BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES:  Did The Hobbit Series Go Too Far In The Digital Realm?

DETROIT, MI – I have been a lifelong fan of J. R.R. Tolkien’s fantasy world of Middle Earth. I got my first introduction from the Rankin Bass cartoon, “The Hobbit” back in the 1970’s and then furthered my education through the animated film, “The Lord of the Rings” by Ralph Bakshi.  This world is vast and New Line Cinema along with director Peter Jackson decided to give us the definitive experience. I say that with confidence because I do not wish to see this entire mythology upgraded, or “freshened up” in the Hollywood sense five or even ten years for now. I got it. Middle Earth, hobbits and great wars aside – I like the product they have come up with. The whole Spiderman franchise suffers from constant re-invention in a way that becomes bothersome and tedious on the brain. I just hope the producers and the Tolkien’s estate are happy with the results. I am quite satisfied.

The word I heard was that the Tolkien estate said, “No more films”. After seeing the, “Battle of the Five Armies” I kind of wish to see a filmic take on, “The Silmarillion”. Before I get too deep in this review let me tell you simply that I liked this film – immensely. It was a lot better than I thought it was going to be. There are a lot of background pieces of information that were inserted into the film so that that whole series could sustain three separate movies. A lot of the back story was written at the end of, “Return of the King” in a series of notes by Tolkien. These fill in the gaps and explain about the great wars concerning orcs, the Witch King of Angmar, and the elves. This is geek fare but it is essential to the mythology.

The Hobbit Battle of the Five Armies - Film Review Hot Metro Finds

The first thing I am hearing from people is that this is CGI overkill. There are a lot of characters in this last part of the trilogy of, “The Hobbit” so they are necessary. I didn’t mind all of the busyness of the characters and didn’t think they took anything away from the story whatsoever. The orchestration of characters, interactions, and melee didn’t detract anything away from the story. Things were kept in a forward motion and it was complimentary to the story and had a refreshing pace. This wasn’t the case in the last thirty minutes of the previous film, “The Desolation of Smaug” which featured a bizarre gold smelting sequence that seemed like digital filler. I am referring to the scene where a multi storied gold dwarf was constructed out of liquid gold only to be torn apart minutes later. I walked out of that screening with a massive headache and really didn’t care if I ever saw the final installment or not. That was digital overkill. But this last chapter doesn’t have any of that…. Really.

I caught the final chapter in a thing called, “The Hobbit Marathon” and selected theaters showed all three Hobbit movies in one shot. That was a long day and it started around noon at the AMC IMAX. For the price you get a flashy wearable Hobbit pass that you can wear around your neck. You also get a nice poster of Thorin Oakenshield and the elves for your man cave. I expected this to be filled with fantasy geeks only but this series attracted a wide range of people. What’s amazing is that they all stayed for the entire thing. We were cooped up in the theater for over nine hours.

I could have personally been happy with the whole series being squashed down into two films. I kept telling myself that this was the definitive series and even subjected myself into the belief that the director had artistic license and this was a film experience. The other side of me welcomed the idea of Tolkien’s notes and side stories from his supplement books filling up the plot for, “The Battle of the Five Armies”.  I consider myself a big fan of Tolkien and had read most of his books and that includes the Unfinished Tales, Lost Tales and many of the histories of Middle Earth. Even after all of that I would have been happy with two films or even one if I am being totally serious. But that would be taking something away from the fans and the new generation of fans. This is kind of a literary gift to humanity isn’t it? I mean, who is going to go through and redo this exhaustive series again? So that being said, this whole thing was done right down to the smallest of details.

The Hobbit Battle of the Five Armies - Film Review Hot Metro Finds

This isn’t really for little kids. In fact the imagery in here is scary for the adults too. Tolkien never held back on showing the angelic forces in his books such as the elves and to contrast them with the hellish side. On the subject of evil he seemed to go all out and show them as the worst of the worst. Tolkien was a Catholic after all and there is a serious central theme in these books to Heaven and Hell. That has been documented well over the years and he was a spiritual mentor to fellow writer C.S. Lewis, (The Chronicles of Narnia).  The stories that Tolkien created only existed in full in the text but have never really been fully exposed to the big screen until Jackson directed and brought them to life. Early on Walt Disney was rumored to express a desire to take these stories to the big screen at one point.

The real challenge here is to make these stoic literary characters likeable for the big screen and have a modern audience actually like them. The elves are eternal so of course Legolas returns and is a fan favorite. I never dreamed that he would not only be a favorite character to the big screen but also come off as a heart throb. I didn’t really consider any of the dwarves in the Hobbit to be even that likeable but people like them. This is going to sound silly to fans but I never thought I would ever see any of these characters brought to life. Sure, I thought about it even as far back as 1985 with the Tom Cruise movie, “Legend”, (I figured technology was ready at that time to take on the whole mythology on the big screen). With the latest digital technology of CGI and green screen effects the store of The Hobbit, and Lord of the Rings could be fully realized.

There are elements in this series such as the Pale Orc who makes an appearance throughout the entire series and is central to this trilogy. At first this kind of bothered me because he is such a minor character in the written text. The same can be said for the silly wizard – Radagast the Brown which is another minor character mentioned only in maybe a couple of sentences. It was baffling to me why these characters were given such big roles in the film version but they do hold this series together. It later turns out the orc army wanted the Lonely Mountain position because it gave them a strategic battle position for the next series of battles in, “Lord of the Rings”. As for Radagast, as annoying as he is, I was glad to see him too bring his A game to the final battle sequences.

The Hobbit Battle of the Five Armies - Film Review Hot Metro Finds

While we’re on the subject of minor characters comes the sneaking, weasel-like charcter, “Alfrid” who is one of the government counselors in Lake Town. This character is not referred to by name in the book so Peter Jackson created him and gave him film presence in, “The Desolation of Smaug” and the, “Battle of the Five Armies”. This character is despicable and hilarious and I really wanted him to meet some ill end either by the people, or in battle. I mean, I really wanted this guy to get killed horribly. He is placed in the film to give the story human dimension and depth. All being said, I think these minor characters were fabulous and ended up being more likeable that one might expect. They were in fact – unexpected.

The movie does wind down to the return back home and the series picks up on its literary roots.  Bilbo Baggins, (played by Martin Freeman) turns to Bag End only to find his belongings auctioned off to his neighbors. This is comedic and is a detailed in the book. The scene may be minor but it helps wind the trilogy back down to its humble beginnings.

So to answer the CGI question – “Was there really too much CGI in this film?”. Yes. But how else could you effectively tell this story? Sure it got to be a bit much sometimes and the action sequences throughout the trilogy could be defined as, “a bit much” but I think overall it was justified. The CGI was far more forgivable in this last installment than in the other films. The camera moved along with the action in the charging scenes between the elves vs the orcs. There was a reason for all of this digital wizardry so it wasn’t just some random afterthought. Plus there were a lot of supernatural forces at work in this movie so they had to be illustrated. It wasn’t over the top if anything Tolkien was over the top and was even labeled by many to be an “eccentric”.

This series has something to offer future generations and I am including the entire Lord of the Rings movies in this statement. It is offering a new mythology that will be handed down from generation to generation much like the, “Wizard of Oz” movies. It will be heralded as a modern day film classic in scope. Unlike, “Star Wars”, which comes out in random chapters after for what one can only imagine to be money making merchandising opportunities – the Hobbit and LOTR movies are here to entertain and give life to the written text.

All in all a fantastic and celebrated effort.

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