18 December 2014

Review: The Battle of the Five Armies is worse than The Desolation of Smaug

Sir Peter Jackson has succeeded in doing what I thought was beyond the realms of possibility: he has a made a film worse than The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug which made Middle-earth no longer feel real. So disappointed have I remained in The Desolation of Smaug that as last night's release of The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies in Italy approached, I did not feel the same excitement I once felt awaiting the release of The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. I had also thought that if anyone could film a battle of five armies, only Peter Jackson could do it. I was wrong.

It is safe to say that I went to the theater last night to watch The Battle of the Five Armies simply to say that I had watched all three of the films. I had no real expectation of enjoying the movie. In fact, my one thought was that it could not possibly be worse than The Desolation of Smaug. I was, I am sad to say, incorrect.

Far too much of the movie was made not with human actors in exquisite costumes, as was done with The Lord of the Rings films, but with CGI, from individual characters to entire armies to landscapes to buildings. To make it worse, the CGI is very easy to detect and does not seem to have been blended in (for lack of a better phrase) as it was in previous films Jackson has made.

As if this were not frustrating enough, far too much of the movie focused on the characters that Jackson and Company simply created, like Tauriel, Alfred, and Bard's children, at the expense of focusing on the true principle characters of the film, like Bilbo, for one, and Thorin, for another.

The movie seemed to move from one scene to another without ever really developing any of them and had the feel more of a lame video game than of an epic movie. Each scene seemed to move toward a climax that never came and then we were off yet another scene. Each succeeding scene became more and more predictable.

If you are a fan of The Hobbit, particularly of the last few chapters, do not see this movie; it is not worth your time.


I sat through the movie with two questions continually running through my mind:
  1. Is it almost over yet? And,
  2. Will they just kill Tauriel and get this over with?
The fact that she never died is probably the most disappointing aspect of the entire film. Now, on to a fuller review.

My favorite lines in Tolkien's The Hobbit come from the narrator at the beginning of the book ("it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort") and from Thorin toward the end of the book ("If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world"). Just as Jackson and Comfort thought they could improve on the first phrase, they also thought they could improve on the second. This was another disappointment.

The best part of the film involved the fall of King Tranduil's reindeer after he catches four orcs in its antlers and cuts off their heads (in a cartoonish scene remniscient of Bombur-in-the-barrel from The Desolation of Smaug) and the fall of King Dain's armored boar.

Without explanation, Thorin and Company mount goats - that must be the size of ponies - and go charging up the mountain in another cartoonish scene. Where the goats came from is never explained.

Also without explanation, Thorin can understand the speech of ravens, but the thrush has no involvement at all with the fall of Smaug (which, incidentally, also happens anti-climatically). In the film, it is Bard himself who notices Smaug's bare patch.

Thorin's struggle with the dragon sickness is anti-climactic, at best. He struggles. We hear several voices speaking in flash back. And then, suddenly, he has overcome it.

At the end of the film, two important questions remain:
  1. Who now is King Under the Mountain? Thorin dies and Bilbo rides off for Bag End as the ten remaining dwarves of the original company wave goodbye. In the book, Dain becomes King of Erebor, but in the movie the successor of King Thorin is not even hinted at.
  2. What became of the Arkenstone? So much of the movie is spent on Thorin's obsessing over the Arkenstone and of Biblo's theft of it. Bard has it at the gates of Erebor, but we don't know what happens to it after the battle of five armies.

In the end, perhaps Steven D. Greydanus said it best when he concluded his review of The Battle of the Five Armies, suggesting: "The sketchy end-credit imagery often feels more Tolkienesque than anything in the preceding two-plus hours, leaving one wistfully contemplating: what might have been, what might have been."


  1. Anonymous5:51 PM

    It's fine. Just like the rest of the trilogy. As unnecessary as it may have been. Good review Darren.