking into the elven camp while wearing the ring — are changed beyond recognition, sacrificing the original humor in favor of Jackson’s cross-dressing creep debasing transgendered people. I felt Jackson’s attempts at humor didn’t fit with the flavor of the movie overall although I usually like humor leavening dark stories.
The introduction of women is nice although I would have preferred half the dwarfs were women over Evangeline Lily’s elvish character and her love story. Instead of equitable representation, the message is clear: if women are included, it’s as love interests not independent characters. Even Galadriel comes across as being in love with Gandalf although I’m not sure that’s intended. (I hope not.)
While Bilbo and friends are holed up in the mountain, Gandalf is off having adventures based on the Silmarillion that should have happened a long time previously. After several LotR homages, Gandalf was imprisoned in a cage.
The minion said, “Where’s the moth? Come on, moth!” Although the moth failed to make an appearance, Peter Jackson introduced trolls who were obvious oliphant-replacements and worms similar to those in Dune except they eat rock. Fan-service references to other geek stories are included but, mostly, it’s LotR. As the critics say, Peter Jackson has made The Hobbit into fan-fiction of his LotR trilogy.
Jackson has done a George Lucas. Lucas made me yearn for the Star Wars that I used to know. Jackson made me yearn for Lord of the Rings. I begin to wonder if, like Lucas, Jackson is an editor — not a storyteller — who runs the risk of repetition if he attempts to create something ‘original’.
Although the Battle of the Five Armies is long and just as unfaithful to the original Hobbit as the previous movies, I think it’s the best of the movies. Many of the best moments in this movie, however, are obvious homages to or reboots of Lord of the Rings. So many scenes in the battle are distinctly remakes from LotR that it’s surprising the audience (myself included) responded so favorably. I enjoyed the Battle of the Five Armies and was satisfied at the end although I’m more likely to re-watch Lord of the Rings than The Hobbit.
Tolkien wrote The Hobbit for children (published in 1937) and, later, the Lord of the Rings trilogy for adults (published 1954–1955). After seeing Disney’s first Star Wars movie, I’d be interested in watching a Disney version of The Hobbit, aimed at the novel’s original audience (children and families).
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Director: Peter Jackson
Writers: Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson, Guillermo del Toro, JRR Tolkien
Stars: Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage
Watch this if you like: Lord of the Rings, dragon-fantasy movies