Once upon a time, Peter Jackson was overwhelmingly lauded for translating a literary masterpiece into a cinematic masterpiece: the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Despite their immense runtimes, there was never a wasted moment—in fact, the fans begged for an even longer cut of these films (these cuts turned out to be 20-40 minutes longer, still without any hint of overstretching). There was so much to explore in that classically grim and grand tale, adapted from three separate sizable novels (the original LOTR—although once compiled into one enormous book by J.R.R. Tolkien—was split into three books by the publisher later on).
However, Tolkien’s prequel, The Hobbit, doesn’t have that much material in one single novel to warrant three 2 ½ hour movies, which is why this recent trilogy has honestly overstayed its welcome and presented us with a seriously disposable middle point—The Desolation of Smaug—that barely contributed to the overall narrative. Jackson, like George Lucas with Star Wars, has simply become so fanatically passionate about this world that he’d be willing to showcase every acre of Middle Earth if it was his choice; in a way, that’s sweet (or there could be a more cynical aspect to it), but few people are asking for this much. The Battle of Five Armies immediately begins with the ultimate clash against Smaug (that last segment of Desolation of Smaug could’ve just been inserted here and everything else therein scrapped), which ends fairly quickly only for the situation to now center on Thorin’s gradually corrupting mind—his obstinate, greedy hold over the treasure he has finally reached in the vast caves of the Lonely Mountains. A colossal war soon ensues, involving the dwarves, the humans, the elves, the eagles, and the orcs, over this gold—lust for wealth and power has always been a motif in the tales of Middle Earth.
Entering the theater with lowered expectations following disappointment from the last entry, I actually walked out surprised with how wildly entertaining the film was throughout most of its duration. At this point, some of the more central characters and relationships were fully developed, allowing for more audience investment in their arcs and endgames. The riveting dynamic between Thorin (Richard Armitage) and Bilbo (Martin Freeman), in particular, remained the highlight, as well as the fuel to carry the film from a slower build-up to a climactic finale with satisfying pace. Aside from its ending, which was dragged out with a totally relaxed and plodding speed almost to the excruciating extent of Return of the King, there was never a dull moment that even remotely compared to the boringly prolonged sequence with Smaug towards the end of its predecessor. When there wasn’t interestingly-choreographed and colossally-scoped action on-screen, the intriguing evolution of certain characters’ paths was placed at the forefront. Moreover, while the orcs were as effortless to kill as ever, the primary villains (Azog, Bolg) took arduous, calculating confrontations with powered warriors like Legolas, Tauriel, Thorin, Gandalf, and more to overcome.
On the other hand, instead of putting effort into utilizing impeccable practical effects to meticulously assemble a believable Middle Earth like Jackson accomplished with the LOTR trilogy, the use of CGI this time around really makes everything appear so cartoony and cheap for such a big-budget epic. The first twenty minutes of the picture specifically exhibit The Hobbit at its visual worst with the sight of an animated-like village being ravaged by unconvincing fire effects. Perhaps, the creatures seem fascinatingly-envisioned, especially Smaug, but the whole production occasionally looks like one giant cartoon—totally unlike LOTR.
Now, I’m aware the tone for these installments is completely disparate, alternatively pulling for a more light-hearted and amusing mood. In fact, that tone was pulled off perfectly in An Unexpected Journey; what we received then was an utterly fun adventure on the cusp of Christmas. Notice, though, how the tone of the trilogy has been darkening until The Battle of Five Armies arrived with trailers that almost attempted to replicate the gloomy foreboding of the LOTR series. It seems like Jackson is now desperately trying to recapture the magic he achieved with those films, not understanding that it’s entirely fine for The Hobbit to take on a far family-friendlier tonality similar to the book. So, in sum, we have bright CGI effects trying to blend with a darker-themed entry—not very fitting indeed.
The further implementation of sappy romance also doesn’t help very much. Look, Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly) was absolutely my favorite character in Desolation of Smaug with the way she independently carried herself in such a badass, quintessentially elvish manner, largely ignoring love-struck men after her heart and instead focusing more on—you know—an objective (joining the Middle Earth fight). A Hollywood female character is concentrating on a mission rather than being bogged down by a romantic interest? I know, how impossible. Unfortunately, those admirable characteristics are hastily flushed away here by a persisting urge to be with Kili (Aidan Turner) in the midst of all this warring chaos. (She happens to suddenly be attracted to him after he utters a few sexy elvish words into her ear.)
In addition, the incredibly memorable score compositions (by Howard Shore) that elevated those films to even greater heights thirteen years ago has been all but lost with this group. Commencing strongly with “Far over the Misty Mountains Cold” in An Unexpected Journey, it eventually downgrades to a thoroughly unremarkable, generic, and lazily-constructed score by the end. If there’s one thing to be sure about once all is finished, it’s that The Hobbit might’ve been a confident, worthy follow-up for Jackson if it was simply condensed into two chapters: An Unexpected Journey and a slightly revised/elongated The Battle of Five Armies. Hopefully, some talented and excited amateur editor out there knows what to do now.