Saturday, 13 December 2014

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

Bilbo and Company are forced to engage in a war against an array of combatants and keep the terrifying Smaug from acquiring a kingdom of treasure and obliterating all of Middle-Earth. 

After fifteen years, five films and countless hours of onscreen magic depending on whether you were hardcore enough to sit through the extended editions and features of each films; Peter Jackson brings this journey to a close and to what now ranks as one of the most monumental work ever completed by a single filmmaker. It's also arguably his biggest challenge. Without wasting time on any kind of flashback or prologue, the film plunges right in where The Desolation of Smaug left off; It's like beginning The Empire Strike Back with Luke Skywalker blowing up the Death Star. Here opening with Smaug swooping down in a blaze of vengeance, while the panicked Lake Town locals disperse. It's an exciting sequence animated by a real sense of danger and by the nightmare figure of Smaug himself: one of the movie's most special effect, again voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch. Plus, we are launched into nearly an hour or arguing and reflecting as various armies get ready for war. This is an effective crescendo to battle and when the things do finally kick off, the fight worth the wait. The battle is endlessly inventive. From all corner of the land, and the frame, they come: dwarfs, elves, men, assorted forest creatures and orcs; all displaying numerous ingenious tactics to sustain pretty much every verse. In fact, Peter Jackson is able to give an intimacy to even the biggest, noisiest battle scenes. This final instalment of The Hobbit trilogy ties very well onto the last two films but also with the beginning of The Lord of the Rings trilogy. It does feel like The Return of the King at times, when bodies are just flying everywhere and heads rolling all over the place. It is long and epic. The Battle of the Five Armies is the strongest, boldest film in this trilogy and provides just the send off that this series deserves. Peter Jackson knows when to punctuate the carnage with a gag or a tender moment as it's not focusing on the action and the battle itself. This film is rewarding all the characters built up over two and a bit movies, all f them flawed. With Martin Freeman ever-excellent Bilbo more of a player this time. Indeed some conversation between Bilbo and Thorin create the most interesting moment of the movie, as Bilbo has the Arkenstone and Thorin really wants it. It's starting to drive him mad, almost like Gollum towards the ring. This film feels psychologically weightier than the previous one, largely a credit to Richard Armitage who plays Thorin with the paranoid despotic rage of a Shakespearean King. Yet he never allows him to become a monster. Gandalf: Sir Ian McKellen, of course everybody knows he is awesome and knocks out the part. 

The Stage is set for other characters to stand out, such as Luke Evans, as Bard, a genuine leader and maybe the most human character ever in Middle-Earth; while Kili (starring Aidan Turner) and Tauriel's (Evangeline Lilly) romance is undeniably touching. At the end all of the key players are where they need to be. Wrapping things up with a suitably return to the Shire that effectively brings the saga full circle. It's hard not to marvel at Peter Jackson's facility with these characters and this world, which he seems to know as well as John Ford knew his Monument Valley. It's easier to see now that it stops the entire Hobbit project as a labour of love on Jackson's part, rather than a descent into the box-office opportunism. This film is a fitting cap to an extended series that, if nothing else, has transformed Tolkien's place in the wider culture. His books were once strictly for teen nerds (we've all been there), while The Battle of the Five Armies is just as enjoyable as each of the five movies that came before it. I'm part of these nerds and I've always been a huge fan of Tolkien's work. Much of the movie is not like the book at all but I was aware of if that going in: there are a tone of added characters. Purists have to deal with it I guess! The most important point is that Peter Jackson captured perfectly the tone of the source material he has adapted. If a filmmaker is able to capture the feels and tone of the source material then he has succeeded and Jackson's vision of Middle-Earth is as good as we'll ever see. Moreover, Howard Store contributes another dynamically present score, from gentle Celtic melodies to those sleek battle effects. Other tech contributions such as set designers, costumers, armourers and artists are one again delivering us the best that Hollywood dollars can buy. Ultimately it feels like a lovely and bittersweet ending but Bilbo realises as perhaps the fans did when we came to the first two meandering Hobbit films, that he can't really go home. The Battle of the Five Armies is definitely my favourite of The Hobbit trilogy. It starts to lead us tonally towards The Fellowship of the Ring which is as well probably my favourite of The Lord of the Rings and it starts to get heavier, more intense, to get deeper and the stakes get higher. We began this journey with a light hearted jovial story and we finish it with a lot more darker part. The result is at once the trilogy's most expeditious and also its darkest - both visually and tonally - movie. Finally, Peter Jackson has pulled it together in a way that makes me glad I took this journey. This is a world that feels fully realised, a place you can go, a tactile triumph in world building. It goes leaps and bounds beyond what most filmmakers would attempt, and if this is the end of Middle-Earth, then I a proud to have been here to see it. Either way his legacy is something that will live long into the future. 

Overall The Battle of the Five Armies is the final instalment of one of the greatest cinematic achievement of all time. Displaying a very cool opening scene, really awesome characters, amazing battle sequences and some really well built smaller moment between characters. It is a fitting end or should that be middle to this epic saga?!

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