Film review: The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

The film is a visual treat but fails to make any connection with the characters.
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies is visually stunning, and some scenes are spectacularly filmed – like the gathering of the armies. Courtesy New Line Cinema
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies is visually stunning, and some scenes are spectacularly filmed – like the gathering of the armies. Courtesy New Line Cinema

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

Directed by: Peter Jackson

Starring: Martin Freeman, Orlando Bloom, Benedict Cumberbatch, Evangaline Lilly, Ian McKellen

Two stars

Arriving at Vox Cinemas in Mall of the Emirates on Tuesday evening, it was clear that the UAE premiere of The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies was very much an event. The queue snaking round the mall’s first floor consisted almost entirely of fans dressed as elves, wizards and Hobbits, complete with bows, swords, wings and the sort of regalia normally associated with Comic Con’s ever-popular ­cosplay competition.

The cinema lobby was filled with ethereal otherworldly music, and it gradually became apparent that, costumes or otherwise, not everyone would be getting a place. Not that it upset the mood. The fans were there for the experience as much as the film; whether they made the auditorium or not, they could say that “they were there”.

Which must be a great place for director Peter Jackson to be in, especially moving into the third film of a trilogy based on the extensive padding out of a single novel. Five Armies has all the usual ingredients: sweeping landscapes; eye-popping CGI as Smaug the dragon (Benedict Cumberbatch) burns his foes to cinders; and the return of Orlando Bloom as Legolas.

But while Jackson’s original Lord of the Rings trilogy seemed awestruck by the landscapes and dazzled by the sheer wonder of J R R Tolkien’s characters, this final outing seems to be going through the motions.

It is said Jackson didn’t initially want to direct the second trilogy, but his hand was forced when the original helmer Guillermo del Toro had to pull out following production delays. And it shows. While some scenes are spectacular – Smaug incinerating Lake Town, the gathering of the armies – and the cinematography is visually stunning, the characters don’t really speak to us, a factor not helped by the ever-­amiable Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) being relegated to a largely supporting role this time around.

Jackson concluded the previous trilogy with a sense of finality, creating a film that stood out on its own without the need to be seen as part of a trilogy, but Five Armies comes across as not much more than a lot of special effects that add to its predecessors’ already impressive FX portfolio.

Yes, old favourites such as Baggins and Legolas are still there, but we barely feel a connect – a fact emphasised by the audience members who “oohed” and “aahed” at every darting arrow and burst of flame, but never fell ­silent long enough to follow the dialogue.

Nevertheless, Five Armies, like all the others in the franchise, will probably be a box-office smash, and the snaking queues of elves and orcs at Mall of the Emirates only goes to underline that fact. But it does feel like a sad way to say goodbye to what will surely be Jackson’s last encounter with the works of Tolkien. The writer’s estate, having sold the movie rights to the Rings trilogy and The Hobbit back in the mists of time (OK, the 60s), has sworn not to do the same with any of the author’s remaining Middle- earth works following what it felt to be disappointing film adaptations (pre-dating anything Jackson ­directed, it should be noted).

This might be the end, after all. Despite the stunning special ­effects in Five Armies, the franchise has gone out with a whimper rather than a bang.

cnewbould@thenational.ae

Published: December 10, 2014 04:00 AM

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