Therefore, it was with some trepidation that I went to watch the final The Hobbit movie yesterday with my dad and middle brother. I had seen each of the previous five Peter Jackson adaptations of J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle-Earth tales and found each successive movie to be worse than the one before it. I am not a "purist"; I understand and accept that literature and cinema are two fundamentally different art forms and that elements which work for one would be disastrous if imposed upon the other. Yet this does not excuse the filmmaker from constructing a narrative that fails to remain true to its own internal logic.
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies opens immediately with the cliffhanger scene from The Desolation of Smaug. There is no brief synopsis montage to ease the viewer back into the narrative. Instead, it is a straight plunge into carnage. Yet this opening fifteen minutes feels disjointed, as it shows just how ridiculous it was to have some of the dwarves to remain in Lake Town, as they don't really even serve as witnesses; this delay/detour was unnecessary and it serves as one of many examples of questionable narrative choices by Jackson and his scriptwriters.
Then there is the closing of the Gandalf/Necromancer subplot. While obviously there could be no "final battle" due to The Lord of the Rings, the scenes at Dol Guldur felt extraneous. Outside of the cool visual of the White Council fighting the Necromancer's minions (including the Ringwraiths), the entire episode barely lasted five minutes. This revelation of what Gandalf was doing, while filling in a gap left by Tolkien not divulging in the novel how exactly Gandalf occupied himself during the time Bilbo and the dwarves traveled through Mirkwood and to Erebor, failed to add anything to the narrative. If any thing, it detracted from the overall narrative arc.
After a few heartwarming scenes of the Lake Town citizens recovering on the Long Lake's shores and a couple of silly scenes involving the late Mayor's deputy, the story shifts quickly to war, war, and still more war. While the gathering armies and the pitter-patter between the aggrieved parties was fairly well done and hewed closely to the novel, almost the entire second half of this nearly 150 minute movie was devoted to battle. Although this is to be expected, considering the title and all, it felt disjointed. There were CGI mass battle scenes, individual duels, and elves frolicking about hither and yon, but it never really felt coherent. The backstories of the various armies collapsed during the middle of the fighting, as one group or another would disappear for long stretches with little in the way of narrative explanation.
This lack of coherency is accentuated by some of the weird choices made by Jackson. As if having a rabbit sled wasn't ridiculous enough, we have Thranduil riding on an elk, Dáin Ironfoot on a war pig (and yes, I thought of Black Sabbath when seeing him on it), and even battle rams running up steep mountain slopes with dwarves atop. It was just so stupid to watch, along with Legolas running up crumbling stonework as though he were in a Super Mario game. By the time the movie ended, it just felt as though a few good scenes peppered with fine acting performances (mostly dialogue between Bilbo and Thorin) had been swamped with some of the worst, bloated, pointless CGI sequences ever put into a film genre that its renowned for its devotion to such scenes. The elements that made the novel an enjoyable reading experience for me at twelve were largely absent. In its stead was just a poorly-constructed action/adventure trilogy that had only a patina of Tolkien's narrative to dress up its otherwise mediocre cinematic structure. The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies is by far the worst of the six Tolkien-related movies that Jackson has produced. Certainly not a movie I ever care to see again in any format.