The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies – Movie Review

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five ArmiesThe Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies – PG-13
Release Date: Wed 17 Dec 2014

The final chapter in Peter Jackson’s Hobbit trilogy is here, and we can finally weigh up all of the decisions that brought us to this point. The Hobbit movies were criticized before they were even released when the decision was made to split the story into two – and later three – movies, taking a story shorter than any one book in the Lord of the Rings and stretching it to a comparable length.

This leads to the conclusion that this movie is unlikely to please many people. For Hobbit purists, they were already turned off by the inclusion of characters not in the original story and characters and sequences completely created for the films. For fans of the Lord of the Rings trilogy who don’t really care about the book The Hobbit, they also got a tremendously watered down product in that the movies have never created a sense of stakes or urgency. Prior to this film, none of the named characters die. That’s a serious dramatic issue that lingers until the third act of Five Armies which becomes so predictable by that point you’re begging for it to end.

Judging the film on its own is hard to do, but it struggles to feel important. The armies show up to have one fight but then another breaks out. A character who has been a heroic leader becomes a selfish ass just long enough to cause problems before just as quickly switching back to being a “good guy.” Bilbo and Gandalf seem almost out of place for much of the film, with Legolas, Tauriel, Galadriel, Saruman and Elrond showing up for the sake of the inevitable 6-movie marathons. Every time the movie focuses on Legolas the wind goes out of it. We know Legolas, Gandalf, Bilbo and the cameo characters are in Lord of the Rings. We know they’ll survive every scene they’re in, and while it’s cool to see Cate Blanchett get to rock another scene as Galadriel she’s really there so when her voice begins narrating Fellowship of the Ring we know who’s speaking.

This brings us to the other much bemoaned aspect of the series: whither HFR (high frame rate.) All three movies have been released using a new 48 frames-per-second process which tends to make the 3D have clearer edges and not suffer as much in the normal darkening. A lot of people hated the effect in An Unexpected Journey, as it made some things – sets, wigs, prosthesis – a little too easy to make out. It looked like a stage play (at best) and a daytime drama (at worst.) Since it is not currently possible to see the HFR at home, the only way to see this effect as the director intended it is in the theater. Say what you will about the upcharges and gimmicks, but these movies look their best in IMAX 3D HFR. Having recently watched Desolation of Smaug on Blu-Ray I was stunned at how terrible a lot of it looked. Lake Town is lit from above like a set, not a place with a sun. The trade-off with HFR is that CG characters look better the higher the frame rate (for example, many computer games run at 60 frames-per-second to look smooth meaning 12 more images per second than even HFR) but human characters look strangely more real and less “movie-like.” It’s a strange effect that our eyes are conditioned to see people at 24fps as epic and 48fps as some dude in a wig.

If you want to see a real conclusion after the disappointing cliffhanger of Desolation of Smaug, the first sequence gives you that. It’s not much more satisfying than the cliffhanger, though. I would recommend it to people who gave up on HFR after An Unexpected Journey and missed it in the superior Desolation of Smaug. Again, it’s something that takes getting used to but it may be a decade before it’s possible to watch films at home in the way they were intended: On a huge screen, in 3D and double the normal frame rate.

Apart from that, just watch any or all of the Lord of the Rings movies again on Blu-Ray. Turn on a commentary track and look at some bonus features. You’ll have a much more engaging experience than this dreadful conclusion to a ho-hum prequel trilogy.

Shawnee, Aaron, Jeremiah and I saw it in the theater and had a discussion in the car:



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