The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies takes us back into J.R.R. Tolkein‘s Middle Earth for the final time. The poster hypes this entry as being “The Definining Chapter” – it’s not, it’s just the last one.
The film begins with Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch) travelling towards Laketown to blow it apart with fire – which you know is going to happen, whether you’ve read it in the book or simply by knowing that, at the end of part 2, the dragon was heading in that direction. That is an amazing sight to see, particularly in 48fps HFR, but for a long time after that, an awful lot of not-a-lot happens. Then, the battle in the title begins around halfway through the film and never really ends. It’s an amazing spectacle, but as they say – less is more. Okay, so this film is shorrter – 144 minutes long compared to Part 1’s 169 minutes and Part 2’s 161 minutes – but the whole affair could easily have been cut down to two films, not least by cutting out much of the singing in the first film.
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies centres mostly on Thorin (Richard Armitage), Bard (Luke Evans), Kili (Aidan Turner – whose character seems to have perked up quickly since suffering from man-flu for most of The Desolation of Smaug), Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly – not bad for a character who was never in the original novel, Legoland… sorry, Legolas (I can’t help it… played by Orlando Bloom) and Thranduil (Lee Pace).
There’s also a nice cameo from Billy Connolly as Thorin’s brother, Dain, who greets all other armies with a broad, deep distinctly Scottish, “Would you all mind sodding off?”
Suprisingly, Martin Freeman‘s character, Bilbo Baggins, feels like a passenger in this for most of the time, while Ian McKellen, as Gandalf, has even less to do, so the two of them really shouldn’t have top billing, and certainly not in comparison to Armitage and Evans, as Thorin and Bard respectively.
I did feel events were a bit daft at one point, which I’ll tag with a spoiler:
Another point that stood out was that characters only started speaking subtitled Elvish when they were annoyed, even changing back to English, mid-conversation, with the same people!
All that said, while the big battle starts off with a load of banging and clanging of swords and shields, it segments off into great show-pieces including a battle with Azog (Manu Bennett), the Orc King, and another battle involving Legolas on a collapsing brick bridge (of sorts) where, as the bricks fell, he was using them to get leverage to climb back up – this is physically impossible. He may as well have been flying. Still, it did make for an amusing moment and the film was certainly lacking in humour most of the time.
A lot of people have moaned that, in the first two films, the 48fps HFR (high frame rate) format looks like it’s been shot with a basic video camera. Clearly, these people haven’t realised that there are twice as many frames being shot. I found that, after about 10 minutes where it feels like everyone’s running around when they’re walking, you stop noticing any the difference in speed, other than realising the picture is absolutely stunning and that the format is a benefit to the film. Sure, it makes everything look a little more realistic and it’s not a look that’d work for every film, but that’s not a reason why it shouldn’t ever be used. Once you’ve seen Smaug’s visage up close and personal, as well as the opening scene where he leaves his mark on Lake Town, you’ll be looking forward to more films made this way… if there are any.
Reasons against it will be that it’ll be more expensive to shoot in this format, and it also doesn’t come across to the home version, where Blu-ray still plays in 24fps (and DVD in 25fps, which is why the running time is 5% shorter, as the film is effectively speeded up – often with the audio pitch corrected), so it’ll stay as a benefit for cinema audiences only, rather like the 1.44:1 format for 70mm IMAX films, but will 48fps also be a draw to get bums on seats? Possibly not.
Oh, and after seeing The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies at the Manchester Printworks Odeon (in my favourite seat of J21 – right at the back, in the centre… although J22 also meets that criteria), I left “my precious” behind (aka my phone)… but got it back eleventy-one moments later.
That’s now that for The Hobbit trilogy. The second film had the most action and was a better all-round film, but maybe the first and third films will come across better on repeated viewings at home when your expectations aren’t quite as high.
What’ll be the big IMAX film next Christmas? Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens. I shall be booking J21 (or J22) as soon as is humanly possible.
Running time: 144 minutes
Released: December 12th 2014
Widescreen: 2.35:1 (Redcode RAW (5K))
Viewed at: Odeon Cinema, Manchester Printworks
Director: Peter Jackson
Producers: Carolynne Cunningham, Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh and Zane Weiner
Screenplay: Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson and Guillermo del Toro (based on the novel by J.R.R. Tolkien)
Music: Howard Shore
Gandalf: Ian McKellen
Bilbo Baggins: Martin Freeman
Thorin Oakenshield: Richard Armitage
Balin: Ken Stott
Dwalin: Graham McTavish
Bifur: William Kircher
Bofur: James Nesbitt
Bombur: Stephen Hunter
Fili: Dean O’Gorman
Kili: Aidan Turner
Oin: John Callen
Gloin: Peter Hambleton
Nori: Jed Brophy
Dori: Mark Hadlow
Ori: Adam Brown
Legolas: Orlando Bloom
Tauriel: Evangeline Lilly
Thranduil: Lee Pace
Galadriel: Cate Blanchett
Elrond: Hugo Weaving
Saruman: Christopher Lee
Old Bilbo: Ian Holm
Smaug: Benedict Cumberbatch
Beorn: Mikael Persbrandt
Radagast: Sylvester McCoy
Bard: Luke Evans
Master of Laketown: Stephen Fry
Alfrid: Ryan Gage
Bain: John Bell
Sigrid: Peggy Nesbitt
Tilda: Mary Nesbitt
Azog: Manu Bennett
Dain Ironfoot: Billy Connolly
Soury: Kelly Kilgour
Braga: Mark Mitchinson
Hilda Bianca: Sarah Peirse
Percy: Nick Blake
Feren: Simon London
Keeper of the Dungeons: Conan Stevens
Ragash: Allan Smith
Olga: Miranda Harcourt
Astrid: Thomasin McKenzie
Otho Sackville Baggins: Brian Hotter
Reviewer of movies, videogames and music since 1994. Aortic valve operation survivor from the same year. Running DVDfever.co.uk since 2000. Nobel Peace Prize winner 2021.