Taylor and Mom were gracious enough to join me in seeing it in the theater, and it's one of those movies that is best seen there. As neither of them had seen the first two, I gave a brief filling-in of the plot. Bilbo joins a company of Gandalf and thirteen dwarves, led by Thorin, to journey to The Lonely Mountain so the dwarves can reclaim their home and the vast treasure that lays there. The only problem is, a mad dragon, voiced by the recently popular Benedict Cumberbatch, is currently inhabiting said treasure-filled peak.
Along the way, the company is attacked many times by an orc band who is tracking them, Bilbo comes into possession of The One Ring, in an excellently executed scene with Andy Serkis reprising his role as Gollum, they escape King Thranduil's Mirkwood palace in an epic fashion, riding barrels down the river as Legolas and the made-up-for-the-movie girl elf, Tauriel, run alongside fighting off orcs, and once they arrive at the mountain, Bilbo matches wits with the giant dragon himself.
Meanwhile, in other Middle Earth news, the Necromancer (an earlier incarnation of Sauron (the big eye from LOTR)) is organizing an orc army and planning his return. Gandalf, Saruman, and Radagast, three of five total wizards, research this possibility, with the exquisite head elves, Galadriel and Elrond, putting in their wisdom.
The movie opens immediately following the end of film two, with Cumberbatch's dragon, Smaug, wreaking havoc on Lake Town while the dwarves watch helplessly from the mountain. Bard, who looks like Orlando Bloom in Pirates of Caribbean (he actually looks more like Bloom in this film than Bloom does himself), saves the day when he hits Smaug in a very specific loose scale with a black arrow.
He then takes up the leadership of the people of Lake Town. Now homeless, he leads them to the mountainside town of Dale, hoping that Thorin, who is King Under the Mountain now that Smaug is dead, will help them out. King Thranduil (Legolas' dad) comes to the mountain as well to reclaim some ancient elven jewels. Thorin rejects both, thus starting The Battle.
Once again, Jackson and his casting team hit it out of the park. Martin Freeman is charmingly stubborn and brave as Bilbo, keeping everyone grounded and morally conscious throughout the journey. Interestingly enough, his own morals come into question as he takes The Ring from Gollum as well as keeping the priceless Arkenstone from Thorin, who goes mad searching for it. Ian McKellan returns as a more rough-around-the-edges Gandalf, joined by Christopher Lee as Saruman, Hugo Weaving as Elrond, and Cate Blanchett as Galadriel, who steal the whole movie in an epic showdown against the Nazgul and the Necromancer himself. Also of note is Lee Pace's portrayal of the darker elf King Thranduil, who, like Arwen, has some faults and questions life and its meaning moreso than the other elves.
The epic fight scenes are where Jackson excels most, and this film does not disappoint. After all, it is between five different armies! One of my favorite elements was the surrounding snowy landscape the battle takes place in. The delicate white contrasts nicely with the rough battle sequences happening above and within it, and once the double army of orcs arrives, both the dwarves' and the elves' motives shift. The snow also adds a bit of differentiation from all the other giant Middle Earth battles we've seen before.
Jackson takes the story to a more advanced level than expected from the original, children's bedtime story text by Tolkien, and the final scene is more perfect an ending than in Return of the King. It blends a mix of nostalgia, detail, old friendship, understanding, and empathy, while also including a little menace in what is to come.
After not expecting much, I was happily pleased with this final chapter and the direction it took to close up Jackson's view of Middle Earth. Though not as stunning or compelling as The Lord of the Rings story, this earlier trilogy definitely has its moments of rich storytelling, immense detail, gripping action moments, and an amount of character depth that can only come with a man's lifetime of imagination and dedication to this world.
(photos collected from technologytell, stevelensman, lotr.wikia, thehobbit.tumblr, and insidemovies.ew)