The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies Review

Tolkien fans, fantasy nerds, and Jackson completists will be out in droves December 17th to witness the final chapter of the Hobbit series: The Battle of the Five Armies. Closing out Bilbo’s story as well as setting up Frodo’s Lord of the Rings is no easy task, and Peter Jackson manages to capture every moment of the battles described in Tolkien’s tome, and then some.

First, let me tell you that the premiere of the Hobbit I was treated to was the Dolby Real D 3D and Dolby Atmos version, which, as expected, completely immerses you in detailed sound and visuals. Generally speaking, I’m not a huge fan of 3D. I find the glasses never fit right, and always glare, and the 3D visuals themselves rarely add to the experience for me. Somehow, my brain never quite believes that there’s a sword swinging out over the audience in front of me.

That said, Jackson never verges into tawdry 3D tricks to justify the use of the format. In fact, some of the most successful 3D elements are ones that show depth: gazing down into a deep mine, or up through a broken roof into the sky. Smaug the dragon is back this episode, and his scenes don’t disappoint; in fact, the detailing and physics of all the CG is absolutely brilliant. Trolls have weight and heft to them like never before, battle goats hop on rocky ledges with a realistic stride, and despite enormous and lengthy war scenes, there is never a moment where the CG pulls you away from buying into the action.

Speaking of battle scenes, hope you like them, because 85% of the movie is comprised of fighting of some sort. For those who haven’t read the book, (don’t worry, this spoils nothing) the five armies are: Orcs, men, dwarves, elves, and eagles. With all this mass-mythical-creature-clashing, the Atmos sound positioning actually assists in directing your eye to the key action in all of the din. There is so much going on in every pan of the camera, that it would take multiple viewings to truly take in every detail. The foley artists must have worked overtime on this one, because every battle sounds absolutely fantastic.

Here’s where the movie fan in me is required to add a small… however. Despite the epic battles, amazing visuals, and stunning sound, Five Armies has a lot less plot to work with than previous movies. Yes, every single fight scene described in the book is depicted, and purist fans of the written word will be delighted to see that nothing was omitted. However, Jackson attempted to create some comic relief by highlighting a character that started out as sniveling antagonist and eventually verged into tiresome and irritating. He’s not quite the Jar Jar Binks of the fantasy set, but man, does he get on your nerves.

Add to this the fact that there is some non-battle related plot peppered into this section of the book, but it’s few and far between, and one can’t help but feel the plot is a bit padded for time. It’s not really Jackson’s fault so much as it’s the fault of the decision to make a book that could have been happily segmented into two movies (with a lovely extended edition) instead drawn out into three. As wave after wave of armies ebb and flow, there were definite moments that I found myself wondering how much longer the fighting could last.

In the end, the best way to describe the plot pacing comes from Blibo himself, “thin, sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread.” While this doesn’t detract from the accomplishment that Peter Jackson has achieved, nor the impressive acting, creature rendering, costumes, makeup, visuals, or sound design, it is what separates good movies from great ones. Five Armies is a lot of fun, and the fitting ending puts a bow on the six movie set. But this final chapter for us moviegoers will likely be seen in time as the middling middle chapter in the larger story Tolkien intended.

gunhed's picture

The last Hobbit movie was fantastic. I had only one issue with the movie, it was filmed with a digital camera. I know it makes adding the special effects much easier but the highlights were blown out and the only time black was not a shade of grey was in darker scenes. The lack of contrast latitude was clearly evident. The lack of resolution is also clear to see. Filmed on a measly 5K resolution camera. Fine for your home cinema but not when blown up on a huge screen.