You want blood? Then come get some! Forget the subtleties you’ve come to expect as quiet interludes from the past two Hobbit installments, this third and final movie contains mostly madness and bickering for its first part -- after Smaug does the inevitable and rips apart Lake Town -- and then the second and third acts are devoted to creatures, warriors in armor, and the clash of arms.
Lovers of fantasy racial war, take heed, you’ll love the epic combat scenes as Peter Jackson and Co. let the threadbare last yarns of Bilbo helping the company of dwarves unravel and give way to the inevitable praxis seizure that happens when such a gaping power vacuum suddenly appears.
Looks like the hoard of draconian wealth and dwarven treasure is a hard thing to resist. Plus, the old kingdom of Erebor, being of much strategic value, is a very tasty piece of real estate to let slip by the day’s military standards, claims of ancestral dwarven domain be damned.
It’s like a WWE Survivor Series set in Middle-Earth plus a clusterfuck overseen by great evil wanting to get corporeal and wreak total havoc on the land.
The standoff over treasure, honor and fairness compounds with the greater threat of Sauron’s plan to enshroud all of Middle-earth in Darkness. While Gandalf has managed to escape near-death at Dol Guldur with the help of the Wizard Radagast the Brown (Sylvester McCoy), he then rides to Dale and hopes to rally the armies of Elves, Dwarves and Men to stand together against this evil or risk losing everything they love, but the flames of war have already been lit.
“The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies” brings to an epic conclusion the adventures of Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) and the Company of Dwarves. The Dwarves of Erebor have reclaimed the vast wealth of their homeland, but now must face the consequences of having unleashed the terrifying Dragon, Smaug, upon the defenseless men, women and children of Lake-town.
As he succumbs to dragon-sickness, the King Under the Mountain, Thorin Oakenshield, sacrifices friendship and honor in his search for the legendary Arkenstone. Unable to help Thorin see reason, Bilbo is driven to make a desperate and dangerous choice, not knowing that even greater perils lie ahead. An ancient enemy has returned to Middle-earth. Sauron, the Dark Lord, has sent forth legions of Orcs in a stealth attack upon the Lonely Mountain.
As darkness converges on their escalating conflict, the races of Dwarves, Elves and Men must decide—unite or be destroyed. Bilbo finds himself fighting for his life and the lives of his friends as five great armies go to war.
And oh, the carnage, oh, the deaths. What’s a little hobbit to do in the crosshairs of such big people in armor?
What’s notable on this third movie is the combination of HFR with the 3D and 2D formats, making the actors looks as if they were really there, since, at 48 frames per second, it resembles the closest that the human eye can process images. It’s also noteworthy to point out that while I saw the past two Hobbit movies on the same HFR and 3d formats, it’s only now that Jackson and co have actually grasped the potential of the tech so that the action isn’t too fast to comprehend (and makes your eyes boggle and strain at the lush scenes) but not too slow that the wow factor is reduced. Likely the best example of this are the single combat scenes between Azog and Thorin on the Cliffside where the falling snow and the cracking ice make eloquent backdrops for savage moves.
In any case here’s a handy guide where you can watch the 3D and HFR formats, or a combination of what is available in theaters.
Here are 8 facts and trivia about the Five Armies, their leaders, and about bringing together such a grand scale of production into the final movie in a series that’s spanned more than a decade of fantastic adventure.
8. 3 AGAINST 9: NAZGUL ATTACK!
A setting that is further explored in “The Battle of the Five Armies” is the ruined fortress of Dol Guldur, where Gandalf and the White Council at last face the Ancient Enemy Sauron and his dark minions.
The abandoned castle at the Southern end of Mirkwood Forest was the site of the Dark Lord’s defeat at the hands of the Elves, and where he re-emerges in “The Hobbit” Trilogy to plot his return.
Here, under the guise of the Necromancer, the Dark Lord has conjured the nine dead Kings—or Ringwraiths—whom the powerful yet vaporous entity has bound in servitude through his Rings of Power. Gandalf has become captured and is proven that the occasionally mischievous Grey Wizard is not invulnerable.
Venturing alone to confront the re-emerged specter of Sauron—the ancient evil his fellow guardians of Middle-earth could not be moved to acknowledge—Gandalf has fallen directly into the Dark Lord’s trap and faces certain death within the catacombs of the ruined fortress of Dol Guldur.
But Gandalf will not face the Ancient Enemy alone. His ageless friend and powerful ally in the White Council, the Elf Queen Galadriel, once again played by Cate Blanchett, promised that if he needed her help, she would come. The acclaimed actress, who embodies the luminous Lady of Lothlorien across both trilogies, observes that the connection between Galadriel and Gandalf is among the strongest and most poignant in Middle-earth.
The stand-off ultimately draws the mighty Elvenking Elrond, played by “The Lord of the Rings” Trilogy alum Hugo Weaving, along with the powerful Wizard Saruman the White, played by cinema icon Christopher Lee.
The ruined fortress was not described in detail in The Hobbit, but John Howe and Alan Lee visualized its tortured dimensions by drawing inspiration from its history as described in the appendices of The Lord of the Rings. The design emerged on the basis of an equilateral triangle—with three sides, three bays and three staircases on each interlinked facet—providing nine chambers for the Ringwraiths.
Descending barefoot into this crucible of corrupted power, Galadriel appears to transcend its rotted stone in her white, flowing gown.
For Ann Maskrey, who designed the film’s costumes along with Bob Buck and Richard Taylor, the challenge was to create a costume that would be appropriately ethereal, but grounded in contrast with her dark yet fiery opponent.
“It’s not difficult to dress Cate because she moves beautifully,” Maskrey said. “She has a certain way of walking on the balls of her feet or her tip-toes that makes it look like she’s hovering gracefully, so the costume had to be as graceful as she is.”
Drawing inspiration from a dress worn by legendary dancer Margot Fonteyn in the ballet “Ondine,” Maskrey sourced a metallic lace from Blanchett’s native Australia, and dyed, stripped and re-dyed the fabric until it attained a translucent shimmer.
7. DAIN IRONFOOT AND THE DWARVEN HORDE
The company of Thorin’s dwarves, while remaining fiercely loyal to their King, fear they lack the numbers to hold back an invading force.
What none of them know is that Thorin has sent word to his cousin, Dwarf General Dain Ironfoot, played by Billy Connolly, whose Dwarven army will descend from the Iron Hills to defend Erebor from any onslaught by Elves and Men. Rather than trying to stave off war, Thorin is willing to sacrifice as many Dwarves as it takes to ensure the treasure stays where it belongs.
In battle, Dwarves are formidable fighters and incredibly strong despite their relatively small stature. The actors utilized exaggerated fighting styles to register their moves onscreen when scaled down through digital techniques.
To allow for more flexibility and comfort in fighting sequences, Buck and his costume team created battle looks by referencing Byzantine, Medieval, Mongolian and Japanese culture, ultimately utilizing an array of velvets, leathers and suedes that were quilted, stamped and textured in the style of medieval brigandines and gambesons or Japanese kikko.
A diverse array of oversized weapons were created for the Dwarves at Weta Workshop, with Richard Taylor’s team cross-referencing weapon prototypes with the finished armor and fighting style of each character.
Once they achieved a finished silhouette, a batch of cardboard cutouts would be sent to the set, ranging in size from small to extra-large, for Jackson’s final sign-off.
“More often than not, Peter would pick the largest,” reported lead concept designer Nick Keller. “The size became a problem when it came to scabbards. A large sword looked good but large scabbards could look clumsy, so we gave them more streamlined holsters.”
6. MAN VS SMAUG
And of course, there’s still the dragon. Benedict Cumberbatch likens Smaug’s rampage on Laketown to “a child having a tantrum, but on a genocidal scale, and it’s kind of unstoppable. But Smaug’s fury is also his weakness. This dragon is basically showing off. He wants to reinstate the fear that has kept him unchallenged all these years.”
But, as powerful and crafty as he is, Smaug may have miscalculated the strength of Men. Luke Evans reprises his role as Bard the Bowman, whose lineage traces back to the last Man to fire a bow at the Dragon: Girion, Lord of Dale.
“Luke has brought an enigmatic quality, but in this film, you get to see him step up to the role of hero,” says Jackson. “Bard has hidden his lineage from even his own children, which goes back to the tragedy that occurred in Dale, the home of Bard’s ancestors. He is also the only true bowman left in Lake-town. So, in a way, Bard is destined to meet this dragon eye-to-eye.”
5. AZOG AND THE ORC MARAUDERS
In contrast to your run-of-the-mill murderous Orc peon, the hordes of Orcs dispatched by Sauron are a large, misshapen breed created as an entirely new and heavily militarized design that departs from Orcs seen in previous films.
Weta Workshop created 100 new individual Orcs, each with a distinct helmet and any number of unique accents, including pikes, pole arms, spears, swords, shields, teeth, contact lenses and distinct prosthetics.
Orc chieftains Azog the Defiler and Bolg wear heavy armor in battle, with the Pale Orc wearing white armor infused with skull forms, including an eye socket theme on his pauldrons, with armor designed for his brutal spawn around a spine motif, grotesquely bolted into his bone structure.
Both Azog and Bolg are fully CG characters created through the artful mix of performance capture performances by Manu Bennett and John Tui, respectively, and keyframe animation from Weta Digital’s extraordinary animation team.
Weta Digital also created a staggering array of up to 30,000 swarming Orcs in a single simulation, as well as the 6,000 Gundabad Orcs that follow Bolg South toward the Mountain. The battle also sees the emergence of giant, lumbering Trolls and Berserker Orcs, which are paler, more massive versions of those seen in “The Lord of the Rings” Trilogy.
4. LEGEN. . .DARY: 125 PAGES OF TOLKIEN’S NOTES
The tale of the Hobbit Bilbo Baggins, who embarks on a wondrous and dangerous adventure in the Wild with the Wizard Gandalf and the Company of Dwarves, grew in the telling to birth the resonant themes that are woven throughout the Tolkien canon—the bonds of friendship, the nature of honor and sacrifice, the corruption of wealth and power, and the quiet courage of the unlikeliest of heroes, which may hold even the greatest forces of evil at bay.
“The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies” represents the culmination of director/co-writer/producer Peter Jackson’s 16-year journey to bring to life the richly layered universe of Middle-earth conjured nearly a century ago by J.R.R. Tolkien in his literary masterworks “The Hobbit” and “The Lord of the Rings.”
“The Hobbit,” or “There and Back Again” was first published in 1937, having emerged from the revered author, poet, university professor and philologist’s imagination as bedtime stories for his children. In the 17 years that followed, Tolkien continued to develop, expand and enrich the complex mythology of Middle-earth to produce its sprawling, apocalyptic conclusion, “The Lord of the Rings.”
Collectively, the author’s towering modern myth has had a seismic impact on world culture, becoming among the best-selling novels ever written, and sparking the imaginations of generations of readers all over the world.
But, for Tolkien himself, the novel as published did not tell the whole story. Within 125 pages of notes included in the final book of “The Lord of the Rings,” the author mapped out in detail the forces of darkness and light at work in Middle-earth at the time of The Hobbit, which provides vital connective tissue between Bilbo’s adventure and the legacy his nephew, Frodo Baggins, will ultimately inherit.
The untold stories in the appendices also provided director Peter Jackson with a rich palette that would enable him to begin “The Hobbit” Trilogy with the brighter, more innocent tone of the novel and gradually move into a darker emotional climate as the adventure gives way to all-out war.
3. ORCS GALORE!
As the second act of the movie opens, the Dark Lord is marshalling his Legion of brutal Orcs, led by the Pale Orc Azog the Defiler, again embodied by Manu Bennett, and his spawn, Bolg, played by John Tui, to stake his claim over the Lonely Mountain.
“In the novel, when the Orcs march toward Erebor, their origin is somewhat of a mystery,” noted co-producer Boyens. “But when you go back to the text, you come to understand that they appear in the wastelands in a very specific way. The truth is that the Erebor holds an incredibly strong strategic position that would leave all the lands beyond it open to attack. So, there’s a much greater threat afoot than the people of Middle-earth know.”
2. WHAT IS DRAGON-SICKNESS?
With Smaug gone, the mission of the dwarven company is accomplished and so begins the task of actually crowning Thorin with the Arkenstone – problem, it’s still missing. Also, with all the races in the vicinity vying for possession of the newly abandoned kingdom of Erebor, these dwarves need to best figure out how they plan on keeping what they’ve just won against some very heavy hitters.
To compound it all, Thorin is steadily being driven out of his wits by all the gold and treasure that Smaug left behind. And, oh boy, in one scene there are rivers and rivers of it. Ergo, dragon-sickness: named for the creatures that cannot resist gold, but has an equally corrosive effect on the Dwarves who hoard it.
In the halls of Erebor, the Hobbit Bilbo Baggins has not only survived his nerve-shattering battle of wits against Smaug, he has prevailed. But in helping Dwarf Prince Thorin Oakenshield reclaim his Kingdom from the Dragon who took it by force centuries ago, Bilbo now sees that possessing this vast treasure renders Thorin more like the Dragon that stalked him through the gold than the brave and noble leader he calls a friend.
Martin Freeman commented on this, “Bilbo’s relationship with Thorin started out very rocky, but has thawed to become quite cordial, so, for him, to see what’s happening to Thorin is like losing a close friend. Thorin has become consumed with this all-encompassing greed and fear—fear of losing anything, fear of giving anything away; he has to keep the treasure close at all costs.”
Meanwhile, Richard Armitage sheds some light from the other side of the coin: “Thorin had looked into his grandfather’s eyes and seen the madness of Dragon-sickness firsthand,” Armitage said. “But he has suppressed the fear it provoked in him so deeply that he can’t see what is happening to him even as it slowly consumes him.”
Though fractured, Thorin’s loyal Company of Dwarves, including Balin (Ken Stott), Dwalin (Graham McTavish), Fili (Dean O’Gorman), Kili (Aidan Turner), Bofur (James Nesbitt), Bombur (Stephen Hunter), Bifur (William Kircher), Oin (John Callen), Gloin (Peter Hambleton), Dori (Mark Hadlow), Nori (Jed Brophy) and Ori (Adam Brown), remain steadfast in their support of their King.
But as the Dragon-sickness takes hold of him, Thorin narrows his trust to the one most responsible for expelling Smaug in the first place, even as Bilbo realizes that in securing the gold, he may have doomed his friend.
Richard Armitage observed that what should be the end of Thorin’s journey is actually the beginning of a much darker, internal one: “In some ways, reclaiming the great wealth of his people brings Thorin back to life and ignites the great King that he has the potential to be. But it exacts a heavy price—greed, paranoia, the alienation of his friends. As soon as his skin comes in contact with that particular gold, it seeps into his soul and poisons him.”
1. THRANDUIL AND THE SILVAN ARMIES
Astride his great Elk, Thranduil leads his army of Elves into Dale for its strategic position relative to Erebor.
Pace stated, “There’s something in the Mountain that is precious to him, and he’ll get his hands on it one way or another. He will risk the lives of these Dwarves, and the Men of Lake-town, even his own people. As far as Thranduil is concerned, his engagement ends after he’s claimed what’s his. He’s a complicated character—infinitely wise, but there’s a wickedness about him, too.”
Thranduil himself wears a singular armor that distinguishes the High Sindar Elf from his Silvan Elf army, and in fittings, actor Lee Pace put it through the motions to see how it would move in battle. Created in collaboration Weta Workshop, Thranduil’s armor is cold chrome with accents of black and deep royal red.
The velvet of his cape was designed to drape like liquid silver, an effect that helped blur the lines between metal and fabric, with panels detailed with decaying leaves. Laser-cut leather and devoré velvet were laminated together, gilded with silver and hand-stitched onto a strong net fabric to blend the line between the hard and soft elements of his costume.
Concept artist Daniel Faloner noted, “When he moves, you see flashes of color, and the contrasts show in his silhouette.” Also, Thranduil’s sword is constructed from a single piece of aluminum.
“The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies” opens across the Philippines today, Dec. 12, in 3D, HFR 3D and IMAX 3D.
All photos courtesy of Warner Bros Pictures.