In an audience with children born after the release of Lord of the Rings, I feel a certain sadness that the circle is now complete. I was eleven when I first saw The Fellowship of the Ring, and that film represents my childhood like no other film can. Not even Star Wars. Now the journey through middle earth is really over. It honestly is. Even if Peter Jackson wanted to adapt the Children of Hurin, or The Silmarillion, the rights remain in the guarded possession of the Tolkien family. Only the film rights to the Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings were ever sold.
So what is my verdict for Battle of the Five Armies? Well, it is the shortest of the Middle Earth movies, and does not perceptibly drag at any stage. Unlike Return of the King, there is no problem with half an hour at the end devoted to tying up loose ends. Instead, the journey goes on and we know precisely where the story picks up. The film is not short on tragic heroism, and I would venture to say that it is done better in the film than the book (sorry Professor Tolkien).
I was concerned that the black arrow re-imagining from The Desolation of Smaug where it is actually a huge spear-like mega-arrow fired from a special Dwarvish wind-lance would make the classic scene in the book where Bard faces Smaug with only an ordinary bow, into something unrecognisably hammy. I imagined Bard finding the massive wind-lance and looking more like a whaler, or a modern soldier with a mounted machine gun, than a lone bowman with his favourite dart slaying a massive legendary beast.
It turns out my fears were ill founded. The scene treated the source material respectively while giving something new to fans of both the book and the films. It was also emotional in an unexpected way. But I will say no more of that.
Lee Pace deserves a special mention because of his wonderfully sinister portrayal of the ethereal King of the woodelves, Thranduil. A pious and prejudicial character, in the hands of a lesser actor he could easily be a two dimensional side character. But Lee Pace is infinitely watch-able, and surely has one of the sexiest voices in cinema. This movie (as the title must surely suggest) is action packed, and you will see some superb swash-buckling from the King of Mirkwood. Well of course, he is Legolas’ father after all.
Orlando Bloom gets to do some entertaining fighting too, and some physics-defying footwork that would make a fakir stare! The one point of annoyance I have with the film (and this is a tiny spoiler so consider yourself warned) is when King Thranduil suggests Legolas goes to the Dúnedain rangers in the north to see the promising son of Arathorn who goes by the name of Strider. I didn’t like this exchange because it is unnecessary. When we see Aragorn and Legolas in the council of Elrond it is inferred that they know each other quite well. It doesn’t matter at all to us if we know exactly where they met or not. We know they did. Move on to something important.
I can’t possibly write about everything in this post so I’ll stretch it out over multiple viewings. What I would say to those fans looking for the obligatory Peter Jackson cameo, I didn’t notice him actually appearing at any stage, but at the end Bilbo picks up a portrait of his mother in Bag End and replaces it above the mantelpiece with a portrait of his father. The portrait is Fran Walsh, screenwriter and partner of Peter Jackson, who is himself drawn as Bilbo’s father. Rather a nice tribute to the parents of cinematic Middle Earth.
Stay tuned for more Hobbit reviews in the coming weeks!