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When you take into consideration box office results, awards, critical and audience reception, I do believe that there's an argument that could be made for The Return of the King being one of the greatest accomplishments in film history. There are few films that have been so universally loved and great when it comes to every detail of filmmaking. Direction, acting, script, cinematography, editing, music, production and costume design, special effects, etc. The Return of the King is top-notch in every department.
There are many films that claims to be epic, but there are few films that are truly epic. The final installment in Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings trilogy is an epic film. A spectacle. Grand filmmaking at its absolutely largest. It doesn't matter if you're watching the theatrical cut, or the extended edition, The Return of the King is a cinematic experience unlike anything you could imagine.
And it's not like Peter Jackson had an easy job with this. This is the film that has to conclude absolutely everything. Every story arc needs to be concluded and every character must have their final moment. And Jackson does that navigation beautifully. There's not one character or part of the plot that feels neglected. Everyone get their moments, and when you take into account the huge world with so many rich characters, it's almost impossible to believe that Jackson actually did it. That he managed to reach an emotional resolution for everything.
The Return of the King is in many ways the ultimate war film. The scale is enormous. Much of the running time is dedicated to massive war and fight scenes that manages to be extremely entertaining and cool, but massively intense and brutal at the same time. Every sword swing is felt, and every arrow hits the mark. It's a masterpiece.
It's very often that people consider the first film in a franchise to be the very best out of the bunch, and if it simply weren't for Return of the King being so bloody perfect, then The Fellowship of the Ring would follow that rule as well. It's a perfect film. It's a perfect introduction to a beloved world.
It's the film that sets the tone and standard for everything yet to come. It also the film that in some ways feel smallest and most personal. It's the one that establishes everything. It introduces you to the characters, and causes you to get emotionally engaged into them immediately, and by that, everything that happens later in the film manages to hit you with full emotional force.
It's mostly just a wonderful adventure. One that takes you through many different locations. Glorious, magnificent locations that works as fantastic backgrounds for brilliantly orchestrated fight scenes that really hits you with the brutality in its violence. It's not very graphic, but seeing for instance Boromir take the three arrows in his chest is more gruesome than any gallon of blood.
It's really just a magical film. It takes on us a journey and sets the directions for where we're supposed to go next. And it gives us the interest and curiosity to keep going. We want to explore this world. A tremendous achievement.
The Two Towers have that difficult and unforgiving task of being a middle chapter. It has to continue where the first film left of, be its own story and set up the final installment as well. It also needs to shift focus between three different stories at the same time. It has to continue Frodo and Sam's journey towards Mordor, Merry and Pippin, as well as the battle of Helms-Deep. And it succeeds beautifully with that.
It's a film that's hugely satisfying on an visceral, entertainment and emotional level. It adds new cast members and characters, whom are all exceptionally great and it gives us much more of Gollum/Smeagol, with Andy Serkis delivering a top-notch motion-capture performance. It was perhaps unlikely when it came out, but today, Serkis not getting an Academy Award for his performance, has to be one of the biggest Oscar snubs in recent memory.
It's a film that features many major set pieces and action sequences that are immensely entertaining. The battle at Osiligath is wonderful, but it's the battle at Helms-Deep that gives me goosebumps. One big, giant battle while it's raining massively. It's extremely entertaining and exhilarating. And then it's continued by the Ents attacking Isengard. The moment they start marching makes me cheer loudly every time.
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is that difficult second film in this trilogy. It's difficult in the sense that it has to improve on what, in many peoples eyes (not mine), was a quite disappointing first feature. But it's also difficult because we're going to go into this film knowing that it doesn't have a proper beginning nor a proper ending. It's that difficult middle chapter. Just like The Two Towers was in the original The Lord of the Rings trilogy. But fear not, where The Two Towers could arguably be considered the weakest instalment in its trilogy, The Desolation of Smaug is better than An Unexpected Journey. Even if it's only slightly better.
From what I can see, people seems to be disappointed by these films because they don't feel and look like what we got ten years ago. It's silly criticism. Like I stated with An Unexpected Journey, The Hobbit is a completely different journey than The Lord of the Rings. The Desolation of Smaug continues that different journey in a very good, and mostly fluent way. It could definitely be argued that three films are unnecessary, as some of the detours in this film (as with An Unexpected Journey) feel slightly clunky. But seeing as I've grown so much in love with Middle-Earth and its characters, I would take those clunky detours before anything else.
That doesn't mean that The Desolation of Smaug doesn't have scenes in it that I absolutely can't get my head around. The opening scene is absolutely dreadful and completely unnecessary. The scene feature Gandalf and Thorin before they went out on the journey to reclaim their homeland from Smaug, and the scene's only function is to give that one person who hasn't seen An Unexpected Journey the reason for why they're out on this adventure. It's incredibly awkward and overlong. I'm also still no fan of Azog. He just looks weird. One that also looks slightly weird is Legolas. There's something with his face and attitude that is slightly off-putting.
But for ever minor flaw, The Desolation of Smaug does twice as many things right. I love how the film really makes me feel like I'm actually on an adventure. Sure, there are a lot of walking and various locations and characters, but for every new magnificent place, I feel just as amazed as the characters. Every place of beauty amazes me. Every place of terror gives me shivers. It's just an easy world to live in too.
It's strung together by many impressive action sequences. It doesn't take long before we're witnessing Bilbo and the dwarves going up against huge spiders, which is in my opinion, one of the most impressive 3D scenes I've ever seen. This is followed by the equally impressive barrel ride and then finally, Smaug. That dragon is quite simply one of the finest creatures to appear in cinema, like ever. With Benedict Cumberbatch delivering awesome voice work (and mocap) Smaug's screen presence is completely unique. Sly, arrogant and fearsome. The scene with Bilbo and Smaug going up against each other is arguably better than the Bilbo and Gollum scene from An Unexpected Journey.
Martin Freeman is very likeable as Bilbo. He's very subtle in everything he does, and he doesn't ever become annoying or tiresome, unlike Elijah Wood as Frodo in The Lord of the Rings. Sir Ian McKellen is as loveable as always as Gandalf, but it's easy to notice that he's starting to get a bit old. Which is rather sad. The dwarves are still, for the most part, just there. There are some who sticks out, and everyone does mostly get at least one moment in the film. But one doesn't really care for them. There's hint of a potential love triangle between Legolas, Tauriel and Kili. But it's not fleshed out in this film. Luke Evans is solid, and Stephen Fry is just there. The real star of this film is however Benedict Cumberbatch. Not only does he do an awesome Smaug, but he gives an incredibly sinister voice to The Necromancer as well.
I might sound a bit negative in this rambling review. But like seriously, I thought it was very good. I enjoyed it a lot. And if you liked the previous film, I really can't see why you shouldn't like this one as well. It's a continuation of the same film, and I'm eagerly anticipating the next and final film. It's just a magical experience.
At last. Finally are we back in Middle-Earth. After several years in development hell, Peter Jackson takes us back to one of the most beloved and magical worlds in cinematic and literature history. Jackson did justice to J.R.R Tokien's The Lord of the Rings roughly ten years ago and the expectations for The Hobbit couldn't be any higher. Jackson decided to split The Hobbit into three separate films, including some other stuff Tolkien wrote, as well as Jackson's own artistic choices. And what we have here is the first film, An Unexpected Journey. The first step on this magical journey. For fear not, this is not the Lord of the Rings fans The Phantom Menace. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is a magical film. It's not necessarily as good as The Lord of the Rings, but it's exactly what I hoped it would be. It's a whole different journey and it's a good one.
Opening up with Ian Holm returning as old Bilbo Baggins, as he tells the tale of how the dwarfs lost their home, Erebor, to the dragon Smaug, which is quickly followed by Elijah Wood returning as Frodo, talking to Bilbo. It all takes right before the opening scene of The Fellowship of the Ring. And from there I'm mostly sold. The opening prologues might occasionally feel a bit strange and overlong, but it's impossible to deny the impact it immediately stroke me with. I was back in the universe instantly. It's a powerful way to open the film and it got the exact right amount of majesty to it. The nostalgia, seeing it's about ten years since I saw this world at cinema, kick right in as well. Giving me a huge grin on my face, one that lasted through the entire film.
The film then quickly goes back 60 years and we're greeted by Martin Freeman as a younger Bilbo. From there it doesn't take along time until Gandalf and the 13 dwarfs arrives. And then we're on another journey. It's a long journey, seeing as the film runs close to three hours, but Peter Jackson never makes it boring. He knows perfectly how to handle the pace of this film by creating one brilliant scene after the other. One thing is that he manages to make every, single scene look absolutely fantastic, but another thing is that he is capable of filling them with something meaningful. Not a single scene feels wasted. That's an achievement, considering how long it is. It also makes me more relaxed towards the decision of telling the story over three films. He creates a film that's filled with humor, camp, creativity, excitement, action and adventures joy. Everything from three silly trolls, a meeting at Rivendell, thousands of goblins and riddles in the dark keeps me at the edge of my seat.
When it comes to the plot, my only, slight complaint about it has to do with Azog. I haven't delved into the literature in many years, so I don't exactly remember how everything went out according to Tolkien, so I'm not going to bother comparing. I'm also under the impression that Jackson is allowed to take some artistic freedom. However, I'm not 100 % impressed by Azog. For one, he looks too fake. Which probably has something to do with him being the only white orc in Middle-Earth. Secondly, all his grunting and tough "drink their blood"! dialogue gets way to repetitive and silly. He's a dull villain, really. Better is however the Goblin King, who is delightfully campy.
Casting Martin Freeman as Bilbo was a masterstroke. He is brilliant in his role, portraying it with loads of charisma and he works as a fine humorous counterpoint to the more serious and grooming Richard Armitage as Thorin Oakenshield, who also delivers a fine performance. Very much welcome is the return of Ian McKellen as Gandalf. He have always been tremendous as Gandalf, and if his performance in Fellowship of the Ring was Oscar-worthy, then surely this one is as well, no matter the unlikeness. His dry wit, warmth and wisdom makes his character one of the most likable characters in film history. We also have several other dwarfs here, some gets more time in front of the screen than others, but that's natural thing when there are 13 dwarfs. To give them all more time would double the length of the film. A Six hours long film would be stretching it and there are still two more films to come. Which would give everyone a chance to shine. Also returning are Elijah Wood and Ian Holm in short cameo at the beginning, like I said earlier. We also get to see Hugo Weaving returning as Lord Elrond, Cate Blanchett as Lady Galadriel and the great Christopher Lee as Saruman. Then there is Andy Serkis as Gollum. I'll just say that the scene with him is incredible. The return of all these characters makes the film feel even more connected to The Lord of the Rings, making the film just more enjoyable.
The Hobbit feels therefore exactly like it's an Lord of the Rings film, yet it manages to venture out on its own paths. It's campier and funnier this time, and the darkness doesn't get fully explored. But that doesn't matter. It's Middle-Earth! It's magical. It's wonderful. It brings me straight into the universe and keeps me there. The beautiful cinematography, the familiar sets and music. The sweeping landscapes and adventurous feel wins me straight over. Just to be back in this wonderful world is a glorious thing. To be able to be a part of another adventure. If you don't go in to this film expecting to be brought along on the same journey, there is no doubt that you'll have a fantastic time. It's a different journey, but its familiarity to Lord of the Rings makes it magical.
With the final The Hobbit film being over, and the Middle-Earth saga concluded, I think it's safe to say that The Battle of the Five Armies is the weakest film in the franchise. It's not quite the farewell (for now) to Tolkien's world that I dared to hope for. Don't get me wrong, I still think it's a damned good film, but with the standards being set by The Lord of the Rings films, and even the previous Hobbit films, this was a slight disappointment.
While I did like that The Desolation of Smaug ended on a cliffhanger, opening this film with Smaug's death left an odd taste in my mouth. After all, it's Smaug who is the proper villain this time, and here he's done in about 15 minutes. The rest of the film is, as the title suggest, devoted to one big battle. (And a very brief, but satisfying trip to the Necromancer.)
The battle itself is fine. Which is the problem. It's just fine. It's certainly entertaining and all, but it fails to reach the majestic and epic level that Peter Jackson achieved with The Return of the King. And while I haven't been to annoyed with the overuse of CGI in the previous Hobbit films, there were several moments that irked me this time. There's one scene where Legolas runs on falling debris that completely puzzles me. How did it escape a quality check? Another thing that bugs me is how easily and cleanly they kill of orcs. There are beheadings here, but seeing as the orcs are mostly just CGI this time, it doesn't feel as brutal and "cool" as when it's a guy in a costume, and practical effects. And I've been fine with this in small dozes, but seeing as almost the entire film is dedicated to this, it started to annoy me.
I like Thorin. I like the complexity and flaws of his character, and his final confrontation with Azog was built up very well, and it was a fight that worked a lot better than Legolas vs. that other orc, who just seemed to be there to give Legolas something to do. I liked the love story between Tauriel and Kili, unlike many others apparently. Bilbo is, of course, great. One character that is not great, on the other hand, is Alfrid. A character that is obviously there to provide laughs, but oh my God. Oh my God.
There are much more I could write here, but it would mostly just be very minor things, details, that I liked or disliked, so I'll just end with this. The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies is a good film. But it should have been better.
Now that the Middle-Earth saga, Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies, are done, it's time to rank them.
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