Ringer DCole4 from the TORn messageboards was fortunate enough to catch an advanced screening of The Hobbit: the Battle of the Five Armies a couple of days ago.
He posted a bit of a spoilery summary-cum-review that concentrates on the final third of the movie on the boards.
Here he expands on those remarks. Warning for battle spoilers, especially on the second page.
Like many fans I have been eagerly awaiting the third and final installment of ‘The Hobbit’ trilogy. Seeing that this was the presumed final foray into Middle Earth, I decided to avoid all promotional materials for the film. Having not seen any of the trailers or TV spots, I was unsure what to expect.
The decision to turn two films into three had had major consequences on The Desolation of Smaug, and I wasn’t sure what repercussions those additional shoot days would have on the storyline of Battle of the Five Armies.
I had the good fortune of once again being invited to an advanced screening of the film.
After a short wait in the rain, we packed into the theater. My wonderful girlfriend had already scoped out the best seats and we hunkered down for the film. As the lights dimmed and the film began, I felt a great smile form across my face. The film starts out with a bang and doesn’t ever slow down. There is much to enjoy in this film. The storytelling is fierce and focused. While I would have enjoyed a little more attention to the “other” dwarves (most of which don’t get a single line), it’s hard to fault the film when the tension is so well orchestrated.
I will avoid spelling out the many treasures of this portion of the movie, as they are best left to be discovered in the cinema. The first hour and a half truly sits well against the best of the Middle-earth films, lots of beautiful sets, lots of wonderful drama, and lots of character moments. It’s a tense and beautifully written build up to what is promised to be an epic battle.
One of the great pleasures was the handling of Legolas and Tauriel in this early portion of the film. I have absolutely no issues with Legolas being in The Hobbit, and I don’t have any issues with Tauriel falling for Kili. That said I was worried this would become an “Elf-centric” movie. Thankfully their scenes are handled tastefully after the destruction of Lake-town and lead to an exciting sidestep to Mt. Gundabad, a location surely only added after the split to three films. It’s a short but beautifully lit sequence that shows an interesting new locale in Middle-earth.
It also gives these two added Elves something to do that adds a layer of tension to the story and doesn’t take away from the focus of the main plot. That said, they make a very loud return into the plot, but more on that later.
Tensions rise and armies amass. Dain’s arrival is impressive but is a little trumped by the awkward realization that Billy Connolly has been entirely replaced by a CGI character. It is not entirely obvious at first, this portion of the film after all features a LOT of CGI, but it becomes apparent when you look at the characters eyes and cheeks in close-ups. I’m not sure why he has been entirely replaced; it seems like an odd move.
Perhaps it has to do with difficulties with the large costume or health restrictions. Awkwardness aside, it doesn’t detract entirely from enjoying the character, Billy Connolly after all is a bigger than life type of guy. Much more disappointing is that the character quickly seems to lose the filmmaker’s interest and disappears halfway through the battle, never to be seen again or provided with any form of resolution.
Which of course leads to the battle. It is big and appropriately epic. There is a surprising amount of “restraint” in this sequence. Minus a short sequence where Bard dispatches a troll whilst riding atop a small cart, there are very few PJ “gags.” There is the business of giant worms, akin to those from Dune, that tunnel out massive pathways for the orcs to sneak towards Dale, but their appearance is brief and they disappear back into the ground almost as soon as they arrive.
Otherwise, the action is brutal, lavish and focused. The sequences in Dale, set against the impressive set with numerous extras, is particularly reminiscent of the best action sequences in Lord of the Rings. Alfrid, who is written into a number of scenes throughout the film, becomes the comic relief of this portion of the film. I quite enjoyed his “save my own skin” antics, but some may be turned off by it.