Oh Peter… where did it all go wrong? The public and critical adoration lathered on you in the years following The Lord of the Rings trilogy was nigh on universal, and your love for the works of Tolkien apparently boundless. How times have changed.
A cinematic adaptation of Tolkien’s other most beloved work – the sprawling and charming The Hobbit – seemed all but inevitable, and I, along with most people, was happy to go along with it. Then came that dreaded day when we found out that The Hobbit would not in fact be one film, but three, totalling to well over six hours of cinema-going over the course of three years to garner the full experience. Cash registers rang, fanboys despaired, and everyone waited somewhat worriedly for their next trip back to Middle-earth.
The first of the trilogy, An Unexpected Journey, actually proved to be a rather pleasant surprise. While overlong and clunky, the film did a great job of capturing the charming whimsy and loving silliness of Tolkien’s novel, complete with a double speed frame rate that made the slower scenes look more than a little like a 1970s television commercial. The Desolation of Smaug was more problematic, however. With its annoying child actors, “progressive” heroine who manages to fall in love with two separate characters in her first five minutes of screentime and the un-Godly decision to bring back Legolas, it proved to be a significant step in the wrong direction.
It brings me no pleasure then – in fact, more than a jab of pain – to declare The Hobbit: The Battle of The Five Armies less of a Desolation-like misstep and more of a colossal leap into a crock of shit at the other end of the rainbow. A mishmash of rubbish action sequences, emotionless shots at poignancy and accidental comedy, Five Armies is just about the worst way possible for the cinema-going public to leave Middle-earth behind.
I’m not mad, Peter, I’m just disappointed.
Picking up right where Desolation left off (Smaug unleashing his fury on Lake Town, Bard having an inexplicably hefty backstory), the opening 20 minutes treats its audience to lots of CGI whiz-bangs and hammy child acting. Furthermore, Smaug kicks the bucket before we’re even half an hour in, somewhat undermining the epic “What have we done?” ending of the previous film, as all Bilbo and co. did in the end was waste another 30 minutes of my time.
Then it’s on to the meat of the piece. Namely, a sprawling hour and a half long siege battle, where literally every conceivable Tolkienian race and animal – including the as of yet underrepresented Giant Worm Clan – make an appearance. Epic as it may sound in pitch, this final, titanic conflict ends up a characterless, confusing shitstorm packed with CGI that looks like it fell straight out of the early noughties.
Jackson’s decision to replace the largely practical effects used on the orcs back in the LOTR days with dull computer generated knock-offs makes for some quite frankly, boring fights scenes. This over-reliance on evidently rushed graphics leaves the action feeling weightless and disjointed, and the bad guys looking like slightly melted Barbie dolls. Can anyone honestly admit they find Azog the Defiler – with his Play-Doh face and oddly passionate eyes – anywhere near as intimidating as the average Uruk-Hai in The Two Towers? I think not.