I have been working as a film journalist since 2010, dividing the first four years between radio broadcasting and entertainment writing in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. In 2014, I entered Fresh Fiction (FreshFiction.tv) as the features editor. The following year, I stepped into the film critic position at the Denton Record-Chronicle, a daily North Texas print publication. My time is dedicated to writing theatrical film reviews, at-home entertainment columns, and conducting interviews with on-screen talent and filmmakers, as well as hosting a podcast devoted to genre filmmaking (called My Bloody Podcast). I've been married for seven happy years, and I have one son who is all about dinosaurs just like his dad.
Preston Barta & Cole Clay // Film Critics
THE HOBBIT: THE BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES | 144 min. | Rated PG-13 | Director: Peter Jackson Stars: Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, Ian McKellen, Luke Evans, Orlando Bloom, Evangeline Lilly, Aidan Turner and Benedict Cumberbatch
While THE BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES may leave some fans of the book scratching their heads, director Peter Jackson gives a stronger adventure and more enjoyment than its predecessors. From the first frame to the last, the film is a thrilling achievement to behold. The action in this year’s edition is unrivaled by the previous Middle-Earth installment.
Where does this film pick up?
The last chapter of the three-part film series based on J.R.R Tolkien’s 1937 novel, continues the events of last year’s THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG, in which Bilbo (Martin Freeman) and his merry company are forced to engage in a war against an array of troops, who after the slaying of the terrifying Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch, who barely gets a moment to shine here), want a piece of the kingdom of treasure.
How will fans of the novel react to the film?
Well, if you have watched the previous two parts, you know that the film completely goes off the rails in terms of following the source material. Many fans found that this trilogy’s greatest faults are the unnecessary plot threads and lack of character focus. As you’ve seen in the first two installments, Jackson seems keen on making sure his HOBBIT trilogy connects to his LORD OF THE RINGS motion pictures. At certain points throughout the narrative, the story pulls audiences away from Bilbo and the dwarves to instead follow Gandalf (Ian McKellan), as he goes off on his own adventure to uncover the growing evil Lord Sauron (LOTR villain) and his armies.
Jackson also spends more time with characters that he added in (Legolas especially) than those who were in the actual book written by Tolkien. You would think that the story would be more about Bilbo, but THE BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES leans more towards Thorin (Richard Armitage) and the changes that he undergoes. Maybe Jackson forgot the book is called “The Hobbit.” But we’re not too sure.
Now, LOTR had its silly moments here and there, scenes that made you laugh or grin amidst the seriousness. Though, those scenes were refreshing changes of mood, such as Legolas (Orlando Bloom) sliding down the stairs on a shield while shooting orcs (THE TWO TOWERS), or Legolas bringing down the Oliphants (THE RETURN OF THE KING). With THE HOBBIT, not only, but especially THE BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES, moments like this follow each other like canned laughter. Here, the more serious scenes are a refreshing change to all the cheesiness and exaggeration. Depending upon if you a fan of the books or not, some may find this engaging, while others may sigh with disgust.
However, despite its shortcomings, why does THE BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES work better than the other previous two HOBBIT films?
If you can look past how ridiculous THE HOBBIT gets at times, it’s still quite fun to watch. It’s good old fashion escapism. Plus, most of the plot development and frantic narrative building is out of the way, so now Jackson and Co. were able to pull up their bootstraps and get down to business. There isn’t as much focus on the shaggy B-plots such as the importance of reclaiming Erebor to Thorin and the dwarves and the forbidden love between Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly) and Kili (Aiden Turner). Starting off as an outlier in the first act, Bilbo is given a full-character arc that provides a nice relief to making the narrative tighter when the baggage from the other characters is lifted.
Jackson places several moments of fanfare within the margins of the film’s narrative structure. These scenes are largely divisive in their motives in order to make a bridge between LOTR and THE HOBBIT films. Take for example, the collection of extended cameos that Cate Blanchett, Hugo Weaving and Christopher Lee receive in order to make the segue between the series more pronounced.
What sort of impact did the special effects have on the film?
Well, just like George Lucas did with his prequel trilogy of STAR WARS, the special effects were not quite on the same level as the practical measures that were taken in the original trilogy. For the most part, the visuals are hit and miss here. Landscapes and structures are stunning. However, when it comes to scenes of action that involve a lot of CGI, like the orcs or when Legolas is doing his usual ninja tricks, the effects don’t come off as great as they should.
THE BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES doesn’t quite reach the same heights as Jackson’s previous trilogy, but it sure does come close in capturing that sense of danger and thrill. If you felt like the first two HOBBIT films left a bit to be desired, get ready for a blockbuster that will surely make you wish there were a part four sneaking up on us next Christmas. Obviously, we’re kidding, but this is a good cap to a decent trilogy.
*Spoiler Edition*: Questions we are left with?
- What happened to the gold? What happened with Thranduil (Lee Pace) and his white gems? This whole battle is happening over gold, and we never find out what the hell happened with it? Those of who read the book know the answer, but the film didn’t really care to explain this significant part of the story.
- What happened to the people of Lake-Town? Why did the film not explain that Bard (Luke Evans) became King of Dale? Tsk. Tsk.