While listening to Peter Jackson and Philippa Boyens audio commentary for the extended edition of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey a couple of months ago I became really interested in a particular exchange on one of the major differences between The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogies. Jackson spoke about the many technological advances that have occurred in the cinematic universe since The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Most noticeable of these are the advances in CGI and motion capture technology. Jackson said he wanted to embrace these technologies for the new trilogy and that there would be an increase in CGI use as the trilogy went along. Jackson wasn’t kidding as The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies looks like it’s completely made in a computer. I’ve more than enjoyed the first two installments of the The Hobbit trilogy. I put both of them on my top ten lists for their respective years and I still believe they belong there. However, The Battle of the Five Armies seems more like Jackson testing out half-baked technological advancements rather than a Middle-earth film. There is certainly a lot of artistry on display, but most of it seems very misplaced.
The third film picks up right where The Desolation of Smaug left off as Smaug attempts to destroy Lake-town. With Smaug now away from Erebor and the gold contained within, multiple factions march upon the mountain in order to gain control of it. Obviously, the titular battle comes about because of these events. Unfortunately, the biggest disappointment about this film is that the Battle of the Five Armies plays out much more like its depiction in the book (although the specific events of the film deviate heavily from the book) rather than one of the glorious battle sequences Jackson pulled off in The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Instead the battle is a rather quick affair that doesn’t contain any of the characters we really care about and instead becomes a playground for Peter Jackson to play with some CGI creations.
I would like to talk about other things besides the battle but there isn’t much else in the film. The sense of adventure (no new locations are introduced) and the neat set of characters (an oddly CGI created Dain Ironfoot is the only new character) aren’t present here resulting in a film that hardly feels like any of the other five films in the series.
The film does at least find some of the magic of the other five films as it advances from the battle and into a series of one-on-one fights and eventually to the conclusion. Martin Freeman and Richard Armitage really carry this film. Armitage doesn’t get enough credit for combining what Viggo Mortensen and Sean Bean did in the first trilogy into one performance while still making it feel organic. Meanwhile, Freeman delivers a lovable and heartbreaking performance that is right up there with Sean Astin’s in the original trilogy as the most memorable hobbit.
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies is a disappointing conclusion to one of the great series that cinema has ever seen. Freeman and Armitage make the film watchable, but if Peter Jackson ever comes back to Middle-earth I hope he rethinks his newly found disregard for prosthetics, miniatures and other methods that could be used to work along side CGI.