12 – 146mins – 2014
FLAWED OF THE RINGS
It is to the credit of director Peter Jackson and his creative collaborators (Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Guillermo del Toro) that despite the bum-numbing length of each instalment in their colossal Tolkien adaptations, they are immensely re-watchable films. A cosy warmth of familiarity emanates from the breath-taking New Zealand locales and iconic characters, even if they are fighting animalistic orcs and a giant flaming eye half the time! Whilst I have yet to experience the additional footage in the elongated Expanded Editions, I sat down last week for my third viewing of The Hobbit trilogy-closer The Battle of the Five Armies.
Released theatrically last December, up to now I have been rather unforgiving in my opinion of this final visit to Middle Earth. The burden of expectation (it is, after all, our final visit to the beloved Middle Earth) and the feeling of narrative-muddying content-stretching (did we need three epic films from a small children’s book?!) placed a concern in my mind which I found hard to appease both in the cinema and on my first home viewing.
Furthermore, all bar one of Tolkien’s most memorable scenes had already been assimilated into 2012’s An Unexpected Journey (The Shire, trolls, goblins and a certain cave-dwelling horder of hand jewellery) and the following years’ The Desolation of Smaug (Mirkwood, giant spiders, the elves, barrel-riding and meeting the mighty dragon himself). The sole outstanding moment? Bilbo Baggins’ (Martin Freeman) fearless betrayal of gold-hungry dwarf heir Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) – and the smuggling of a jewel was unlikely to live up to some of the franchises most stunning and stellar fantasy set-pieces!
And it doesn’t. BotFA is – as the title suggests – largely comprised of one large battle. The scale is to be marvelled at, as too is the dazzling choreography, world-building and attention to detail, as each of the warring militaries converge on the Lonely Mountain to stake their claim on the relinquished dwarf treasure. But there are only so many well-rehearsed fight-sequences and CGI soldiers you can take before it all starts to get a bit… monotonous.
I was also bothered by the tone, which for the first time in six films struck me as rather inconsistent. PJ clearly wished to balance the grit n’ grunts of the sword-clashing combat with lighter character moments and flashes of humour. It’s a noble intention, but one that doesn’t quite work. Watching giant orc Berserkers tumble over with concussion after head-butting barricades, or weasely Astrid Lickspittle (Ryan Cage) evade a calls to arms by donning drag may raise a titter, but I found myself all too often grimacing at such incongruous immaturity amid the stern and solemn atmosphere.
Plus there was eccentric wizard Radagast the Brown (Sylvester McCoy), who – despite not even featuring in Tolkein’s book (he was mentioned… once) – showed up again with his twitchy demeanour, mad attire and damn rabbit-drawn sled to infuriate my very sanity! Some flourishes are best flung into Mount Doom.
And yet, for reasons unknown, my third viewing of the film was a far more cordial and enjoyable experience. Maybe my expectations were lowered? Maybe I had braced myself for the more bewildering comic touches? Maybe I was simply overtired?! Regardless, I was genuinely invested in the narrative as if spirited away to the gates of Erebor – I even found myself getting irked by Thorin’s greedy attitude and a little upset as Bilbo waved goodbye to the Dwarf party and made his way back to Bag End!
For a film to still have an impact on me – an improved one at that – on a third viewing, it must be doing something right. So while I would never claim BotFA to be my favourite visit to Middle Earth (it is probably my least favourite, all told), it is by no means a terrible film or substandard send off for wizened old Gandalf (Ian McKellen) and friends, even if it is imperfect.