The Hobbit should never have been split into three films. As a short concise fairy story it works. There’s no need for Peter Jackson’s ego-boosting padding, designed predominantly for him to wallow in Tolkien’s world for a little longer before wallowing in his own cash. The essence of the book has been diluted.
This is clearer than ever watching The Battle Of The Five Armies. We jump straight in where the last film left off, which (for anyone who’s blocked it from their memory) means Smaug the dragon is rampaging over the skies of Laketown, burning it to the ground. Boo hoo. The rest of the film is essentially one long battle. That’s it.
It’s an utterly imbalanced film, with all characterisation thrown out the window. Instead, it relies on knowledge of the flimsy (at best) characterisation from the previous films. The dwarves remain mostly nameless, with their moody teenager of a leader Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) dominating the screen as he suffers from “dragon sickness” – just an excuse for him to brood a little more. The love story between Tauriel the elf (Evangeline Lilly) and Kili the dwarf (Aidan Turner) is a laughable cliché - totally under-developed and lacking any chemistry or plausibility. And for a film called The Hobbit, Martin Freeman’s Bilbo is woefully underused, merely providing the odd bit of comic relief. At the least, Ryan Gage amuses as Alfrid, the assistant to Stephen Fry’s terrible Master of Laketown.
This does allow for Jackson to focus on what he does best: battle scenes. There’s no denying that these fast-paced and thrilling fight sequences are spectacular. In particular, an early scene involves Gandalf (Ian McKellen) uncovering the rise of Sauron (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch) – together with Galadriel (Cate Blanchett), Elrond (Hugo Weaving) and Saruman (Christopher Lee) they fight the ghosts of the nine human ring-bearers with some hypnotic magical effects. It remains, however, more relevant to Jackson’s other trilogy than integral to this story. Elsewhere, Orlando Bloom’s Legolas follows up his role in LOTR with some bombastically choreographed fighting and the titular five armies come to blows in impressive fashion - from the blood-thirsty orcs, to the brutal dwarves and the balletic elves.
A word, though, about watching in HFR. Essentially, Jackson has filmed the trilogy using a higher frame rate which gives the image a sharper, smoother look. It’s meant to aid immersion and that’s certainly the case, as well as enhancing the 3D effect and highlighting the beauty of the stunning vistas of New Zealand. However, as has been noted before by many, it cheapens the look of the film, no longer having that polished cinematic ‘sheen’. What's worse with this film specifically, though, is that it highlights Jackson’s overuse of CGI. Whilst it’s obvious why whole armies have been rendered by computer, Billy Connolly’s Dáin the dwarf is needlessly a completely CGI character and it looks terrible, whilst the studio sets look like...studio sets. In HFR, it becomes hugely apparent what is real and what isn’t, making watching The Battle Of The Five Armies more akin to a video game. It’s wholly artificial.
Characterisation (or the lack thereof) is the biggest downfall of the film though. The LOTR trilogy proved Jackson knows his way around a battle sequence, but the difference is that those films had well drawn characters we were invested in, dramatic build up and far less use of CGI, ultimately leading towards a huge emotional payoff as good triumphs over evil. By comparison, The Hobbit trilogy is utterly soulless.
Watch: The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies is out now.