If one was planning to film “The Hobbit” and the “Lord of the Rings” (LOTR), it would make sense to start with the Hobbit and then deepen and darken the story as the complexities and stakes increase.
With that option removed, director Peter Jackson was faced with a difficult choice to start with whimsy, lots of singing and washing up and move inexorably towards darker places, with the ultimate aim of seamlessly joining his earlier much loved LOTR trilogy.
With the more comic and light original story in place in part one, and the middle film setting up the final act, here we have the opportunity for director Jackson to go for broke.
The book is a slim volume and essentially the third film only has Smaug, Thorin’s greed and a battle to recount. This provides plenty of opportunity for much of the film to concentrate on these themes.
With no dispensation for late comers to the story, we pick up with Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch – voice) laying waste to Laketown, the very definition of a sleeping giant awoken.
As the town flees, only “Bard the Bowman” (Luke Evans) has any opportunity to stop the devastation. This sequence including the denouement is handled in Jackson’s usual competent manner, mixing action, drama and occasional black humour (Stephen Fry) seamlessly.
This movie like before, puts the dwarves quest front and centre, with their former stronghold now within their grasp, Tolkien’s fondness for giving and taking away comes to the fore. Yes the gold and fortune is found but at what cost to “Thorin” (Richard Armitrage).
The story/movie Macguffin (Arkenstone) is introduced to drive the story and allow “Bilbo” (Martin Freeman) to show his bravery and worth, acting as a peacemaker in an attempt to save his friend from madness. Something he himself will need to be all too wary of in the future, even with his sword proof vest made from Mithril.
Earlier, Gandalf (Ian Mckellen) remained cooped up in a cage in Dol Goldur until he receives help from many sources including many of the well known characters from the previous films (played by Cate Blanchett, Hugo Weaving, Sylvester Mccoy and Christopher Lee).
Once all characters are in place, the scene of battle is set with shifting loyalties eventually combining to fight the common enemy hordes. This is clearly the part Jackson has been waiting for, all hell breaks loose.
A dwarf army led by “Dain Ironfoot” (Billy Connollly), sat astride a war hog, shouting “You can all just sod off”, a part far away from his early stand up career. The Elven army led by Thranduil (Lee Pace) wins the award for the smartest, cleanest, most well ordered, polite yet ruthless army on the day.
On the flip-side we have the forces of pure evil (Orcs) and there are many of them, very many. Led by Azog (Manu Bennett) and his trusty lieutenant Bolg (John Tui). These are fantastic creatures to hate and allows plenty of ratings appropriate head lopping, dismembering and general mayhem. Although it is fair to say that not everyone on the side of good, emerges unscathed.
We also have Legolas (Orlando Bloom) back for his hero moment and good use is made of the, created for the movie, love interest triangle involving Tauriel (Evangeline Tilley) and Kili (Aidan Turner). Unfortunately many of the supporting dwarves are short changed and only see limited screen time, although the upside there is little time for singing.
The film largely delivers in what it sets out to achieve, a rousing end to the trilogy. Whilst it is difficult to assess individual films, as the story really is a continuation. This final film is arguably the most exciting of the three but does lack the interaction and emotional heft of the later films in particular and does rely more heavily on CGI, occasionally to it’s detriment.
However, we are on familiar territory here and anyone that enjoyed the previous films will have fun and enjoy this closing part of the trilogy. In many ways, arguably this should be the end, we have been here before and arguably this rich seam of material is all tapped out.
Of course with this much money at stake the reboot is only a generation away but hopefully this finally frees up Jackson to pursue other projects outside of the Middle Earth universe.
Mention must be made of both Mckellen and Freeman’s contribution, it is difficult to see how the films could have been made without them. Freeman in particular inhabiting a role that is more difficult than it would appear. Managing to appear resolute, childlike, brave, frightened all with his usual blend of physical humour.
It goes without saying the production values are off the scale, costumes, make up and special effects (notwithstanding a couple of dodgy flying shots) are all state of the art. Whether too much CGI has been used is a discussion for the internet boards. The continued use of Howard Shore score adds to the story, as it always has.
Alfrid (Ryan Gage) should have bought the farm, he is annoying and surely needed to be squashed by a decapitated giant, the special edition will no doubt make amends.
A rousing end to the trilogy that was always destined to fall short of LOTR but arguably the best of the three, if you are looking for action and spectacle.
The film loses some of the intimate scenes that add to the believability and grounding in this world as full on action sequences replace the quieter moments.
Recommended but enough is enough, we have spent enough time in Middle Earth for now.