This is to be the final Middle-earth film, or so it seems, and with it goes a Christmas tradition I have enjoyed with my siblings for the previous three years now.
The five of us have loved going to see the first two and this one was eagerly anticipated by all.
The excitement has built, as they have been released every holiday season. Therefore, I had no choice but to wait a year in between each, but the experience has been entirely worth the wait, a lot happening in our own lives in the intervening months between each film.
Note: This review may contain spoilers and some names of characters, places, and events unfamiliar to anyone who has not seen the previous films or read the book, but my reviews are about more than just movies so I hope you may just take a chance and read further anyway.
It’s January and around this time, eight years ago it was, I picked a movie to watch with my siblings. I am damn glad I did this.
My siblings and I were looking for something to do to kill some time on a cold and wintry weekend. We often watched movies and my brother had a collection of his favourites. He told me to pick one and I reached out for the three or so he had held out toward me.
My finger landed on one I had been resisting for several years, since Lord of the Rings came out in theatres, five or so years before.
I thought I hated all fantasy and thought there was nothing there to interest me, nothing for me to learn. I am not too proud to admit when I am totally wrong about something.
It’s hard for me to describe to others what it has meant to me to discover these movies/books and why.
It would come quickly upon me that weekend. I would love it instantly, from that very first opening scene of darkness and the haunting voice of Cate speaking Elfish.
By the end of that weekend marathon, where we finished all three films in twenty-four hours, I was completely drawn in by the world and by the beings inhabiting it.
I had no blog last year at this time and was not writing on a regular basis. I highly regret this and wish I had written reviews when seeing the first two Hobbit films; Movies taken from stories as rich in detail and plot as these can be incredibly difficult to tackle with any hope of clarity or conciseness. I just shouldn’t have let a lack of a blog stop me, but I write this now.
I did not write reviews for “An Unexpected Journey” or “Desolation of Smaug” at the time of each film’s release. I did not write about how great it was to see the famous scene with three giant trolls attempting to cook twelve dwarves and one hobbit (burglar) or one of the best scenes from literature: Riddles in the Dark.
In any case, I will attempt here to sum up important details and then explain why I found this to be the perfect end to a gripping story of danger and adventure.
First, it is worth mentioning that I have come to love Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins and I know I’m not the only one. He is charming and loveable, just the sort of reluctant hero these movies require.
I have been glad to see the return of characters such as Gandalf the Grey (the wizard played by Sir Ian McKellen), the elf queen Galadriel (Cate Blanchett), and Saruman the White (the grave wizard with yet-to-be-discovered evil intent, played by Sir Christopher Lee).
All the events that must have taken place for Gandalf when he left the dwarves and one hobbit at the outskirts of the dark Mirkwood Forrest in the book, these have been filled in for the films and I’ve loved it, whilst others have complained. It is all details deduced and taken from appendices and other Tolkien reference materials. I found it utterly necessary to fill in the blanks and add depth to the unforeseen events on the move, evolving, even while a fight to reclaim a mountain dwarf kingdom and destroy a dragon was going on in another part of Middle-earth.
Many events run together and happen simultaneously in the world and fate, or whatever you want to call it, of Middle-earth, which may intervene at the strangest of times.
This film begins with destruction by the dragon. I loved how abruptly the previous movie ended, with Smaug flying free and about to reek havoc on Laketown and anyone unlucky enough to be in his path, while others found it jarring. Sometimes, as in these films, it is good to end suddenly and pick right back up again, because these movies won’t always be seen in theatres, with year-long gaps in between each, and that was the middle film in the trilogy after all.
The heroic character of Bard the Bowman (played by Luke Evans) starts off this film imprisoned and so does Gandalf, but they are both soon released. Never fear.
The scenes with Gandalf at the mercy of the dark power and his minions is frightening, for sure, but they are no match for the might of the head wizard of the order (with, as of yet, unestablished sketchy intentions of his own) and two wise and ancient elves.
Gandalf’s power is greatly diminished when they arrive, but he is soon rescued by his friend and fellow wizard Radagast the Brown (portrayed by Sylvester McCoy), and taken away to safety.
The power of the three rings still held by the elves and by Saruman’s staff is enough, to hold the as yet fully developed evil powerful Eye at bay and to drive him out of his stronghold in Mirkwood. However, this won’t be the end of it, as most people know.
These are thrilling scenes for me, the force of good fighting the evil that is growing is a taste of things to come in Lord of the Rings. It is definitely going to be worth watching The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings in succession if given the chance because these layered stories are mighty and will surely be magnificent when watched all together.
As a foreshadowing of things to come, the scenes in Dol Guldur come to an end with Elrond, Galadriel, and Saruman deciding what to do next about Sauron.
The wizard’s words:
“Leave Sauron to me.”
These are ominous clues of what is really going on inside his own mind and a small taste of things to come.
Back at Lake-town, Bard becomes the hero of his people when he does what nobody else has been able to do, using a deadly black arrow as his precise weapon of choice.
I loved the way Smaug was brought to life in the previous film. The voice of Benedict Cumberbatch and the effect placed on it were all I needed to be completely enthralled by the character, almost wanting more than the almost non-existent glimpse of him in this last film. I almost wished for him to stick around to cause more damage than he already had done, but that was not meant to be.
However, I was pleased to hear a small return of his horribly wicked voice, in an unexpected place. Not sure if a lot of people would have picked out where he makes a slight reappearance, but they don’t call it “dragon sickness” for nothing.
A lot of the visuals of a dragon destroying everything in his path, leaving fire and rubble in his wake are lost on me, but I am sure it is worth watching. I can only focus on the characters and on the many themes explored in these movies and in this last one in particular.
I was left speechless and motionless in my seat as talk of fighting for what the elves, men, and dwarves are all felt to be owed began.
I know these are only fictional, fantastical fights, but they perfectly illustrate the fighting going on every single day, between people of all kinds, for all kinds of things.
I don’t know quite what to say about war and never really have. It seems it begins in early childhood, with the fights kids have over their toys. However, we teach children that they must share and to resolve their issues, but how many remember these lessons when the stakes grow higher in later life?
This movie is the perfect mix of material possession and the possession love can take or the friendship that are the things that matter more than any jewel. I firmly believe this and that is why such things speak to me in between the weapons and the cool-looking CGI creatures of which I can not see.
Thorin (played by Richard Armitage) takes his place in the Lonely Mountain and has back his kingdom home, not to mention all the treasure he could ever wish for. There is a certain nobleness in that, in reclaiming something which is rich in family history and memories. Often, though, this can turn into want and greed, no amount ever being enough. Greed is the main theme in most of this film and comes so close to resulting in his downfall.
There is the small detail that he has promised a fair piece of that treasure to the people of Laketown, but something has taken over him once he enters his new realm. This is where a reappearance of the dragon Smaug made my ears perk up in surprise and interest.
Thorin’s voice begins to take on that of the destroyed dragon, as so-called “dragon sickness” takes over and starts to blind him, invading his mind.
I am pleased by the hallmark items which make their appearance in these Hobbit films, connecting both trilogies by their significance and familiarity.
Amongst the many varied treasures in the mountain are the mithril vest, of which is presented to Bilbo, to help protect him in the battle to come and of which he will one day pass on to Frodo for the journey to Mount Doom.
Then there is the most valuable of the treasure, to the elves, the white gems, of which is part of the fight that Thranduil and Thorin will have over what belongs to whom.
This is where the light comes from, Light of Earendil, of which is Galadriel’s light, in dark places, and gift to Frodo, at a later date, on his dark quest to destroy the Ring of Power.
“Let it be a light for you in dark places…when all other lights go out.”
All items important at different times, in Middle-earth: rings of power and The One Ring, mithril, The Arkenstone, and Light of Earendil – they all represent the forces of greed and selfishness, sacrifice and selflessness. The Ring is the best known of these of course.
Bilbo has been in possession of this ring for a while and it has only begun to take hold of him. For the moment it comes in rather handy in his need to confront Smaug or mediate in the fight between the dwarves and the men and elves.
The ring and the jewel share the same quality of possession on their holders and this connects Bilbo and Thorin, not only as friends an travel companions, but also as two beings having to fight forces unseen and underestimated.
I especially love the representation and symbolism of such jewels and items. Bad or good. Dark or light, in the world of Middle-earth.
The brave Thorin Oakenshield is prey to the bad and the dark, but Bilbo does what he does because he knows the truth and has seen the kind of bravery and honour Thorin is really capable of.
The Arkenstone has already been discovered by Bilbo, as if possessing the ring is not enough for him.
He resists. He sees what all the rest of the treasure is doing to his leader of the company and he fears what this most precious of all the jewels might do to push Thorin over the edge.
Bilbo spent the most time with the dragon in my favourite scenes from the previous film. He is the one who heard the malice and the evil, up close, in Smaug’s words. Bilbo must now make some very difficult choices, risking being thought as a betrayer to the dwarves, or worse.
The elfin king Thranduil (played by Lee Pace) brings his army, not solely to aid the men of Laketown in their plans to find refuge and shelter in the mountain and to get payment they made a deal to receive from Thorin, but for his own’s sake, thinking only of his own race, a problem much too common in Middle-earth or on ours. He remains arrogant and selfish throughout much of the film, unable to see what others might be feeling.
The name Battle of the Five Armies is coming into clearer view, with the men, elves, and dwarves already clashing in ideology and intent, but they will soon have no choice but to come together to fend off a much worse foe that would see them all wiped out for good.
So many dwarves; so little time, and I unable to mention them all.
The dwarf Fili (portrayed by Dean O’Gorman) was wounded in the previous film, but the familiar Athelas plant (to those who have seen or read Lord of the Rings) and the love and healing powers from an elf bring him back from the brink of death.
When I heard, in the second movie, that there was going to be introduced a new female character, Tauriel (played by Evangeline Lilly), I must admit I was skeptical, just this side of disgusted.
I am not one of those hard-core fans who complain at every little detail omitted or added (Tom Bombadil). I see the value in making the movie version something to stand on its own, separate from the book while yet still loyal to its heart and soul.
I liked to hear that Orlando Bloom was coming back to apprise his role of Legolas. After all, he was alive a long time before the quest to destroy the ring of power. The dwarves, in the books, do encounter the mirkwood elves and he was one of them. I had no trouble picturing him being around for these events.
However, he was not actually mentioned by name by Tolkien in The Hobbit book, so I couldn’t really admit it was just fine for him to be included, when none of us can say what the original author would have preferred. I had to understand why the film makers decided to make him a part of their adaptation and why the character of Tauriel was brought into it too and to take it all for what it was.
Now, I love a good romance just as much as the next person. I even wanted there to be more of a love story than there was, in book or film, between Sam and Rosie in Lord of the Rings. Sadly, I had to settle for the short scene of their wedding at the end, as she was never a part of the story that was told.
Admittedly, I just felt a little ill at the parts with the developing love triangle between Legolas, Tauriel, and the dwarf Fili in “The Desolation of Smaug”.
At the time of the second film, I also felt they just needed to bring in some kick-ass warrior female elf, to appease women. Or, perhaps, to make up for the fact that their portrayal of Tolkien’s other female elf, in the Lord of the Rings movies, they had mostly on the sidelines.. Like Bilbo and his lack of fighting in the battles, these characters, even the female ones have their strengths and powers.
For some reason, it wasn’t until this third film that I started to see the value in the addition of Tauriel.
The point was to show how love can develop and exist, no matter the circumstance or the race or type of people involved. I felt for Legolas, but his love for Torial never wavered. He fought for her and nearly died for her.
As for Tauriel and Fili, I could feel the tension and the threat of her being banished from the Mirkwood kingdom by the king. He did not see that love could spring up between two unlikely beings, but really his history with dwarves and his own past lost love were the true influencers of his actions and his words.
When finally he recognized how she had truly found and lost something valuable, a lot like himself in long years past, he was able to fulfill the role of wise elfin king, offering her this vindication of her feelings.
Tauriel: Why does it hurt so?
Thranduil: Because it is real.
I wanted to cry then, when I heard this brief yet powerful exchange. I felt vindicated somehow, in my own life, dealing with feelings of confusion on my own recent loss of love. I had found the part, in “The Hobbit”, that could make me feel just a little bit better about my own situation. Something can’t hurt as badly as what she or I have felt, if there truly hadn’t been something real there, all along.
Gandalf returns, just in time for battle. He arrives to find Bilbo risking his own life to make peace and he is clearly proud at the choices (the hobbit he chose, more than thirty months earlier, to go on an adventure) has made. His sense of protection over Bilbo is heartwarming and one of the sweetest parts of these movies. As dire and powerful as this wizard can sometimes be, there is a gentleness and a loving concern he shows for his true friends.
My favourite of the Middle-earth creatures make their sweeping appearance, as they do to wrap up “the Lord of the Rings” trilogy, they arrive and their screeching cries echo from film to film in my head. This is the part that sticks out in my mind, from the completion of the battle between five armies, in the books.
They may sweep in to take care of things by the end, but that’s the whole point. Middle-earth does not survive from only the actions of one race of beings.
Bilbo is only a small hobbit in a big big world and his fame does not consist of him bringing the final crushing blow in the battle, but this does not diminish his role. His contribution is much more about the hard choices he makes, the little hobbit who is burglar (thief), peace-barter, and friend..
I like that in the title of these tales, at the heart of it is one small being, so easily relatable to me, who is still able to make the biggest of impacts. It means that any of us, no matter how small, can make a difference somehow.
The promise made in the title of this third film is definitely fulfilled. There is plenty of battling for those who love such things. Although on-the-edge-of-your-seat exciting at times, they are not what I truly look forward to in any film.
I gave these stories a chance, finally, one cold and snowy January day, and I am glad I did. Such stories of fantasy and adventure allow me to leave real life for a time and escape into a world of danger I will never face, a chance for the kind of adventure I know I will never go on, and in a world so rich of all the kinds of creatures that may not exist, but when I watch these movies it is all brought to life for me and so many others.
My heart races and my pulse quickens. I can imagine the danger and the glory. I feel the things that make Tolkien’s Middle-earth and Jackson’s vision a reality in my mind’s eye.
And so I watched the end of the battles and the resolution, at least for the time being, of several characters and their story arcs.
Legolas was told by the king, that if he could no longer remain in Mirkwood, he should go in search of a certain man in the wilds, known as Strider, but who really went by another name entirely.
The dwarves had their mountain back, but they lost comrades in the struggle. They had gold to live on, but had paid a heavy price, as in all wars, make-believe and real.
Bilbo and Gandalf make the return from battle journey together, having developed a strong bond of friendship that will live on into the next part of this tale. They begin such iconic activities, in this film, as the favourite smoking of pipe weed.
Bilbo returns to a home, The Shire, where he was assumed to be dead and must take back his hobbit hole (Bag End) and all the belongings almost sold at auction by other meddling hobbit relatives. He does this with very little problem, as he has just so recently been through a lot worse.
This leaves him to pick up where he left off before the arrival of one wizard and twelve dwarves.
He has changed and grown, in survival and in battle if not in physical stature, but in one more thing he has accumulated. HE now has a particular souvenir of his time away, one that he is keeping mostly secret, accept from one, his friend whom he could not hide his secret from. It will never fully let go of the hold it has on him again.
The very end of the movie shows where the beginning of Lord of the Rings picks up at. It could be the same scene, with the elderly Bilbo attempting to hide in his hobbit hole, from nosey relatives mentioned above. When suddenly that familiar knock and voice brings him back and brings me to a happy conclusion: a sigh and a smile, the story will go on and will never truly be over for me.
The first Hobbit film began with an elderly Bilbo relaying the story of his journey as a younger hobbit, to the Lonely Mountain, to an eagerly listening hobbit by the name of Frodo.
Now, here we are and we are left with the perfect bookend and an intriguing open invitation to go straight on to the quest to destroy a ring.
I wanted to add up all the lessons in life I found in this movie. I hope I got them across in this “review”.
Here is a fun round-up of this latest Peter Jackson onscreen triumph, because I would give it that title overall.
I love it too and my reasons are plentiful.
But will this truly be the last we see of Peter Jackson’s interpretations of Tolkien’s world?
Is the “One Last Time” slogan actually accurate or simply a marketing scheme to get people to rush to their nearest cinema?
I suppose only time will tell.
Check out the song for the final credits of The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, written and performed by Pippin himself, Billy Boyd. He sang the song I love so much from Return of the King and so it seems only fitting his voice is the last thing I heard as I sat there, as the final credits rolled.
I did not want to get up from my seat, even as I heard the theatre around me begin to empty and my siblings waiting expectedly, one, in particular, in desperate need of a bathroom break after two and a half hours.
This wasn’t just the end of a trilogy I loved, but the end of so much: end of the year 2014, of a relationship I had regretfully said goodbye to, and to a beloved holiday tradition with my siblings that meant a great deal to me. I wished, for all this, that the movie would never end, would go on and on and on. Silly thought really, because life goes on whether you want it to or not, but I wished it just the same.
On this day, January 3rd, I wanted to write this as a tribute to the birthday of J.R.R. Tolkien, and the lasting impact he has had on myself and countless other readers and movie-goers everywhere.
thank you, Professor Tolkien, for enriching my own life and bringing into it the kind of thrill, adventure, and meaning I never could have imagined or expected.