The Hobbit climaxes with the mother of all battles

Evangeline Lilly plays feisty elf Tauriel (right), who fights to defend the dwarf she has fallen in love with. The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies will see characters such as the dwarves and hobbit Bilbo Baggins (left), Legolas (above, played b
Evangeline Lilly plays feisty elf Tauriel (right), who fights to defend the dwarf she has fallen in love with. The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies will see characters such as the dwarves and hobbit Bilbo Baggins (left), Legolas (above, played by Orlando Bloom) and Gandalf (below, Ian McKellen) in action.PHOTOS: WARNER BROS
Evangeline Lilly plays feisty elf Tauriel (right), who fights to defend the dwarf she has fallen in love with. The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies will see characters such as the dwarves and hobbit Bilbo Baggins (left), Legolas (above, played b
Evangeline Lilly plays feisty elf Tauriel (right), who fights to defend the dwarf she has fallen in love with. The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies will see characters such as the dwarves and hobbit Bilbo Baggins (left), Legolas (above, played by Orlando Bloom) and Gandalf (below, Ian McKellen) in action.PHOTOS: WARNER BROS
Evangeline Lilly plays feisty elf Tauriel (right), who fights to defend the dwarf she has fallen in love with. The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies will see characters such as the dwarves and hobbit Bilbo Baggins (left), Legolas (above, played b
Evangeline Lilly plays feisty elf Tauriel (right), who fights to defend the dwarf she has fallen in love with. The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies will see characters such as the dwarves and hobbit Bilbo Baggins (left), Legolas (above, played by Orlando Bloom) and Gandalf (below, Ian McKellen) in action.PHOTOS: WARNER BROS
Evangeline Lilly plays feisty elf Tauriel (right), who fights to defend the dwarf she has fallen in love with. The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies will see characters such as the dwarves and hobbit Bilbo Baggins (left), Legolas (above, played b
Evangeline Lilly plays feisty elf Tauriel (right), who fights to defend the dwarf she has fallen in love with. The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies will see characters such as the dwarves and hobbit Bilbo Baggins (left), Legolas (above, played by Orlando Bloom) and Gandalf (below, Ian McKellen) in action.PHOTOS: WARNER BROS
Evangeline Lilly plays feisty elf Tauriel (right), who fights to defend the dwarf she has fallen in love with. The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies will see characters such as the dwarves and hobbit Bilbo Baggins (left), Legolas (above, played b
Evangeline Lilly plays feisty elf Tauriel (right), who fights to defend the dwarf she has fallen in love with. The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies will see characters such as the dwarves and hobbit Bilbo Baggins (left), Legolas (above, played by Orlando Bloom) and Gandalf (below, Ian McKellen) in action.PHOTOS: WARNER BROS

Director Peter Jackson's newest Hobbit movie is his darkest one, featuring epic battles, triumphs and tragedies

After 17 years of waging war in Middle Earth, director Peter Jackson's epic journey is almost at an end with the release of The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies and the overriding feeling, he says, is one of relief.

"I don't have the responsibility any more," says Jackson at a press briefing held in London earlier this month. "I can go to the beach."

The 53-year-old New Zealander has enjoyed almost every minute spent crafting the phenomenally successful The Lord Of The Rings trilogy, released between 2001 and 2003, and the three recent films that comprise his rendition of The Hobbit, but now after 17 years of preparation and filming, he can finally relax.

"Some of this movie, The Battle Of The Five Armies, was shot four years ago because we shot all three Hobbit films together, so it is a relief to get it finished and get it out there for people to see," he says.

It opens in Singapore tomorrow.

Every time Jackson makes a film, he notes, he suffers terrible nightmares.

"The first day I start shooting, I have a recurring nightmare every single night," he concedes. "I'm lying in bed and there's a film crew surrounding the bed, waiting for me to tell them what to do.

"And yet I don't quite know what movie I'm actually making; I'm not sure. I don't even think there's a script and they are all there, wanting information from me. I'm tired, I'm exhausted and I can barely think straight.

"This is the truth: That nightmare starts every night, on the first day of shooting, and goes on until the last day of shooting. Then it stops. It's hell, but it does stop."

He is not quite finished with Middle Earth just yet - there is still the extended cut of the most recent movie that he is working on for the DVD release later next year - but the weight of responsibility has been lifted and the nightmares are definitely over.

"Any film has responsibilities because you're spending money that's not yours and so you've got to be responsible for that," he says. "I also feel very responsible for the fact that you're trying to entertain people and, for me, a failure is to make a film that people pay their money to go see and they don't like."

There are not many who dislike his J.R.R. Tolkien films. The films proved a huge critical success, with the final film in his Lord Of The Rings trilogy, The Return Of The King, earning him three Oscars in 2004 (for Best Picture, Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay).

Between them, the five Middle Earth films released to date have earned a staggering US$4.9 billion (S$6.4 billion) at the worldwide box office, not counting the vast sales on Blu-ray and DVD.

"I'm sure there are people who have seen these films and don't like them," he says with a smile, "but the majority of people have gone and enjoyed them, which, for me, is why we do what we do.

"We've gone full circle," he adds. "It feels like we've finished a big job and it's time to move on. I don't have a big sentimentality. I'm very happy with what we've done and I move on fairly easily."

In truth, he has to move on: Jackson admits he could not adapt another Tolkien book even if he so desired. "The Tolkien estate owns the writings," he clarifies. "The film rights for The Hobbit and The Lord Of The Rings were sold by Professor Tolkien in the late 1960s, but they were the only two works of his that have ever been sold. So without the cooperation of the Tolkien estate, there can't be more films."

As fans come to terms with that fact, they can at least take solace from knowing that Jackson regards his newest Hobbit movie as the trilogy's darkest and most emotionally complex piece, as it ties up intertwining storylines and sets the scene for what is to unfold in Middle Earth during The Lord Of The Rings.

"There is a lot of suspense and tension, triumph as well as tragedy, as the various agendas and personal conflicts between the characters come to a head," he says of his latest film.

Filmgoers see the mighty dragon Smaug attack Lake-town and witness Bard the Bowman (played by Luke Evans) claim his destiny and emerge as a leader among men, carrying his folk back to the ruined town of Dale.

The would-be King Under The Mountain, Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage), is beset by Dragon Sickness and comes into conflict with stout- hearted hobbit Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), while the trio of elves, Legolas (Orlando Bloom), Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly) and Thranduil (Lee Pace), seek to resolve their dispute.

Huge armies of orcs are on the move and among the heroes, there is love and loss. In addition, as the title relates, there is a bristling clash of swords.

Indeed, the latest movie is the most violent of all The Hobbit films, bringing together a storm of warriors who slug it out on the plains of Erebor which, as Tolkien devotees will know, stand as a strategically important zone in the realm of Middle Earth.

"Everything we've seen - who these characters are, what each of them is fighting for - leads to this moment," says Jackson of the climactic battle. "I think this is the most powerful and emotional of the three Hobbit films."

The film also sets the stage for the Middle Earth that audiences will encounter 60 years into its future with the opening refrains of The Fellowship Of The Ring. "We come to understand how Bilbo's adventure fits within the entire story and the true stakes of the Battle Of The Five Armies, not just for the characters, but for all of Middle Earth."

Jackson's co-adapter of the Tolkien material, screenwriter Philippa Boyens, points out that the new film explains the deep relationship between Gandalf (Ian McKellen) and Galadriel (Cate Blanchett), "so when she's told in The Fellowship Of The Ring that he has died, it's going to play completely differently".

When working through The Hobbit (1937) and The Lord Of The Rings (1954-55), Tolkien worked his way up, while Jackson and Boyens worked their way down. Boyens adds, however: "In many ways, The Hobbit films are better for us having gone through that experience making The Lord Of The Rings first and establishing the cast.

"It also gave us the broader canvas against which The Hobbit films unfold," she continues, "and a deeper understanding of how this little adventure leads directly into that vast, world- changing mythology that informs The Lord Of The Rings films."

The film-makers believe that people are probably three or four years away from the generation that will see the six movies in the correct story order.

"Children that are three or four years old now are too young to see these films," Jackson explains. "But in a few years, they'll be able to start to see them and, hopefully, they'll see them from The Hobbit 1 through to The Return Of The King. It'll exist as the six-film story that it should be.

"Seventeen years ago, we made a pitch to producer Harvey Weinstein," he continues. "We said, 'If you can get us the rights to these books, we'd like to make The Hobbit as one film and, if it's successful, we'd then like to do The Lord Of The Rings as two movies back to back and release them six months apart.'

"That was the big grand plan. And now, 17 years later, it's become six movies, where we made them the wrong way around. It's all been very weird and unpredictable and beyond our control. It was circumstances and fate.

"The one thing I'm very proud of," he adds, "is that when people do see the six films as a series, in the right order, they'll sort of sense that there was some vague design behind it all. As chaotic as it was in the order being changed around, there is a lot of stuff in The Hobbit that we planted that is designed so that when you view it in order, it makes sense."

Orlando Bloom - who, along with McKellen, Blanchett and Hugo Weaving, features in both trilogies - believes the weaving together of The Hobbit and The Lord Of The Rings is one of Jackson's greatest achievements.

The English actor was 21 years old when he began work on The Fellowship Of The Ring. He is now 37. "It was made very clear to me by Peter that he wanted to explore the backstory," he says of his casting in The Hobbit films. "I was worried that fans would be upset because Legolas is not in the original Hobbit book.

"But Peter wanted to tie the films in and make him a connection point for The Lord Of The Rings and that was one of the things in this movie that worked really well."

Given the reaction around the world so far, the vast majority of critics concur.

Now it is up to the cinema-going public to decide whether they agree.

Jackson, meanwhile, is off to the beach.

stlife@sph.com.sg

The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies opens tomorrow.