Oh, where to begin? Let’s try…”The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies” is the story of an elf-maiden and her forbidden love for a dwarf. No, that’s not quite right. ”The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies” is the story of a pudgy elf prince and his utter disdain for gravity. Or, ”The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies” tells the comic misadventures of Alfrid, a cross-dresser struggling to stay alive and make a buck in a savage, violent world.
What ”The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies” apparently is not is the story of a hobbit.
I suppose I ought to start with something positive, extol the good points of the film. Shouldn’t take long.
Unsurprisingly in a film called, before the colon, “The Hobbit” the best scenes are those in which hobbits appear. Those are sadly few. Martin Freeman is terrific as Bilbo. There, I wrote something righteous and positive for once. Let’s see, what else? The sets and scenery were well done, very nice to look at. There was brief bit with a dwarven army forming a shield wall that I found pretty cool. The opening scene was spectacular, Smaug ashes Lake Town with beautifully realized fiery passes. And…that’s about it.
Leaving two hours or so of fail.
Before going any further, I will state that I realize this isn’t a faithful adaptation. Certainly after the first two films I have no illusions about that. It qualifies as an adaptation at all in only the barest technical sense. And that’s fine. Peter Jackson and Co. are telling the story they want to tell. I do my best to take that story on its own terms and merits. It can be hard though, wanting to see a favorite scene from the book brought to cinematic life, only to be disappointed by its non-appearance, glossing over, transformation into something utterly different, or poor execution. So it isn’t possible for me to be completely objective. But given that, I think even taken as a discrete story, removed from the expectations and strictures of Tolkien’s tale, ”The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies” falls short as a film.
Some of my objections might be alleviated by the extended edition. Armored sheep appearing without any foreshadowing or explanation. Beorn’s arrival and contribution to the battle being given absurdly short shrift. I can imagine the extended version mitigating these inadequacies.
Other problems are too deeply baked in to be reparable. The White Council scene at Dol Guldur is an embarrassment. PJ and Co. thought fleshing out the suggestion in the appendices of the White Council flushing the Necromancer from his stronghold would be cool. And, yeah, that could be pretty cool. But having committed themselves to the notion, they seem at a loss as to what to do. Instead of the might of Rivendell and Lorien coming to siege Dol Guldur, we get the White Council as a superhero team battling ghosts. Did we really need another dose of Saruman’s staff wizard-fu? A cool idea in the end added nothing to the story. A wasted opportunity.
The love triangle: Is it truly inconceivable that people would be willing to watch a film that doesn’t include a love story? Again, this is PJ and Co.’s version, so we don’t need to delve into the Silmarillion and explain why dwarves and elves don’t get it on. But this film didn’t need a love story any more than the book did. The romance never came across as believable or real and it sank scenes that had a chance of actual drama with its bathos.
When the battle finally began, I – fool that I am – said to myself, ‘All right, he can’t screw this up.” Yeah, it seems I will buy that bridge you’re selling. After setting up the battle, and providing more unnecessary comedy relief in the form of Billy Connolly’s Dain, we get to it. And PJ immediately decides to dispense with the whole alliance of Men, Dwarves, and Elves, y’know the whole point of the chapter in the book, sending the Laketown army off to fight in the ruins of Dale. Fine, his story. He can do what he wants. But then he seems to tire of the battle, his entire interest in it seeming to be coming up with a bestiary of baddies to aid the orcs. (Look, its the sandworms from Dune. And some sort of giant trolls. And a warpig. Lovely.) Instead the writers seem to think they can’t concentrate on the individual stories they want to tell – gold-sick Thorin’s vendetta against Bolg, and the star-struck Fili and Tauriel – with this battle going on. So they just sort of forget it, let it run on autoplay, and send Thorin, Fili, Kili, and – I think – Oin off on conveniently appearing warsheep (yes, warsheep) to an absurdly undefended orc command post.
And so the bulk of the titular “Battle of Five Armies” occurs off-screen.
This film really didn’t work for me. It’s full of nonsensical behavior – continually trusting Alfrid with positions of importance, a two against one hundred battle (that’s never actually shown, come to think of it.) And a head-scratcher I just can’t get over: Thorin and Company spend days in armor, full head-to-foot panoply, waiting for an attack on the Lonely Mountain. Then when the time actually comes to kick down their wall and engage the orc army, they’ve changed back into their travelling clothes. In what universe does this make any sort of sense?
The good news: in some countries (I’m looking at you, Canada) J.R.R. Tolkien’s copyrights will expire in 2023. “The Hobbit” will fall into public domain. Someone could take another try at an adaptation. Would be hard to do worse than this three-film folly.