The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (New Zealand/ USA, 2014)
Directed by Peter Jackson
Starring Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Richard Armitage, Evangeline Lilly
It's a cast iron rule of film reviewing that one should always judge a film on its own merits rather than the circumstances under which it was made. Of course the context in which a film was created, from the attitudes to the time period to the relationships on the set, should be taken into account when trying to assess a film. But these alone cannot determine whether something is good or bad: arguments and constant pressure can produce great creativity, while bonhomie and relaxation can lead to disaster.
YouTube video that accompanied it, here are the basic facts. When Guillermo del Toro left The Hobbit in 2010, Jackson stepped into the breach and had to effectively work from scratch to redesign every aspect, since, understandably, his creative vision was rather different. With the release date looming and no leeway from New Line Cinema, Jackson had no time to prepare or storyboard the films; in the words of Weta Workshop's Richard Taylor, he was "laying the tracks directly in front of the train", Gromit-style, all the way up the final battle. When confronted with this part of the film, Jackson sent the crew home early so that he had time to map it out in his mind and give the audience something that did not look like it had been totally improvised from shot to shot.
The Return of the King, but it is not the total disaster than many would have perceived. The battle scenes may never come close to the Pellanor Fields in that film, or even Helm's Deep in The Two Towers, but they still have a narrative progression to them which you don't get with, for instance, the Battle of Hogwarts in the final Harry Potter film.
An Unexpected Journey, plunging us straight into the action with the attack on Laketown and barely letting up even in the quieter moments. Even without the sheer number of bodies on the battlefield, Jackson has a knack for capturing impending dread; there is an operatic quality to proceedings which puts us in a state of fear and desperation for the characters.
The Desolation of Smaug come to a head, as the dragon which guarded the dwarves' treasure is replaced with something equally monstrous. While Jackson could be accused of blowing his load by opening with Smaug's death, he does work hard to make us understand Thorin's inner conflict; he disappears into himself as the world outside burns, and his final redemption fittingly and pyrrhically completes his character arc. Richard Armitage has had little competition from among the cast for the title of most distinctive dwarf, but he has always avoided disappearing into his costume and acquits himself here very well.
Attack of the Clones, namely using references and links with the old to blanketly justify the new. Besides, given that the final Hobbit film was originally envisioned as a bridge between Jackson's and del Toro's visions for Middle Earth, it's fitting that such a venture has survived at least in part.
Die Another Day. But the fight at Dol Goldur would have been infinitely improved if the Nazgûl had more physicality, and didn't disintegrate like villains in old video games. The best effects in that battle are old-fashioned ones, especially the Ringu-esque make-up on the possessed Cate Blanchett.
Revenge of the Sith trying (and failing) to follow the same pattern as Return of the Jedi. By drawing on The Lord of the Rings appendices so freely to fill out the action, Jackson provides us with spectacle which, while grand in its own right, smacks of retreading old ground. The arrival of the eagles is the most obvious point, and some of the movements (and jokes) within the battle feel cribbed from the Pelannor Fields.
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