I can’t even remember a year where elves and hobbits haven’t pranced and danced across my TV screen as Middle Earth now seems as established and real as our own world. The revolutionary pair of trilogy’s have been staggeringly successful and made so much money that Peter Jackson might have to hire a Smaug of his very own to guard it all.
The last two Hobbit films have been financially successful and although riding the money woven coat tails of the previous trilogy, this series has found its own, slightly lighter and more family friendly tone. The third instalment concludes the attack of the raging Smaug who handles being woken up about as well as many parents on Christmas morning. After dealing with this the story then focuses on Thorin and his company holding their newly reclaimed Kingdom of Erebor. Thorin becomes obsessed with the Arkenstone and keeping all other races outside. The men from Laketown and Elves led by Thranduil descend upon the mountain demanding what they are owed. Gandalf, Tauriel and Legolas all investigate and discover an Orc attack on the same mountain for its riches and strategic position. Fantasy, swashbuckling hijinks ensue with more flowing hair flying around than a heavy metal festival caught in a tornado.
By this time there is a tried and tested formula with inspiring, stirring music and dark, gloomy shots used as expected. Now they know how to use the scenery and the rustic fire lit setting and its audience knows what to expect and how to appreciate it. There are little surprises here except for a nice shot of blood flowing into a frozen waterfall, unexpected character deaths and a nice set piece in Gandalf’s rescue. Even the latter feels forced though and an excuse to throw past characters in, even with that bare faced motive though it’s hard not to feel the goosebumps rise on your skin like the very hills of New Zealand.
Performances are pretty good, Martin Freeman is reliably fantastic as Bilbo and continues to show Elijah Wood how to rock the Hobbit character like a bumbling, conflicted and virtuous pro! Armitage growls away but shows his softer side well and does ooze the charisma that justifies his people’s loyalty despite his obvious faults. Lee Pace is a little over dramatic as Elven Lord Thranduil swooning and sighing at the camera like its a poetry reading. Evangeline Lilly bring some heart wrenching attempts to her tragically doomed romance in its painfully pointless nature. Luke Evans is inspiring and believable but fairly generic and the untrained, fisherman ‘Warriors’ of Laketown are poorly built up and have no credibility in holding Dale against the fearsome monsters and armoured hell-spawn that were ‘bred for war’. Saturn my want to perfect his Orc baking recipe as his troops crumble like under baked dough when the battle reaches it climax.
The trouble with this film is that it pushes the flaws of this trilogy into your face like its determined to sell you fools gold and hides its gems deep within and out of reach. The greatest strengths of the first two Hobbit films was the feeling of journeying, growing and also the kinship and banter of the Dwarves and Bilbo. In this film it flitters around Middle Earth but is centred upon the mountain with one main plot point that is danced around with the frantic fury of Michael Flatley on speed. Also the only real interaction of the Dwarves is a couple of short scenes and the between Thorin and Bilbo.
Thorin is tainted by ‘Dragon sickness’ which causes him to become consumed by greed by Smaug’s gold like a warning against pre owned goods. Bilbo attempts to save him and it serves as a good plot device for conflict but they dwell on it for far too long. The scenes of Thorin speaking in Smaug’s voice as he glares seemingly into a hairdryer are long and lose impact and the length of Thorin being horrible to Bilbo do more harm than good. When Bilbo calls Thorin a friend late on its hard not to think that to set the bar so low his previous friends must have had the charm of a chemically unbalanced ogre. Their is also very little comic relief hurts the atmosphere too although Bilbo lightens the mood very well at every attempt.
The CGI is done by the studio that crafted the vibrant and see less world of Avatar yet in this trilogy the animation is too glossy and stands out against the actors and grimy stone walls. In Lord Of The Rings the make up was convincing and immersive but the CGI in the Hobbit films especially in high screen rate makes the movie seem more like a BBC drama. Thorin’s cousin voiced by Billy Connelly looks ridiculous as complete CGI as if he stumbled onto set taking a wrong turn on his way from Skyrim. Another problem is following the complaints that the last film dawdled around then ended abruptly this is made worse by Smaug’s story ended in the first minutes of the film making in pointless and disjointed and cements suspicions that the Hobbit is a two part story that’s been stretched and twisted for ever glistening droplet of sweet revenue.
The battle is ridiculously set up and staged like a pantomime and written by a 9 year old boy as bears rain for the sky and a battle moose, battle ram and battle boar ride in. I longed for the fearsome battle hamster to emerge from the fog of battle! The tide of battle is turned by the emergence of a mere 12 dwarves and 4 of them quickly leave anyway to “cut the head off the snake”, something they do away from the battle and so not really affecting it at all. The misty fight scenes on the waterfall are beautiful and graceful in the brutality, possibly the best part of the film along with the ghost skirmish when rescuing Gandalf. The overall average battle has nice set pieces and is enjoyable but again feels like an overhyped attempt the recreate Helmsdeep as well as Legolas doing ridiculous war acrobatics for the wow factor, trying to recreate the famous elephant execution at Gondor. It’s desperate and inferior though like Gollum trying paint a Haribo ring gold and pretend it’s his precious.
The most annoying parts of the Hobbit movies for me are mainly the convenience of events whether it’s the escape from the Goblin King in one, the barrel chase in two or the collapsing tower into the perfectly sized gap in the third.
Saying all this though and believing this to be the weakest of the three films I still found myself enjoying it to some extent. The reduced length helps though the lack of content may be key in this. They key to success though is the mythos and tradition, that this film has its important place in the legend of this beloved world and that you feel like you are watching history unfold. The ending is also satisfying and sweeps masterfully into the original films, weaving it seamlessly into the tapestry of Middle Earth however frayed some of threads may be.
The verdict: Highly flawed but somehow very enjoyable, the tradition, production values and style save this film from mediocrity. I have plenty to complain about but like the tortured Gollum I will come crawling back to buy the blu ray and watch it again.