Saturday, November 21, 2015

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (2014) **

This final installation of Peter Jackson's Hobbit trilogy represents one of the worst anticlimaxes I have seen in years. Make no mistake, the first two films in the series, “An Unexpected Journey” and “The Desolation of Smaug” had their share of faults. In attempting to stretch the single novel The Hobbit into a trilogy of films, Jackson had to put in a fair share of fluff. Action sequences get stretched out interminably, with a numbing array of special effects that morph from spectacular to boring as they drag on. It's the same with the battle scenes, in which orcs and goblins get killed by the thousands, yet the main characters never seem to get touched. In truth, the original “Lord of the Rings” series had this problem, too, but with them, the ratio of epic cool to cheesy was pretty high. That ratio is considerably lower in the first two “Hobbit” films, but those movies were still cool enough to keep me interested. In “The Battle of the Five Armies,” the cheese finally overtakes the cool.

The first two films established the tale of Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), a hobbit who joins a company of dwarves who are trying to reclaim their ancestral, mountain fortress and treasure from a dragon named Smaug. Led by the dwarf king, Thorin Oakenshield, the group treks across Middle Earth, getting into various scrapes involving spiders, elves, orcs, trolls, and goblins. During one of these adventures, Bilbo gets his magical ring, which will go on to feature in the “Lord of the Rings” series. Despite his small size, Bilbo proves his worth, helping the dwarves get to their mountain. He sneaks in and confronts Smaug, enraging the dragon so much that the beast stirs from his pile of treasure for the first time in years.

This is where “The Battle of the Five Armies” picks up, with Smaug destroying the nearby Lake Town while Thorin and his dwarves slip into the mountain to regard their ancestral treasure. It's pretty ridiculous. The gold and precious stones are piled so high you could drown in them. According to the law of supply and demand, anything in such profusion can hardly be termed treasure. Nonetheless,Thorin gets infected with gold madness, jealous of every coin and stone as he feverishly searches the piles of loot for the main prize, the Arkenstone, the ancestral gemstone held by dwarfen kings. As he searches for his stone, he ignores the cold, hungry survivors from Lake Town massed outside his walls, and he forgets that he had promised them a share of the treasure. Then an elf army shows up, looking for a piece of the action, and Thorin has to send a call for dwarf backup. When a couple of orc armies join the fray, you have your five armies.

Epic battle, right? Meh. Including the “Lord of the Rings” films, this is Peter Jackson's sixth movie about Middle Earth, and he has mastered the art of CGI hordes clashing bloodlessly. From endless repetition, his spectacles have lost the power to hold my attention. As humans used swords to kill armored orcs twice their size by the hundreds, I grew bored. In the first two “Hobbit” films, there was just enough plot and character development to hold my attention. These things are lacking in “The Battle of the Five Armies,” leaving us with meaningless, endless action sequences.

Jackson himself admits on the DVD (detailed in this article)  that his “Hobbit” trilogy is basically a mess. It's a shame, because The Hobbit is a charming little piece of storytelling. If Jackson had simply turned the single book into a single film, and if he had maintained the lighter tone of the book rather than adopting the darker, apocalyptic tones of the “Lord of the Rings” series, we would be a happier audience.

2 stars out of 5

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