2014, Movies

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (2014, Peter Jackson)

It’s really hard to know what to make of the third film in the ridiculously absurd 3-film adaptation of the 310-page novel The Hobbit for many reasons. One comes from my understanding that the source material for this mostly isn’t even the novel itself but some appendix or something. But that wouldn’t matter if the film made sense as a film. I’m really not sure it does.


I understand the expectation of a sequel is that you watched the first film(s) but this is more true than ever with this film. It literally just begins at the end of the second film with no scene-setting or anything. If you think these are good movies, that’s a virtue. Scene-setting can be really annoying, especially in a movie this long. But if you haven’t watched the second film in half a year, like me, it takes some time to get your bearings. That really isn’t a big problem, compared to the rest of the film, but for some reason I nitpicked.

This film is over 2 hours long. It consists of a bunch of people threatening to fight each other and then them joining forces to fight a bigger foe, with a brief prologue involving a dragon and a brief aside involving Sauron. That’s the whole movie. The entire movie. Though there are characters we’re supposed to care about involved in the fighting – Bilbo, Gandalf, Legolas, Tauriel, Thorin and his dwarves – there are also characters we’ve just met and numerous other extras or CGI extras and we’re supposed to know which orc is which. (Conveniently, some have deformities that mark them out but there are so many I’m not sure how I’m supposed to keep track.) Much of the fighting is done by these essentially faceless characters – though we know what side they’re on, we don’t know them or care for them. The same is true of most of the dead – there is just an awful lot of death, most of it of no consequence to the audience. It reminds me of an MCU movie where there are hundreds or thousands of beings dying all around but we only care about a few of them.

And it often feels impossible to know how the tide of the battle is shifting. At one point, Thranduil is killing all these orcs despite being surround, and a bunch of elves show up and help him but then seconds later we’re getting the “all is nearly lost” refrain that happens so much in the Peter Jackson Tolkien movies. Later, 13 individuals somehow swing the tide of a battle ostensibly involving hundreds if not thousands of creatures. Later still, a bunch of large birds, some carrying bears (seriously!), just eradicate an entire “army” with a few minutes of screen time. It often feels like the among of CGI creatures on screen bear little connection to what is supposed to be happening with the plot.

I have no idea why Jackson decided to make this standard-length novel into multiple movies but surely making it a trilogy was a big mistake. This movie is all spectacle and I’m not sure it’s even adequate spectacle. Sure, it looks great, as all Peter Jackson Tolkien movies do, but it’s hard to know why it exists beyond one man’s obsession. (And, I guess, studio executives’ belief in his ability to make money no matter the scale.) It’s overlong and it’s just an MCU-esque battle for almost the entire runtime, with lots of inconsequential death surrounding the odd moment involving characters that were actually in the first film. I haven’t watched the animated film since I was a kid but this whole trilogy makes me think that would be refreshing, despite how dated it might look.

4/10 only because of the production values which, as always, are impeccable

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