Film Review: The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

by Keith Hill

Rated M. Starring Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Richard Armitage. Directed by Peter Jackson.

While the epic battle of The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies concludes Peter Jackson’s adventure in Middle Earth in a little over two hours, the debate about whether the trilogy was better than the book will surely last for many years to come.

The film opens with Smaug’s attack on the lake-town Esgaroth, and his death at the hands of Bard’s black arrow. Once word of his demise begins to spread, the vast treasure hoard lying beneath the Lonely Mountain, guarded by only a handful of dwarves and one hobbit, begins to attract the attention of men and elves alike. Meanwhile, Thorin and his band of dwarves sit holed up, searching for the Arkenstone, the birthright of the King Under the Mountain, slowly being overwhelmed by his lust for gold, known as dragon-sickness. Combined with the armies of orcs on the move, this all comes to a head in the battle from which the movie takes its title.

Visually, the film is absolutely stunning. Jackson’s wide shots make great use of the spectacular New Zealand location, his close ups make the best use of high definition cinema, and the truly grotesque beasts and sweeping shots of legions of orcs, dwarves and elves showcase the CGI that have characterised all six of Jackson’s Middle Earth movies. That said, there are some awkward moments like the elf slo-mo, which, rather than making Legolas appear nimble and light on his feet, instead looks like a lagging video game.

The movie makes several departures from Tolkien’s book. The battle that dominates the film fills barely a chapter of the novel, and could be read in a fraction of the time. While this will no doubt this will frustrate many, Jackson has to a great extent followed Tolkien’s lead in revising and expanding the history of The Battle of the Five Armies to provide greater continuity with The Lord of the Rings. Much of the source material for the film is found in Tolkien’s other works, such as the appendices of The Return of the King. Other changes, such as the creation of Tauriel and the love triangle between her, Kili and Legolas, are purely the work of Jackson and his writers.

The battle comes to a head because of the greed of each of the leaders – greed for both treasure and power. Thorin, in particular, is consumed by dragon-sickness – an insatiable lust for treasure, and his desire for the Arkenstone. This desire leads him to distrust even the loyal dwarves who have helped him regain his home and his crown. His sickness blinds him to reason and plunges his people headfirst into an unnecessary and costly battle.

The blindness of Thorin is a blindness that affects every one of us. The Apostle Paul, in 2 Corinthians 4:1-6, writes that the minds of unbelievers has been blinded to the truth of the gospel. Instead, our love for the riches of this world consume us with an insatiable desire. Only in God’s mercy does he say “Let light shine out of darkness”, and shine the light of the truth about Jesus Christ into our hearts.

While The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies will no doubt receive mixed reactions from the purists who love Tolkien’s original work, Peter Jackson manages to bring the series to an epic and satisfying resolution that makes me want to dust off the Lord of the Rings DVDs. Three-and-a-half stars.

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies is screening now in the US and the UK. It will be released in Australia on December 26.

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