Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

The final installment of Peter Jackson's movie adaptation of The Hobbit opened earlier this week. It picks up where the Desolation of Smaug left off.

After recovering their gold and their destroyed homeland of Erebor under the Lonely Mountain, Thorin (Richard Armitage) and his band of dwarves have inadvertently unleashed Smaug on Laketown. Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) and the dwarves now watch in horror as Smaug burns the town to the ground. But Thorin has concern only for his vast treasure of gold.

In Laketown, with death and destruction all around, Bard the Bowman (Luke Evans) frees himself from the town jail and with his arrows makes his way to the belltower where he tries repeatedly to kill Smaug, but his arrows simply bounce off the dragons scales. His son, in an act of outstanding bravery, brings his father the iron arrow. Smaug, angered at Bard's attempts to kill him, tells Bard he now will die. Remaining calm, Bard with the help of his son, lures Smaug in and his arrow hits Smaug in the part of his body that is missing a scale. Smaug dies. With Laketown in ruins, Bard organizes the townspeople and they head to the mountain for safety and to seek their share of the dragon-gold to rebuild Laketown. They make camp at Dale opposite Erebor.

Meanwhile in the mountain, Thorin Oakenshield has the dwarves search for the Arkenstone. His obsession with the gold and the finding of the Arkenstone indicate that he has been afflicted with the "dragon sickness". Unknown to the dwarves and to Thorin, Bilbo has found the Arkenstone. Wanting to give it to Thorin, Bilbo speaks to Balin who tells him that if Thorin should possess the stone he will likely get sicker. Not finding the Arkenstone, Thorin has the dwarves block the entrance to Erebor so they can more easily defend those who will come looking for the gold.

Galadriel, Elrond and Saruman arrive at Dol Guldur to rescue Gandalf and to banish Sauron who has returned, although he does not yet have a physical form. The three fight off the Ringwraiths and free Gandalf who is carried to safety by the Brown Wizard, while Saruman tells Elrond and Galadriel that he will deal with Sauron.

Meanwhile Sauron has sent Azog and his army to the Lonely Mountain to destroy the dwarves and capture the gold.  Azog learns from Bolg that Thranduil and his woodland elves are massing near the Lonely Mountain. Bolg is sent to Gundabad to bring a second army of Orcs to Erebor.

In Dale, Bard meets with Thranduil who tells him he has come to fight Thorin to reclaim what is rightfully his, a white necklace. Bard tries to dissuade Thranduil from making war and offers to negotiate with Thorin. He is unsuccessful. Bard agrees to fight with Thranduil so they can both claim what is Thorin has promised them. However, Bilbo arrives on the scene and shows them the Arkenstone and tells them that Thorin has the dragon sickness.They decide to use the Arkenstone as a bargaining piece, but when Thorin see it he does not believe it is the real gem. At this point Gandalf who has arrived in Dale to warn Thranduil about the approaching Orc army, tells Thorin that Bilbo found the Arkenstone.

Just before Bard and Thranduil are to attack Erebor, Dain, Thorin's cousin arrives with his army. As the three armies are about to go to battle, Azog's army of Orcs arrives. Dain and the Elves and Men realize that they must now join together to fight a common enemy or they will all perish.

Although director Peter Jackson's third installment of the film adaptation of The Hobbit differs from Tolkien's novel, this is still an exciting movie to watch. Great casting, incredible CGI, good editing and a beautiful soundtrack all work together to make The Battle of the Five Armies a visual feast. Like the first two movies, it tells the story of Thorin's quest to reclaim Erebor and the Arkenstone from Bilbo Baggins point of view.

The Battle of the Five Armies features nonstop suspenseful battles on an epic scale that many Tolkien fans have come to love. The excitement begins immediately with the attack on Laketown by Smaug and the courageous confrontation of the dragon by Bard. This is so well done, with Bard using his young son to help him aim the deadly arrow properly so as to take down Smaug, who in his smugness does not realize he has exposed his weak spot to the bowman. Smaug is brilliantly voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch who in combination with the incredible CGI captures all of Smaug's chilling desire for revenge.

Besides the epic battles involving the glorious Elven Army and the mighty Dwarve army under Dain, the one-on-one confrontations are especially well done.The face-off between Legolas and Bolg was foreshadowed at the end of The Desolation of Smaug, when Legolas and Tauriel drove the Orcs from Laketown. The two battle to the death on a crumbling bridge that sees Legolas defy gravity and Bolg meet his end. Meanwhile above him on an ice covered waterfall, Thorin is locked in a life and death battle with Azog. In the novel, Thorin was killed in the Battle of the Five Armies (and not by Azog).

The inclusion of Tauriel (who is not a character in the novel) and Azog (who in Tolkien's world was actually killed by Dain II Ironfoot in the Battle of Azanulbizar) in particular, and the love triangle between Legolas, Tauriel and Kimli detract somewhat from the film. The Battle of the Five Armies is best enjoyed on its own terms - as a movie about a grand adventure that sees the inhabitants of Middle Earth fight against evil in its many forms.

 Because Tolkien's novels contain so many religious themes and themes about the natural and supernatural world, it is a shame Jackson did not remain faithful to their story lines. I would love to see the Silmarillion brought to the big screen but I fear for what Jackson would turn it into.

Go see The Battle of the Five Armies mainly because it is a wonderful movie but also because it's the last time we will see a Tolkien story brought to the screen for some years to come.

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