Director: Peter Jackson
Starring: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellan, Richard Armitage, Luke Evans, Benedict Cumberbatch, Orlando Bloom, Evangeline Lily, Lee Pace
Written by: Fran Walsh, Phillipa Boyens, Peter Jackson, Guillermo Del Toro and (based on the book) J.R.R. Tolkien
Running Time: 144 mins
Release date: 12th December 2014
It has been 13 years since the first Lord Of The Rings film and now the closing chapter on the world of Middle-Earth has finally arrived but has Peter Jackson left the very best till last? Actually, no. In fact, instead of going out with a bang, he has made a flawed, massively disappointing finale that shows all the reasons why The Hobbit shouldn’t have been a trilogy.
After managing to take claim of the treasure from the dragon, Smaug, dwarf King Thorin takes his rightful place on the throne of their kingdom but the passion for greed and power has turned him, upsetting the humans of Laketown and the Elves. His tyrannical attitude breeds hostility among those who he once called friends but then the Orcs arrive and an almighty battle begins where there can be only one winner.
The film kicks off in spectacular fashion as Smaug attacks Laketown, leading to some nail-biting moments as bowman Bard sets about trying to stop him. Then after a lengthy set of sequences in which we get all the tail-ends of subplot strands that need to be resolved, it then goes into the hour plus battle scene. Obviously this is exactly what the fans wanted to see and yes, it is big, grandiose and sometimes takes your breath away. The problem is that it goes on…and on…and on.
This would have been fine but after a while you feel you are watching a video game and someone has taken away the controls. We are bombarded by a mass of CGI images that just feels slightly self-indulgent. There’s no denying that Peter Jackson can do spectacular battles and this is the problem. He set his bar way too high with The Lord of The Rings and, in this case, the opening of this episode does make you crave for something even better. It never comes. It also suffers from some very lazy CGI moments, none more so that when Legolas is hopping over falling bricks, a scene that reminds you of the awful CGI in Die Another Day.
What is also rather annoying are the scenes before the giant battle, where the dramatic subplots live. Only half of them are actually resolved and you come out questioning about what happened to him, her, this and that. At 144 minutes long, the shortest of all the Tolkien films, it tries to cram so much in that plenty is left on the side, completely ignored.
Even the key characters just seem to be there because they were contracted for the other films. Throughout the three pictures, you never get to know all the dwarves and you’ve spent hours with them. Here, they might as well be sitting at the back having a cup of tea. The central figure is Thorin, with his changed personality and wanton greed. In fact, Bilbo Baggins, the Hobbit of the title, has less than half the screen time and most of it is spent looking shocked.
At the beginning I said this film shows why it should have been two films instead of three. Remove the half hour of hobbit/dwarf songs from film one; the stretched out barrel ride in film two; the subplots of elves falling for dwarves and cut the battle down to half its length and you have at least a whole film gone.
The performances seem lost among the fighting. Richard Armitage, as Thorin, gets a bigger slice of the pie and takes on the role with full, theatrical gusto. Luke Evans, as Bard, also gets more screen time and proves he’s certainly a future action star in the making. What is surprising is how Ian McKellen as Gandalf, seems to be going through the motions but then he isn’t given too much dramatic moments anyway.
The film really lifts when Martin Freeman appears and you do end up missing him when he’s not there. He has become Bilbo and you like spending time with him. His innocence, his cheekiness, his perfectly pitched comic timing is here to see but in much less doses and it is very noticeable. There are a couple of nice cameos that manage to link this to the former movies but the one thing that most will not be able to forgive Peter Jackson for, is the inclusion of a character called Alfred. This is the most annoying creation since Jar Jar Blinks in Star Wars 1. Sorry Ryan Gage, who plays him but this could be the worst performance from an actor this year.
I am not a massive Lord Of The Rings fan. I admire the films, I can understand why they are so popular and I think that Peter Jackson has done an incredible job at bringing the whole series to the big screen. Yet if this is the last time we visit this world and these characters (and they have been a huge part of people’s lives) then they did deserve something more than this. Maybe The Hobbit should have been the first to be filmed. Maybe it was never going to hit the same level of awesomeness that LOTR was. It just feels, after all these years, that this was more like a sparkler instead of an enormous fireworks display.