The battle of the three movies.
“There is nothing like looking, if you want to find something. You certainly usually find something, if you look, but it is not always quite the something you were after.” – The Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkien
Peter Jackson may be so concerned with what he can do that he may have reserved little thought for what he should do. The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies is an astonishingly bad film that barely resembles the brief novel from which it draws its shaky inspiration. The decision to expand Tolkien’s work into a trilogy is not necessarily the wrong one. This is, after all, The Hobbit as it exists within the world of Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy rather than a direct translation of The Hobbit itself. But Bilbo Baggins’ journey to the Lonely Mountain certainly shouldn’t be a recapitulation of The Lord of the Rings, a sentiment which is relentlessly asserted by Jackson’s creative judgements.
Of course, none of this matters if the result is awful anyway, which it most absolutely is. Suffocating his new trilogy with his own Rings nostalgia to the point of sterility, Jackson has lumbered through each film with little thought toward the building of a scene, the fostering of suspense or even the concept of basic narrative structure. There’s an obligation to the way Jackson presents us with information rather than an enthusiasm for the material. Beats are met, poorly, and the same mistakes that the filmmakers made in Rings are repeated and exaggerated.
Originally intended as a two-part saga, The Hobbit has been debilitated by the unfortunate decision to expand the story into a trilogy. There’s certainly a wealth of material at Jackson’s disposal, but no regard as to whether it ought to be consumed. The narrative has suffered terribly as a result of the expansion, an effect enhanced by breathtakingly poor writing. The supplementary material, filmed after the main bulk of production, is painfully conspicuous, tacked on with little care as to whether it belongs or not. There’s no creative energy to this filmmaking. As Thorin Oakenshield is driven mad by his wealth in gold, so Jackson is consumed by the artificial sheen of computer imagery.
As in the first two films of this unfortunate trilogy, many of the action scenes appear to have been designed with the almost certain video game in mind. For all its flaws, the battle of Helm’s Deep in The Two Towers had a sense of significance and weight. The eponymous Battle of the Five armies just sort of rolls in, far outstays its welcome and then rolls out. In The Lord of the Rings, Jackson was dealing with the end of the world. Here, he’s dealing with greedy dwarves and elves and yet approaches with the same sense of opulence with which he treated Rings, stuck in the only gear he seems to be able to work in.
What is a movie of The Hobbit without a hobbit? Martin Freeman’s Bilbo is a footnote here. Though the novel is told entirely from his perspective, Jackson’s film manages to marginalise the one character that should matter most. Ian McKellen as Gandalf, Luke Evans as Bard and Lee Pace as Thranduil flourish despite the material and not because of it. Ryan Gage’s Alifred, who you may remember as the minor sidekick of Steven Fry’s Master of Laketown in The Desolation of Smaug, is given an astonishing amount of screen time, a beneficiary of the decision to expand perhaps. Richard Armitage’s performance as Thorin is utterly bewildering, the dwarven king behaving like a lunatic regardless of whether he’s meant to or not.
Jackson is hindered by an unchecked sense of ludicrous. A film like this shouldn’t have so many unintentional laughs that they’re hard to recall individually. The enduring love for the Rings trilogy might have something to do with the subtle equity it manages to observe between the small and the grand strokes. The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five armies enjoys no such consideration, despite the filmmakers having an enormously generous running time at their disposal. We can be glad at least, that for now it’s all over.