Darke Reviews | The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (2014)

Alright as we begin this review let me remind people of the rules:

  1. No spoilers from me. Even if I want to.
  2. I don’t typically read the book. It’s rare when I do. This lets me judge a movie strictly on its merits as a film.

So where do I judge this film? I don’t think it will be long into this review before you know how, but let us go through the motions. I say go through the motions as much with Hunger Games, you are either 3 or 5 movies in and thus committed to this franchise. I have absolutely no illusions I will keep anyone from seeing this or encourage someone to see it who is not already invested. The reality is I was just as invested, which is why I saw this. I am freelance, no one pays me. I see what I want, when I want, and review what I want. Phenomenal cosmic power, itty bitty budget.

I think there was a time that Peter Jackson was heralded as being the savior of the Fantasy Genre. We have come here not to praise Jackson, but to bury him. Bury him in the mounds of money he has made on our faith. Bury him under the weight of his own misguided creativity. Jackson has stepped over the line from savior to damnation. He has saved us from films such as Eragon only to deliver us into the hands of a three movie franchise for something that at most should have been two. George Lucas has stepped aside from franchise and good will destroying madman to allow the King of Hobbits to take the throne. Any goodwill that Jackson built with the first franchise has long since been thrust into the fires of Mt. Doom. The movie with Jackson at the helm and at the pen, fails on so many levels.

But if you are still with me, allow me to explain:

Peter Jackson is director, producer, and screenplay writer.  With his collaborators (and wife) Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, and Guillermo del Toro. This is a fantastic combination for two things – cranking out the works of Tolkien into something digestible to the mass market and not being able to say no to each others ideas. I am sure there was some disagreement in the writing circle, thats inescapable. But if you are a writer like me, your friends can be the worst people to have read your work. They will support bad ideas (usually) and tell you how great it is when what you really need is the one friend who says “No.” I don’t think this crew had that. I don’t think they put limits on themselves and the studio certainly wasn’t about to after the dragons hoarde of money they have raked in over the past decade.

Background done, the movie fails on the simple level of evocative storytelling. A writer must have an understanding of the rollercoaster that is their story. There are rises and falls. Beats and pauses. This movie lacks that. I grew up in Maryland with my grandparents and due to that I watched probably more war movies from the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s than most kids my age. I have seen all the greats. I have seen all the new greats in that genre as well. What they all have in common is the action beats are interrupted by relatively long pauses to let you breathe, to let you grasp what is going on, and most importantly to make you care and get to know the characters that are in this plight. Let me take you to Saving Private Ryan for a moment. A modern classic and that is an opinion that is hard to argue. I would be willing to bet most people have a character they remember and like. For me it was the sniper. I got him and his death was powerful and meaningful. Another film. Enemy At the Gates, under rated movie of Russians vs. Germans about one of the greatest snipers that has ever lived. Again everyone on both sides you get to know them and care or wish for their death. Classic film from a time before mine – Battle of the Bulge. Fantastic (in more ways than one) movie. You meet both sides and even can learn sympathy for some of the Germans in it, which is nigh unheard of at the time.

Not so here. I couldn’t tell you who half of the people were in the over an hour of battle this movie gives you. I also couldn’t care. Filli, Killi – which is which? It doesn’t matter. The movie doesn’t let you care. There was no stake in this film. There was no passion to the story to let me care beyond a cursory level if *anyone* lived or died. The movie had no risk because you knew some characters couldn’t die. The ones beyond that you couldn’t care about, with few exceptions thanks to the actors. The story didn’t do them justice.

Second major failure. If you want to introduce things not in the book, by all means do so. I *encourage* it. You will be damned if you mirror the book near perfect (Zack Snyder) or deviate wildly (Jackson here). Might as well take the risk and do something fascinating; just make sure it is fascinating and for the love of all that you hold dear – have a plan. If you want to introduce all these new elements make sure you know what to do with them when you have to wrap the bow around the whole package. There were too many stories started here and so few of them were closed. There won’t be another film so why leave them hanging?

Now these two failures combined pretty much left me bored and not caring. There are other factors I will get too in a minute. The movie succeeds in two places. The first is Martin Freeman. I know he is not at risk, but at all times he makes me care. He manages to strike the chords that make me feel something while watching this. His acting is fantastic end to end without ever missing a beat that he is on screen. The second is Evangeline Lilly as Tauriel. Yes I know she is created for the film, but again she actually makes me care.  I wish there was more to her and for her to work with because it actually worked.

No one else did. Really. They didn’t. Even Armitage a Thorin just doesn’t really do it. He gets close, but he almost tries too hard.

From a technical standpoint please allow me to say: DEAR GOD WHAT HAPPENED TO BIGATURES?! CGI IS NOT THE ANSWER TO EVERYTHING!!!! It along with your high frame rate and 3D makes every single flaw look even worse. It isn’t good. If Manu Bennet (who is awesome in person) is wearing a make up while playing Azog its a really bad make up because it looks CG. If the make up is only enhanced by CG, then they failed. It looked bad. It looked really bad. Honestly, not a single shot in the movie looked good. They were trying too hard. They tried so hard they hit the ridiculous barrier. It wasn’t SyFy movie of the week bad, but it was way too much money spent on it bad. With all that WETA digital has done over the years, they apparently have not mastered light. It made every shot “enhanced” by the artificial light look worse. The CG horseback ride, was easy to see the green screen!

Creature design. What. The. Frak. It was patently ridiculous. I remember the first time you gave us a Cave Troll. It was bloody terrifying, even if it doesn’t hold up. The Battle of Helms deep?


As I said before you will see this anyway if you were going to. If you were on the fence, please heed my advice – Don’t see it.

I don’t actually hate the film, but I can’t give it more than an Ok. It didn’t make me smile. It didn’t actually entertain with only a handful of scenes as an exception. It gave me a solid meh and only a few eye watering moments to show for it.

If you absolutely must see this movie; if it is a moral imperative of Chris Knight proportions then go see it. Avoid the high resolution/frame rate, there were times it almost made me nauseous. 3D is ok, but you can save SOME money by catching the 2D and I don’t think you’ll be too upset.

So there it is…the end of a trilogy (hexology?). It started epic and ends with a whimper.




Darke Reviews | The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013)

Sorry for the lateness on this one folks, I had every intention to get this out to you yesterday. The usual disclaimers apply here and need to be covered especially as I am aware of some significant changes in the core story. I have not read, nor am likely to read the original book The Hobbit. I have not read the revisions written by Mr. Tolkien that brought the story in line with the Lord of the rings trilogy. I have not read The Silmarillion, from which I understand material was used. This movie will be judged on its cinematic narrative alone and how it flows as part of its own trilogy. Also I am going to remain spoiler free as always.

I am at the moment undecided if this movie breaks the rule of too many writers and still being really good in the script department. We have Peter Jackson and his wife Fran Walsh, Phillipa Boyens, and Guillermo del Toro (HellBoy/Pacific Rim). The first three of this quartet have the entirety of the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit films as their credits. del Toro, who was originally brought in to direct but left to do Pacific Rim, is a surprising credit. While this work is partially out of his normal realm, when you consider the environment and world of Pans Labrynth it almost feels like elements of that could have been middle earth. While the four have screenplay credits, the bulk of the work was done by Tolkien himself. Adaptation of the core material is difficult in many respects and they did well, not perfect, but well. The problem I find in the writing is that with very few exceptions I dislike the characters and there are too many to care about. More on that in a bit.

Directing of course falls on the shoulders of Peter Jackson himself. The primary complaints I had about An Unexpected Journey seem to have been resolved; where he has decided to stick to a single tonal style. The last one couldn’t decide if it wanted to be for kids, for adolescents, for adults or in the vein of the previous trilogy. A single voice was used here which focused on the similar style choices to the original trilogy. The lighting tends to be a bit brighter in palette with less muting of the colours throughout. It creates an atmosphere that shows the world has not become the bleak place where the armies of Sauron march – yet. The one exception is what I am going to forever call the Donkey Kong moment, where while very fun was almost a bit too silly.

I want to talk more on the technicals for a moment as they were a clear decision he made in this regard. I understand that he wants to push the visual medium of film to the next level and elected to use the 48 frames per second (FPS) as he did in Unexpected Journey. Normal film you watch is done at 24 FPS. By shooting the film this fast it creates a clarity that we are not used to. It’s almost more real than real and its actually a bit jarring for most movie going audiences. It’s too clean and we aren’t used to it yet. Thats one of the problems, the other is because it creates such crystal clarity of image you can see things on screen you don’t want to. You can see lighting rigs at times from the set and elements that are clearly from sets rather than real life actually look fake; which they are but a slower frame rate hides that. Real life, wide angle shots of walking (yes there’s more walking!),  look great. CG imagery and obvious sets, clearly look apart from the reality that is the actors and natural stone and wood. It’s problematic to say the least. The 3D added little to the overall effects and was used more for gimmick than anything.

The CG work is overall more clean than it was in the first. It is still not great and I wish they had trusted practical effects and make up more. Many of the characters that are given a CG overlay truly do not look like part of the world. One day someone will also figure out that moving people in “nimble” ways through CG doesn’t look natural. Ten years or so ago when Neo fought a few hundred Smiths in the apartment basketball court everyone thought the fight was cool, but it was painfully evident when it was computer generated bodies. That effect hasn’t improved and really needs to be avoided until someone gets it right. The skin “looks right” but is off and you can tell it’s not natural.

The other technical flaw and it comes with the high frame rate is camera movements. The pan and sweeps move too fast and that makes it hard on the eyes. They don’t look completely bad, they just are disorienting.

The acting is nothing to write home about. Everyone is “just fine”. It’s hard to be impressed when there are so many characters to keep track of. There are some notable characters in the mix though. Ken Stott’s Balin (the really old looking one) is perhaps the most heart filled of the Dwarves and brings a gentle wisdom and compassion to the screen that had it been lacking would have been detrimental to the film. Aidan Turners Kili (the..cute one?) is probably given more screen time than was written before and I am thankful for it. The story between him and the elven guardsman Tauriel is one of the more interesting stories through the movie and honestly that’s problematic. When you create a new character (Tauriel) and create a story with an existing character and it’s far more interesting than many of the other arcs going on something has failed in the rest of the plot. That being said, Tauriel is someone I’d honestly want to see more of. Legolas addition to the film neither helps nor hurts the narrative much other than a quick nod to the future nearly a century down the line. I think its an odd choice to have him, but if it makes sense in the history I know nothing about so be it.

Now for the part everyone has really been waiting for.


The dragon is awesome. It has scale , it has weight and it has power. Even in 48 FPS because of the lack of natural lighting he is amazing looking. Cumberbatch’s voicing of the creature does add an additional gravitas that only a handful of other actors could have delivered. To say much more risks spoilers and lets face it, you are going to this movie to see the Dragon and I do not think you will be disappointed with what you get.


Alright Barrel riders, I have to say this one is significantly better than the first. It is not the best film of the year, but it is truly solid film making and still entertaining. I question the need to make three movies, but it has worked thus far.

It’s worth seeing without a doubt.

DO not see it in the High Def 3D, I think it actually takes away for the most part. Save yourself the $5 extra per ticket. 2D should be fine, or if you must regular 3D.

I still recommend this one as being ok for an all ages show, but be wary if the little ones are sensitive to some of the darker/scarier moments the film hits.

I know I will be seeing it again with others and I don’t regret it in the least. Its the movie to see this December with not much coming out to challenge it for weeks to come.