One of the most impressive thing about the second Hobbit film, The Desolation of Smaug, was Smaug himself. Director Peter Jackson did a great job at creating the central villain of the Hobbit, a murderous, psychotic dragon who was given voice by Cumberland Patchworks (you know, the guy who plays Sherlock Holmes in the really cool BBC series; Martin Freeman, who plays Watson in that series, stars in the Hobbit films as Bilbo). The second film ended on a cliffhanger, with Bilbo and the dwarves, after failing miserably in killing the dragon, watch with horror as Smaug flies off, hell-bent on smoking the floating hamlet of Lake-Town in devious revenge.
But when I saw the third and final Hobbit film, it would up being a massive disappointment for me. Smaug gets killed within the first ten minutes, and then we’re treated to another ’great war’ between the races of Middle-Earth, who are all fighting over the prized treasures within the Dwarf mountain. The problem is that the battle itself is not very spectacular, especially given that two of Jackson’s recent films, The Two Towers and The Return of the King, both handle climatic wars in a much better and more satisfying way.
Another problem for me with the third Hobbit film is that Smaug was such a potent villain who felt like he was so easily snuffed at the whim of bored screenwriters–much like how Boba Fett was largely wasted in the Star Wars films. One could argue that Jackson and his writers were working from a novel, and had to follow it faithfully. But they didn’t follow the Hobbit book that faithfully, or else they never would have invented Tauriel, a warrior elf played by Evangeline Lilly who’s a welcome sight in these movies since she’s the only female of note in the entire cinematic Hobbit trilogy (the dearth of female characters in SF and fantasy films as always been a pet peeve of mine, anyway).
So if the Hobbit filmmakers could make a big change like Tauriel, why not also shift the story line away from another pointless battle and towards something that we have not seen in The Lord of the Rings, a powerful dragon? For Tolkien readers, I may be suggesting blasphemy, but this isn’t rewriting one of his books, it’s changing a film adaptation of one of his books. It’s hinted at in one of the Hobbit films that Smaug is an ally of the resurgent Sauron. Why not play that up some more? Perhaps they could still have the Battle of the Five Armies, but with Smaug directly involved as the overall leader of the bad guys?
Having Smaug involved to the very end of The Five Armies would make the final conflict of the Hobbit far more challenging for the heroes with a dragon involved. But instead, as it is, the Battle of the Five Armies feels very stale and by the numbers. I’m not surprised to see the behind the scenes feature on the blu-ray, showing an exhausted Jackson struggling to find the muse to finish the Hobbit while filming was ongoing. The Battle of the Five Armies is not a terrible film (the R-rated Blu-Ray edition, with added and extended scenes, is recommended over the theatrical version), I just wasn’t satisfied with it. Watching it made me wonder what it could have been like had the filmmakers dared to think outside the box, instead of slavishly following the book. –SF