The Hobbit : The Battle of the Five Armies
Finally, it is over – talk about making a Lonely Mountain out of a Hobbit burrow! It is astonishing that Peter Jackson was able to get almost 8 hours of cinematic “action” out of what was by Tolkien’s standards quite a slim book. And there is very much an end of term feel about a film which struggled to hold my attention. I think I dozed a couple of times.
That said, the film opens at a cracking pace and with quite some confidence. The viewer is plunged straight in to where the previous film, The Desolation of Smaug, has left off. The dragon, Smaug, hitherto nestled underneath his pile of gold coins, has been woken by Bilbo Baggins searching for the Arkenstone. Understandably peeved, the dragon launches a firestorm on the pitiable inhabitants of Laketown. Inevitably the dragon is downed by one of the goodies, Bard, but in its death throes manages to land on (and kill) Stephen Fry who, as the Master of Laketown, is trying to flee with the city’s treasure – would that it were real life. From thereon in it is pretty much downhill all the way.
Without spoiling the film, although I suspect many who watch it will have read the book, the intrepid band of dwarves reach and reclaim their homeland, Erebor, but then their leader and king, the tiresome Thorin Oakenshield – he sounds like an Ibizan club DJ – contracts dragon sickness and under its influence commits the thirteen dwarves to a battle with a considerable larger army of elves. Somehow – I had nodded off somewhere around this point – the dwarves and elves are attacked by Orcs, wild animals and, presumably, a fifth army, although I’m blowed if I know who they were and, frankly, I can’t say I have lost anything by it. The sheer tedium of an hour plus of battle(s) is meant to be offset by a bit of love interest – I can’t recall Tolkien bothering with a floozy like Tauriel. The other source of interest is watching Martin Freeman battle forlornly to keep at the centre of the narrative.
I know this is meant to be fantasy but I always considered dwarves to be rather small chaps and Orcs, whilst not being particularly smart, to be big and brawny. It beggars belief that they can put up such a creditable show. And then we have the sight of two septuagenarians – Ian McKellen and Billy Connolly – bashing all and sundry with gusto and a kung-fu staff wielding nonagenarian in Christopher Lee. As I thought at this point in the film, truly we are in a world where time stands still!
It is not all grim; there are moments of humour and pathos but also too many loose ends. Astonishingly, Bilbo, who used the power of his magic ring to get into the heart of the Orcs’ lair undetected, decides to walk back to the Shire rather than transporting himself back. He just arrives back at the very moment when all his worldly possessions are being shared out amongst all the other hobbits on the presumption that Bilbo is dead. The film ends with the scene with which the first film of the Lord of the Rings started.
I was very glad to flee Middle Earth and just hope Jackson has not got his sights on the Silmarillion!