Peter Jackson’s Epic 6th Film in Middle Earth Brings the Series to a Fitting Conclusion

Director: PETER JACKSON/2014

The Hobbit has certainly had an uneven track record compared to its more sure-footed companion films, The Lord of the Rings.  Where The Lord of the Rings was anchored firmly in the characters and history of author J.R.R. Tolkien’s classic series, The Hobbit films have been a mixed bag.  In many ways, The Hobbit was always going to be a hard sell.

Like George Lucas’ return to the Star Wars universe, director Peter Jackson had an equally difficult position.  How do you live up to the expectations placed upon you from the original trilogy?  How do you tell a story and produce a sense of danger for the characters when the audience already knows where all of these things are heading?  And just as Lucas abandoned character driven story for CGI extravaganzas (beginning with the “Special Edition” re-releases and into the prequel trilogy), here Jackson is fighting to not do the same.  Unfortunately, he does not always win that battle.

On one hand, his attempts to connect The Hobbit films to what was established in The Lord of the Rings films is a no-brainer.  To do so, he claims to have mined the appendices of the books where J.R.R. Tolkien himself was working to do the same thing.  The Hobbit has always had a much more whimsical feeling to it compared to The Lord of the Rings, as it was always more of a child’s tale. Jackson’s version is tonally more like The Lord of the Rings, raising the ire of purists.

According to Jackson, Tolkien had begun the work to revise The Hobbit to better fit into the world ofThe Lord of the Rings.  This has led to a small book being blown up into a 3 part prequel.  Unfortunately, this extra time has allowed Jackson to play a bit too fast and loose with the source material.

One of the biggest examples is the creation of a character not found in the book, Tauriel the elf (played by Lost’s Evangeline Lilly), and a love triangle of sorts between her, Legolas the elf (Orlando Bloom) and the dwarf Kili (Aiden Turner). As a character, I felt that Ms. Lilly did a great job and enhanced the storyline.  The love triangle (which Evangeline Lilly had refused to do when she signed on-with it being added only after she was cast) is more of an attempt to re-establish a character driven angle to the proceedings much like the potential love triangle in The Lord of the Rings between Aragorn, Eowyn, and Arwin. Here, the potential romance becomes a bit more of a distraction.

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies is the shortest of the prequels and its action is a lot more tighter than the previous installments.  Often it feels much more like a video game battle sequence, but is able to move in and out of the action with ease before focusing in on one aspect of the battle. It is in this focus that Jackson brings the film back from the brink and re-establishes the warmth of the character driven story that is more reminiscent of The Return of the King, for example.

Richard Armitage takes his character of Thorin for another downward turn as he begins, much like Smaug did, to allow the wealth to “change him”, even it means dragging everyone else down with him.  The conflict that develops between he and Bilbo (Martin Freeman) is heartbreaking at times, and yet, we are given very few opportunities to savor those moments before its back to battle.

In fact, Martin Freeman, despite being in the title roll, seems to be more of an afterthought in his own film. Some of this is to be expected when trying to accommodate 5 different armies into a battle sequence, but the themes of Bilbo’s personal journey from reluctant traveler to burglar, that were established in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, seem to have faded away to allow for more spectacle. This is a shame as Mr. Freeman is perfectly cast as Bilbo.

That being said, on the whole, this is a much better film than the previous two, as it is much more focused having fewer story lines happening simultaneously in the story, as there were in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug.  This streamlined story also allows Jackson to not only resolve the narratives being played out from the first two installments, but it also allows him to effortlessly connect the end of this film straight into the beginning of The Fellowship of the Ring. Fan favorites Gandalf (Ian McKellen), Elrond (Hugo Weaving), Saruman (Christopher Lee), and Galadriel (Cate Blanchett) make one final appearance with lots of action to boot.

The Battle of the Five Armies lives up to its name and even hosts a 45-minute action sequence.  The CGI of the large armies begins to become old hat to those familiar with the grand scale of the series as a whole.  “War fatigue” kind of settles in at times, and while there is nothing new in these particular sequences, they are still gorgeous to look at.

So after over 16 years of writing, filming, and creating 6 films in this world, Peter Jackson (and the people of New Zealand) has earned his right to a long vacation. Certainly, these films were created by a true fan of the book series, despite some of the disputed charges of him tampering with the source material.  And despite the unevenness of the prequel series, the controversy of Jackson veering too far from the source material, the over-reliance on CGI, etc., the fact is that these films have been fun. And if that introduces a new generation to the fantastic literary world of J.R.R. Tolkien, then we are all a little bit better off.  And like Bilbo, we can always go “there and back again” through what is nearly 24 hours of Middle Earth story once all the Blu-Ray editions are sitting on the store shelves.  The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies is a fitting conclusion to a truly epic series.