Friday, December 19, 2014

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

by Simon Mansell, Writing Intern (with Germar Derron)

One of the biggest and most highly-praised franchises of all time has likely come to an end. After almost thirteen years of stellar film-making, by director Peter Jackson, it is hard to say goodbye. But more importantly, is this a fond farewell to Middle Earth’s time on the big screen?

The film picks up where The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug left off. Smaug is going to burn down Laketown, leaving Bilbo and company, stranded at The Lonely Mountain. Bard kills Smaug with the black arrow.  But Laketown survivors are left without homes or money. Bard gets nominated to lead the survivors to salvation. They then decide to go to the mountain, in search of the gold to rebuild their society.

Meanwhile, at The Lonely Mountain, Thorin has caught dragon sickness, leading him to become obsessed with the Arkenstone. He becomes angry and controlling. He argues with his friends and feels that they are deceiving him. Bilbo, who is hiding the Arkenstone from Thorin, is unsure about giving it to him, or keeping it hidden. Back in the Village, the Elves, led by Thranduil, come to help them and also recover a precious silver necklace hidden in the mountain.

When they approach the mountain, they realize that Thorin will not allow anyone to enter it.  When he doesn't let Bard in, the war between the Dwarfs and Elves begins. When Thorin’s cousin and an army of dwarfs come to help Thorin, both armies are halted by an army of Orks. These Orks are of course led by Azog the Defiler. They aim to take the mountain as their refuge, and build their own society. This all leads to an epic battle between the five armies to take control of The Lonely Mountain, which will cause devastation to, and death in, Middle Earth.

The film has a great cast, full of talented actors and actresses that have become etched in our memory. We get Richard Armitage, who returns as Thorin Oakenshield. Once again, he is fantastic in this role. He brings great intensity to his transformation from a loyal friend, to a power hungry, possessed leader.  Thorin continues to be my favourite character, due to his complex nature and story arcs. His development has been consistently excellent throughout all three features.

Martin Freeman returns as Bilbo Baggins. Like Armitage, with Thorin, Freeman completely embodies the character of Bilbo Baggins. His subtle humour, his tone of voice, his facial expressions, and his physical movements, perfectly depict a young Bilbo Baggins. Whenever he’s onscreen, he is fully engaging and entertaining. He mixes in great humor, with deep drama that hits big time—every time.

The “supporting” cast includes Ian McKellen, Benedict Cumberbatch, Orlando Bloom and Luke Evans, who portray Gandalf, Smaug, Legolas and Bard the Bowman respectively. Of course, McKellen is fantastic as Gandalf the Grey once again--intense and entertaining in the role. Cumberbatch, even though present in only the first fifteen minutes of the film, has great presence, with his distinctive dark voice.  Evans comes into his own as Bard, and Bloom gives his best performance yet as Legolas. Other cast members include Lee Pace, Evangeline Lily, Cate Blanchett, Hugo Weaving, Christopher Lee, Manu Bennett, and Graham McTavish.

There are many positives and many negatives in this film. Again, Peter Jackson directs beautifully. I am a huge fan of his interpretation of Middle Earth. Add in the gorgeous cinematography and a heart-warming Howard Shore score--it really does create an amazing atmosphere. But the visual effects seem “all over the place.”  Smaug and Azog are beautiful, but often the effects appear overdone—cartoony. It reminds me of watching video game cutscenes.

The film is at its best when it is close up and personal, as opposed to long shots that feature a million animated characters. Sometimes the screenplay offers truly heart-wrenching dialogue. But often, the film cuts quickly to Gandalf who narrates and describes every single thing. It was noticeable and annoying.

Overall, I give The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies an 8.2/10. The good outweighs the bad. This is an epic, enjoyable, and fitting conclusion to a very long journey on Middle Earth and Earth Earth. Farewell. See you in twenty years, for the inevitable reboot.
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