Peter Jackson’s Rip-roaring Conclusion!
Here is my review at last… there will be spoilers a plenty throughout this nine part review… so keep that in mind if you have not yet seen the film!
Please go HERE to our Hobbit: BFA Review Page for all nine parts of the Mordor Review!
I’ll begin this review the same way I began my review of The Hobbit: AUJ and The Hobbit: DOS. The movie theater’s commercials came to an end. The endless slew of trailers were finally finished and the lights began to dim, then fade to black. I waited in the darkness for the final film I might ever see about Middle-earth. Then the projector’s lights flickered and the now familiar Warner Bros. logo appeared on screen across a deep blue sky. I was excited for the film to begin…
As I sat watching, the Warner Bros. logo began to fall apart, a slow swirling transition that reforms to create the New Line Cinema logo. Then came the eye of the MGM Lion as the camera zooms out and we are treated to his famous roar. The familiar musical notes from the score by Howard Shore moved along with the images. This time however, there is a note of urgency in the music and a deep feeling of building menace! This is one of my favorite musical openings in The Hobbit trilogy. Then the screen went black once more. I was more than ready to return to Middle-earth… One Last Time! (Oh yeah… I had to say it!)
This movie for the most part met all of my expectations for what this closing film in The Hobbit trilogy needed to be… I just wanted more of it!
I will start this review by saying that last night I saw the film for a second time and I’m glad I did, because there is so much that happens in this film and seeing it a second time reminded me of scenes that I had forgotten. Now I can better discuss The Hobbit: The Battle of the Fives Armies here in part one of our Mordor Review.
Part One of my Hobbit: BFA film review is just a broad overview of thoughts and feelings about the film. In Parts 2 – 8, I will get into more detail on the things I mention here only in passing here. Both times I attended the film, I watched it in 24 FPS in 2D. I’m not a fan of 3D films and no matter how the technology has advanced, it’s still just a distracting gimmick as far as I’m concerned. HFR on the other hand, has a great deal of potential, but I feel it’s still not ready for prime time, at least where these films are concerned. So my critique throughout this set of reviews will be based on the impressions I’ve had in watching the 2D, 24 Frame version of the film. At may age, I like what I like and I’m make no apologies… so take it or leave it!
Now… on to the film The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies
As I stated, above this is indeed my favorite of The Hobbit films… and I would also have to place it above The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers which was my least favorite of the first trilogy. Even after watching it a second time with a more critical eye, I still enjoyed this film immensely. The movie is not perfect,, but it was a hell of a lot of fun and it brought tears to my eyes several times at the end. What more can you ask from an epic fantasy film!
I plan to discuss three things in Part One of this review, the first are the things I really liked about this film, the second are the things I didn’t and the third will be a short list of things I felt were missing.
From the moment the metallic Hobbit Logo faded from the screen we were swept up into the action of this film. Peter Jackson wastes no time with a prologue and drives right in to the story at the moment where the last film left off. Considering how The Desolation of Smaug concluded with it’s cliffhanger ending, it seems an appropriate way to start off this final film.
The attack on Esgaroth was a flaming conflagration of fire and wanton destruction, with Smaug swooping down upon the innocent of Lake-town. We see these events through the eyes of the people of Lake-town, as they try to flee the coming of the Dragon. We follow the escaping Master and his loathsome side-kick Alfrid, not to mentions the town’s hoard of treasure. We also follow the the events through the eyes of Bard’s children, the remaining dwarves and Tauriel. who is radiant as she looks up at the attacking dragon. Bet let’s make no mistake… the scene is about Bard and Smaug!
I was so glad that Smaug and Bard did battle one one one, with Smaug addressing him directly. If Smaug had simply flown over the town shooting flames and then getting shot with the arrow, it would have been a missed opportunity to show the intelligence, cunning and overwhelming ego of Smaug the Terrible!
I thought the way in which Bard and Bain had to work together to make the final shot, was nicely done. Seeing father and son working together to slay the mighty dragon was a nice narrative touch.Finally… Smaug’s death was spectacular, epic and all I could have wanted… seeing the fire flame from his wounded heart was stunning and his moment of death in mid-air was wonderfully filmed and visually poignant.
During the ten minute sequence of Smaug’s destruction of Esgaroth, there are several important cutaways. One is of Gandalf in Dol Guldur, were we hear the words of Galadriel telling Gandalf that ‘he is not alone,’ which foreshadows the battle of Dol Guldur. The other is a scene of Bilbo and the dwarves standing upon a hill looking down at the burning city of Lake-town. Bilbo looks behind and sees Thorin turn his back on the burning city, with eyes only for Erebor. Both cut aways are important scenes the set up what will be happening later in the film.
I think my favorite scene in the entire movie took place in Dol Guldur, because most of it was a surprise. Galadriel, Elrond and Saruman get to kick some Nazgûl ass and the final confrontation between Sauron and Galadriel was epic! I have thought a lot over the last few years about what the battle of Dol Guldur might be like and I think Peter Jackson handled the attack on the fortress of the Necromancer by the White Council in just the right way.
Each of the main protagonists gets their moment to shine in this final conformation with Sauron and the Nazgûl. Even Gandalf who lay prone through most of this scene is set up perfectly for The Lord of the Rings films. His Modus Operandi is to go where others fear to tread and so bring light to the darkness. His great gift as an istari is to fearlessly seek the truth and so galvanise others to action.
Elrond shows his elven skills with swordplay and Saruman wields a wicked staff and arguably gets the best line in the film… “Leave Sauron to me!”, but it’s Galadriel who takes on her dark elven queen persona, who really takes Sauron down! The entire sequences was loads of fun to watch!
I must also make mention of how excited I was to see Conan Stevens in his prosthetic orc makeup on screen at last! This was originally one of the first incarnations of Azog, but when that visual idea was scrapped, this character played by Stevens was supposed to be Bolg. However when the digital version of Bolg appeared in The Desolation of Smaug, I thought we would never see this Conan Stevens character fully realized on screen. So seeing this bad ass Uruk of Dol Guldur was a wonderful surprise! I hope we see more in the Extended Edition not only of Bolg, but of this entire sequence in Dol Guldur!
Another part of the film I really likes was the darkness brewing in Erebor. The interactions between Bilbo and Gandalf were perfectly rendered on film and added a lot of depth to Tolkien’s writing about how dwarves can be overtaken be the power of gold. The tension created between the two once the audience is shown that Bilbo did indeed take the Arkenstone was wonderful to watch. Bilbos interaction with Balin was perfect as they become co-conspirators in keeping the stone hidden from Thorin. And finally when Bilbo stands up without fear and tells Thorin that he took the Arkenstone as his fourteenth share of the treasure to parley with the elves was played out perfectly on screen. I thought both Martin Freeman and Richard Armitage performances were dead on!
My two favorite moments from this sequence of scenes in Erebor are when Bilbo shows Thorin the acorn and for a moment brings him out of his madness. The second comes when Bilbo and Thorin confront each other on the wall at the Gate of Erebor. Bilbo shows his true quality here! It really sets up the final moments between them that comnes later in the film.
Finally… the great battle! I thought Peter Jackson did a fantastic job juggling all of the parts of this battle and pulling them together at it’s conclusion. I really liked the idea of the first Orc army from Dol Guldur attacking combined forces of men, elves and dwarves was mean to blunt their forces so that the second army marching from Mount Gundabad could would finish them off. There are a lot of moving parts in this wonderfully conceived battle and Peter Jackson uses then judiciously to bring our character to their final emotional conclusions.
Visually the battle was a feast of marching orc armies… something I never tire of! I think this is a result of having watched so many films in my early years where you could tell filmmakers were unable to release this aspect of a great battle. Films such as Spartacus (See this cinematic battle HERE) had casts of thousands, but few directors had those kinds of budgets to work with, and so made due with just a few extras or scrapped the battle scenes all together. It really wasn’t until Peter Jackson and Weta Digital developed the technology of Massive in The Lord of the Rings films, that the marching armies in movies were fully released.
My favorite marching army was the one that flooded out of Mount Gundabad with Bolg in the lead upon a warg. It’s a night shot and the orcs can be seen carry torches as they march forth from the gate of the red tower. This visually captures what I think orcs would and should look like as they are marching off to war under the cover of night. These are truly Dark Servants of Shadow!
The great battle moves from the feet of Erebor into the ruined city of Dale and then up to the height of Raven Hill. All of these location were visually stunning, but none more so then the icy waterfall that is frozen solid on Raven Hill.
I also like the way Jackson had Azog upon the broken tower commanding his armies from above. The use of the battle flags was a brilliant stroke of narrative design and takes us directly into the battle on Raven Hill were all of the converging stories come together. I thought is was another brilliant stroke on the prat of the screenwriters to have each of the main confrontations and deaths, take place one on one rather then in the middle of a huge battlefield. This allows the audience to focus on the main characters during the final confrontations. The fighting between Bolg, Tauriel, Kili and Legolas and between Azog and Thorin were stand outs that brought all of the build up in the first two films to a thrilling and emotional climax.
Peter Jackson has a wonderful way of staging huge battles that are thrilling and inventive, but that ultimately come down to the small intimate and emotional moments between characters, that make all of the massive carnage mean something. it is what happens to these characters that we have come to care so much about, that is the heart and soul of the story.
For me it was the death of Kili that really struck home. Even though I knew it was coming, it was shocking and terrible when it did. I think the added presence of Tauriel and her grief over his fallen body that made the moment so poignant and real. I also thought is was a brilliant bit of writing to bring the stories of Tauriel, Thranduil and Legolas together in this moment. I thought it was beautifully written.
Finally the death of Thorin and the reuniting with Bilbo was nicely done and brought home the final story of these characters. Even though the last moments with Azog seemed a bit drawn out to me and Bilbo’s reaction to Thorin’s death was not as intense as I was hoping for, (Elijah Wood as Frodo was much better at expressing grief on screen, than Martin Freeman as Bilbo.) the quiet moment between Gandalf and Bilbo as they sit amid the ruin of battle was full of subtle emotion. It wasn’t until Bilbo’s return to Hobbiton that his feelings for Thorin are fully expressed. It was not until he reaches Hobbiton that Bilbo is finally able to say aloud that Thorin Oakenshield was his friend. Bilbo’s emotions shine through in this scene and it brings tears to my eyes even now as I write this.
The thing the bothered me most was the lack of adherence to the rules of the world Jackson created in The Lord of the Rings films. This is a thing that has bothered me throughout all three films. I was hoping it would be exorcised in this final film as PJ ties the two trilogies together… but no! I’m not talking about the Tolkien Canon here… but what I suppose I must call the Jackson Canon, for want of a better word. These are the rules upon which his version of Middle-earth are based in the Rings trilogy. So much effort was taken in the first films to ground the world in reality. To make it seem based in a human historical context, rather then in a fantasy realm. This is what gave the first trilogy a sense of gritty reality, that is too often lacking in The Hobbit trilogy.
Why were the orcs marching in daylight when Azog and Bolg meet? it is cloudy, but definitely in daylight. Peter Jackson even went to the extent of creating a way for the orcs to move unseen by creating the weird Were-worms (I’ll get to that in a moment) who dig tunnels under the earth, which allows the orcs to move unseen until they break out upon the battlefield. Why would they not go into these tunnels at night, rather than marching in broad daylight? Make no sense to me.
My other issue is the disconnect between time and the locations in Middle-earth. Tolkien’s maps and locations were established pretty clearly in The Lord of the Rings films. Peter Jackson has made a point of using Tolkien’s maps in his middle-earth films, but then in The Hobbit trilogy he speeds up events tremendously, when he sends Gandalf, Radagast, Legolas, Tauriel, Azog and Bolg traveling huge distances that would take weeks if not months. Even on on horseback, warg or bunny sleds the time spent traveling is unrealistically minimized in these films.This has been a issue throughout The Hobbit trilogy and somewhere along the line, I think PJ just figured that the average movie going audience wouldn’t notice or even care.
I did not quite get what I see as the overuse of Alfrid’s character in the film. He definitely becomes the comic relief, which was needed considering the dire circumstances of the story, but to me his character was one note and was used once too many times.
I also have issues with the Dol Guldur scenes. The first is the way Galadriel carries Gandalf through Dol Guldur. When she is surrounded by the Nazgûl, it looks almost like she is carrying a cardboard cutout of Gandalf under her arm. especially just as she sets him down by the statute holding the palantir. It looks fake and immediately took me out of the story.
The other issue in the scene in Dol Guldur that bothered me was the battle with the Nazgûl. I like the idea of the filmmakers exploring more of their original form and armor, but to me they seem much less menacing, than they do in The Lord of the Rings films. They also seem much less rooted in reality when they appear to be flying around during the battle. In An Unexpected Journey the Witch-king looked much more in keeping with how the Nazgûl looked in The Lord of the Rings films. Even though he was in wraith form, he is still a creature bound to the earth with weight and substance. The fight in Dol Guldur was fun to watch, but it was one more added departure from the rules of engagement created in The Lord of the Rings films.
The same can be said for the final attack by Azog… they way he jumped up out of the frozen pool beneath Thorin seemed completely unrealistic. it’s what I fondly like to call One Step Beyond. It just wasn’t within physics of reality to have Azog pop up like a movie monster out of the ice, it would have been better if had tried to pull Thorin down with him. There are so many times in this trilogy when someone should have said no… that’s too much.
When Peter Jackson told his creative team about the Bunnysled, someone needed to speak up and say, well isn’t that going a step too far? When the bridge in the Goblin Tunnels falls a hundred feet between two cave walls and no one gets seriously hurt? A step too far? When Legolas jumps across the heads of the dwarves in the barrel chase? A step too far? When Bombur flies out of the river killing orcs in his barrel and defying every known law of physics? A step too far? When Thorin after falling a hundred feet straight down a tunnel and lands on Smaug’s snout; then at the last second is pulled to safety without getting eaten or burned? A step too far? When Legolas hangs upside down from a monstrous bat shooting orcs or is jumping across falling stones blocks. A step too far? I could go on, but I suppose I have made my point. These scenes are thrilling and fun to watch, but ultimately they undermine the story and our belief in the characters and the world in which they inhabit. The gritty realism of Middle-earth is lost in The Hobbit films.
The Were-worms… something about these creatures struck me as being more from Kong Island or from the planet Arrakis on Dune, than from Middle-earth. They are very cool looking, but just don’t feel right even in Jackson’s version of Middle-earth. In Tolkien’s Middle-earth, the creatures that populate his world almost all have their origins in Northern European mythologies… wolves, bears, goblins, dragons, eagles and these new Were-worms feel more extraterrestrial in nature. This is just my personal feeling about it.
The things I felt were missing…
The last film in a trilogy needs to wrap up all the loose ends, and for the most part Peter Jackson did a splendid job of pulling together all the storylines in rousing climax with emotional release. However, the are a few items I felt were missing or left unanswered… this is a quick list of the things I would have liked to see.
What happened to the ice sled we saw in the first Hobbit BFA trailer?
Where was the huge marching orc army shot we saw in the second trailer?
The tomb of Thorin, King under the Mountain with the Arkenstone on his breast!
I wanted to see how Gandalf receives the Staff of Radagast.
I hope we see Saruman taking the Palantir in Dol Guldur!
A final scene in Mordor…. a fly over of Gorgoroth the valley of terror in the land of Shadow and up to the top of Mount Doom which suddenly bursts into flame!
A mention of Balin saying that the dwarves ought to retake Moria? ( I know this one’s a long shot, but it would be fun!)
I really wanted to see Gandalf and Balin visiting Bilbo in the Shire at the end!
When Gandalf tells Bilbo “You are a very fine person, Mr. Baggins, and I am very fond of you; but you are only quite a little fellow in a wide world after all!” Biblo is suppose to say “Thank Goodness!” The last line in the book! I was so happy when The Lord of the Rings trilogy ended with the line by Sam ” Well, I’m back” right out of the book! I wish The Hobbit could have ended in the same way.
I’m hoping the some of these items on the list above will be shown to us in The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies Extended Edition which will come out this fall!
In closing this first part of my nine part review, I have to say how much I liked this film. Even though things were missing and there other items in the movie that did not sit well with me, my overall feeling about this film is that it was the perfect ending for this trilogy!
I will offer up my final review and give the film a final rating between one and ten in Part Nine~ Closing Thoughts.
You might think it’s crazy for making such lengthy and long reviews for these films… but I just can’t say it all in just one post!
Please go HERE to our Hobbit: BFA Review Page for all nine parts of the Mordor Review!
Source: Mordor ~ The Land of Shadow.com