The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies (TheByteScene Review)

Date: December 26, 2014


The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies

1.5 Unnecessary-Sequels out of 4

Peter Jackson’s third Hobbit film, and his final entry into Tolkien’s Middle-earth universe, is nothing if not consistent. At a lean 144 minutes, the film is the shortest Jackson-produced, Tolkien-based feature; it is beautifully constructed, with stunning visuals, colours, and sounds. However, its plot is almost nonexistent, its characters quickly grow stale and boring, and its stunted pacing leaves much to be desired. As the final film to a 13-year franchise that has produced some of film’s greatest scenes, strongest writing, and most compelling moments, The Battle of Five Armies is a disappointing feature that plays more like a two-hour-long video-game cut-scene than a film with any real cinematic heft.

Picking up mere moments after The Desolation of Smaug‘s breath-taking cliffhanger, The Battle of Five Armies signals the end of its first half hour – and the Smaug story arc – by delivering the conclusion to last year’s Hobbit film. Infuriating is the manner in which Smaug’s highly anticipated destruction of Laketown – featured in much of the film’s promotional material – feels like an afterthought in this film. Instead, Jackson and his creative team seem more interested in staging the film’s eponymous battle. Undeniably beautiful as the battle truly is, the large chunk of screen-time afforded to the conflict between the Elves, Dwarves, Men, and two armies of Orcs is completely wasted on what amounts to nothing more than theconcludingsetpiece to an otherwise unnecessarily lengthy franchise.

On the topic of endings, The Battle of Five Armies is not the satisfying cinematic conclusion that Jackson and the film’s marketing team would lead audiences to believe. Arrows wiz by, Dwarves violently bludgeon Orcs, and alliances are forged, torn apart, and reforged, but the entire affair plays out as if screenwriters Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson, and Guillermo del Toro had planned out setpieces first, and literature last. Delivering the film’s emotional heft is left to Richard Armitage’s Thorin Oakenshield – the Dwarf prince who has spent the entire Hobbit franchise struggling to reunite with his ancestral home. In this film, the Dwarves summarily reclaim the Lonely Mountain, and audiences are left wondering what the point of it all was – if there is a point at all.

Armitage’s Thorin spends most of this film suffering from dragon sickness – a psyche-altering affliction that results from overexposure to gold and wealth. Thorin becomes greedy to an unmitigated degree, and while this examination of greed is brief, it’s presence infuriatingly hints at a stronger, more compelling film lurking beneath a surface blanketed by violence and too much CGI. As the Dwarf king stumbles and skulks about his castle – starving for the Arkenstone that solidifies his leadership as Dwarf king – we’re painted a portrait of a damaged man searching for purpose. Thorin has spent his entire life fighting for his home – now that he has it all, his body and mind begin craving desires that he can’t possibly nourish.

A particularly powerful scene, in which Thorin’s psychological well-being is mirrored in his setting, is skillfully captured by Jackson’s camera, which twists and turns as Thorin sinks into a golden floor. Another moving scene occurs at the film’s climax: cold, snowy wind blows atop an Orc-infested hill as a stealthy team of Dwarves climb to begin their assault. As the wind blows, the audience feels a mix of dread and excitement. We know that this is the final battleground for many of the characters we’ve connected with over the past three films, and Jackson deftly reminds us of the great stakes in play with a simple windy preface.

Peter Jackson has always been a director capable of delivering moving, powerful, and human moments. Though his films are largely characterized by their grand staging and awesome battles, his real skill as a director – as an artist – is in conveying great emotional depth in small, simple scenes. The Battle of Five Armies, however, is not a movie concerned with emotional weight. It is, quite literally, nothing more than the final, epic battle found at the conclusion of every great action film – fantasy or otherwise.

Some fans of Jackson’s Tolkien films might find solace in the occasional brief mentions of the rest of the series. As Lord of the Rings veteran Billy Boyd plays out the credits with “The Last Goodbye,” we’re reminded that The Hobbit serves as the literary precursor to The Lord of the Rings. However, fans of cinema – and fans of Tolkien’s work – will be greatly disappointed in what is a spectacularly mediocre conclusion to an otherwise enjoyable trilogy of films.

If it at all appears that my true disappointment lies in the fact The Hobbit was split up into three movies – instead of the more logical two – allow me to dispel any uncertainty. The Hobbit should have been split up into two movies, instead of three. There is simply not nearly enough material for three films and, as Jackson showed in An Unexpected Journey, including every minor detail from the source material is not only blatant pandering, it stretches and bloats a film to the point of boredom. There’s a reason that almost every adaptation of Tolkien’s novel is split into two parts – An Unexpected Journey and There, and Back Again. Tolkien’s novel is not a lengthy literary legend; it’s a satisfying children’s book that touches on themes of home, family, compassion, and charity. If not children’s fiction, Tolkien’s The Hobbit is a succinct introduction to the world of Middle-earth.

Watching The Battle of Five Armies, I considered a possible universe in which The Hobbit was shortened to two films – or even to a single, cohesive, compact movie. Perhaps Thorin says it best: “If more of us valued home above gold, it would be a merrier world.”

As always, this has been your Admin, the Blogger; comment, subscribe, criticize, and DO remember! Always look on the BYTE side of life!


  1. I’m not gonna read this entire post because I’ve not seen the film yet. But I’ve been hearing that it is an unnecessary sequel. I’m sure I’ll still enjoy it. I thought Mockingjay shouldn’t have been split up, but I still loved part 1

    • I saw Mockingjay Part 1 too, and I agree that it’s a great movie. I don’t have a problem with splitting books into multiple films – most book-to-movie adaptations warrant multiple films. Harry Potter and the Death Hallows is a great example of a book split into two great movies. The Hobbit is just one of those books that shouldn’t have been made into three movies.

      • Yeah, I remember when I heard it was going to be a trilogy. I was thinking . . . How is that possible with such a small book? I’ll have to give this post a read when I see the movie next week

  2. er. well, I disagree. mostly.
    a) The Hobbit is not enough for one movie. Probably, not worth one. At all. Disney would be able to deal with it. Even if (dunno, Tim Allen would portray Gandalf)
    b) There’s a huge chunk in JRRT work that never made it to celestial fandom (all those books published by Christopher Tolkien). The script writers (kudos for that) used these texts when writing the script. All the events taken from The book of lost tales, The Unfinished tales et al. coincide with those events form The Hobbit (the book). All these made this “predecessor” to LOTR at least reasonable
    c) Some would argue that Jackson flew away from the book. At least he tried to redeem himself from irrelevant, astray and (at times) unreasonable and mediocre rendition of LOTR
    You may vilify Jackson for BOFA. Yet, he did a wonderful job. At the very least – all Dol Guldur scenes and (which is even more meaningful!) he reminded that the Elves in Tolkien’s universe are capable of magic. I dare to remind that Arwen from LOTR (that is completely against LOTR the book) is the only one showing any “tricks” in the 1st trilogy

    • I really wish I could disagree with the points you’ve made, but I have to agree with you. Except for the part about one movie, but we can move past that. You’re right in saying that the screenwriters did a great job integrating ideas and stories from other Tolkien sources, and I completely agree that Jackson did a great job with this movie – with all of the hobbit movies even. However, when I review films, or adaptations of any kind, I normally make a habit of ignoring the source material. That is to say, I believe that we shouldn’t discuss an adaptation based on the original source material, because then our expectations would crush almost anything for not being “good enough.” There are exceptions to this rule; for example, I commented on the fact that there the hobbit doesn’t have enough plot for three movies.

      For BOFA, and for all of the hobbit films I’ve reviewed, I’ve tried my best to look at them from a purely cinematic perspective. You’ll notice that I ignored any mention of Tauriel. As cinema, BOFA is a beautiful film stylistically, but not a beautiful piece of literature.

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