I had high hopes for The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies. Despite my disappointment at The Desolation of Smaug the final instalment of the trilogy promised to be a Middle-earth extravaganza. "Will you follow me one last time?" we were asked in the trailers to which my only response could be an emphatic "YES!"
And yet one year on I find myself with the same disappointment that a chance to depict, in film, the book that arguably launched the fantasy genre, has been thrown away for generations.
Watching Someone Play World of Warcraft
Many of the issues I raised in my previous review have if anything been exacerbated in the final film. The many fight scenes in the film are overdone to the extent that it's gone from Matrix territory in the second film to Kung Fu Panda without the laughs in the third.
To make matters worse the ludicrous fight moves performed (such as repeatedly head-butting iron-helmeted orcs with your bald head) combined with way too much CGI made me feel like I was watching someone play World of Warcraft, or for the more panoramic shots, a game from the Total War series. This got so bad that I could actually see in my mind's eye someone repeatedly clicking "head-butt" on his quest to level up. The words "Azog the Defiler, Level 80 Boss" did not actually appear over the head of the main villain of the film, but they might as well have.
One of the great strengths of Tolkien's work has always been the sense of realism that goes with it – the feeling that if orcs, dragons and elves did exist, they would interact with each other in the ways described in the books. That feeling of authenticity is undermined when you have flying ninja elves, dwarves riding giant pigs and a CGI Billy Connelly, who as far as I know is still with us and has not done an Oliver Reed.
A Victim of Your Own Success
In some twisted way I can't help but think that the work of JRR Tolkien has become a victim of its own success. Without the publication of "The Hobbit", franchises such as Dungeons & Dragons, Warhammer and Warcraft would almost certainly not exist. If the Battle of Five Armies were a Warhammer or Warcraft film I'd have to say it was pretty good. But it's not. So I can't.
In fact one wonders if Peter Jackson is suffering from some kind of lightsaber envy. Judging from the way elf lords swing their steel sabres at lightning speed I think it can't be discounted. Is Peter Jackson watching the new Star Wars trailer again and again and thinking "it could have been me"? Again if this were a Star Wars film it wouldn't be that bad. Lots of CGI, duels in unlikely places and a battle of good vs evil are all to be found in The Battle of Five Armies.
Was Tolkien's Work Not Good Enough?
This is where we get to my real problem of The Battle of Five Armies, and again it's something that spoiled the second film. Peter Jackson has essentially trashed, dumbed down and torn apart the work of JRR Tolkien.
I don't care that minor details have been changed. Who cares for example that in the film Bilbo's last meeting with Thorin takes place on a mountain, rather than (as in the book) in a tent?
But why does Orlando Bloom have to do everything when his character is not in the book in the first place and there are plenty of underdeveloped characters in The Hobbit that could be given the chance the shine. The character of Beorn for example is relegated to being nothing more than a bizarre shapeshifting paratrooper, while Dain is turned into a boilerplate Scottish comedy dwarf rather than depicted as a serious contender for Thorin's throne.
These characters as well as some other plot lines could have been developed. We could have had (as the trailer implied) a great showdown between Sauron and Saruman. Yet it turns out than when Christopher Lee said "leave Sauron to me", he was not referring to anything that would actually happen in The Battle of Five Armies. It almost feels like false advertising.
This is made all the worse by the dialogue, which is sub-George Lucas in places. We have Dain telling an army of elves to "sod off!" (because obviously that's hilarious) and a grieving elf crying out "Why does it hurt so much?" It's like the script was written for the kind of people who cry hearing contrived X-Factor sob stories, or at the machinations of contestants on The Great British Bake Off.
Even the death of Thorin is messed up by what looks like an attempt to dumb down and turn what are actually quite moving words into a sob-fest of Bilbo crying and wailing. Here's what we missed from the book:
"Farewell, good thief... I go now to the halls of waiting to sit beside my fathers... Since I leave now all gold and silver, and go where it is of little worth, I wish to part in friendship from you... If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world. But sad or merry, I must leave it now. Farewell!"
None of that seems too hard for a modern audience to understand and all of it is better than what we actually got. So why change it?
Come Back Jar Jar All is Forgiven
Finally I must mention the character of Alfrid. It's quite popular among Star Wars fans to despise Jar Jar Binks, but George Lucas' least popular creation did at least confine himself to being a background annoyance. He never really got whole scenes to himself in which to wind up the audience. Alfrid gets many, each one a chore to watch. Come back Jar Jar all is forgiven.
In conclusion I will only say that this film is actually reasonably good for a Star Wars, Warcraft or generic fantasy film and will probably be liked by anyone who likes those genres but is perhaps unfamiliar with the book. But considering this is THE definitive Hobbit film probably for the next few generations, it's a great missed opportunity for a Tolkien fan like myself.
"Why does it hurt so much?" asks Tauriel. Because you thought you were going to have something wonderful and you got something else. I know the feeling dear, I know the feeling.
For a more favourable review of The Battle of Five Armies click here.