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Hobbit, The: The Battle of the Five Armies
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by Peter Sobczynski

"Are We Out Of The Shire Yet?"
2 stars

As long-time readers have no doubt heard me pontificate about before at excruciating length, I have a general aversion to most medieval fantasies involving elves, pixies, sprites, broadswords, dragons (especially those of the talking variety) and other such accoutrements of the genre. Even when an example comes along that I am able to embrace on some level, as was the case with the "Lord of the Rings" films and "Game of Thrones," there is still something about the genre in general that keeps me at a distance and prevents me from embracing them as fully as their most rabid fans do. And yet, I felt a certain degree of elation while heading into the theatre for the screening of "The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies," the concluding chapter of Peter Jackson's ridiculously elongated adaptation of JRR Tolkien's relatively slim predecessor to his "Lord of the Rings" trilogy. This sense of anticipation was not due to any sense of love for the film's predecessors--I found both "The Unexpected Journey" and "The Desolation of Smaug" to be bloated nightmares that found him stretching a thin narrative to unconscionable lengths for no obvious reason other than to milk the property for every possible cent. No, this anticipatory delight was due almost entirely to the realization that not only would the story finally have to find some focus in order to get to its conclusion but once the end credits finished rolling, it meant that I would almost certainly no longer be professionally required to give a damn about orcs, white wizards, walking trees and those goddamn talking dragons ever again. (Any smart-ass out there who even thinks of mentioning the title "The Silmarillion" is going to get SUCH a pinch.)

Of course, that sort of elation can only last so long and at some point, the film itself has to start working on its own terms and this is where "The Battle of the Five Armies" gets into trouble. It does have a couple of genuinely thrilling moments here and there and the entire enterprise is more propulsive that the first two chapters, both of which suffered from long periods in which the story appeared to be treading water in order to blimp out the running time and justify the three-part presentation of material that could have easily been condensed into a single film. And yet, the film still suffers from the problems that befall the earlier editions in that it goes on for far too long, the story is far too thing to support the weight of the superproduction surrounding it and, most importantly, the sense of magic that helped drive Jackson's "Lord of the Rings" is once again nowhere to be found, replaced by a certain cynicism on Jackson's part that he can simply throw tons of anonymous CGI creations at the screen and audiences will still come out in droves to watch them. In other words, this may be the best of the three "Hobbit" movies but that still doesn't make it a particularly good movie by any stretch of the imagination--imagination, ironically, being one of the few things not on display here.

Picking up where the last one left off, the film begins with malevolent talking dragon Smaug (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch) leaving his gold-filled stronghold in the abandoned mountaintop castle of Erebor to unleash his patented brand of hellfire upon the denizens of Lake-Town for giving aid to Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) and his band of dwarves in their quest to reclaim the treasure for themselves. While the leaders attempt to flee with the town treasury while leaving the citizenry to be burned to a crisp, a mighty battle is waged and Bard (Luke Evans) manages to bring Smaug down for good with a well-place arrow. This sequence is arguably the best bit of sustained filmmaking in the entire "Hobbit" trilogy in the way that it mixes elaborate special effects, breathless pacing and welcome bits of humor. While watching it, I found myself thinking back to the equally elaborate opening to "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom" is terms of its combination of action, humor and spectacle. Of course, that sequence was the best part of "Temple of Doom" and a highpoint that, with the possible exception of the mine chase, it never came close to approaching again and that, I fear, is once again the case here.

With Smaug defeated, the other dwarves arrive at Erebor and their leader, Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage), quickly finds himself succumbing to the allure of the gold and quickly turns into a more hirsute Captain Queeg while demanding that the others find the lost ring that will signify his place as the new ruler of his people. Once word gets out that Erebor is safe, a legion of elves and and the refugees from Lake-Town soon arrive in order to take shelter and to take possession of the shares of the treasure that they are owed as well. Oddly enough, Thorin doesn't take too kindly to people who expect him to live up to his agreements and not only refuses to part with a single piece of gold but calls in his own army of dwarves to back him up. Eventually Gandalf (Sir Ian McKellan) arrives to try to defuse the situation but his efforts fail and the dwarves, elves and Lake-Town citizens are all poised to do battle. What they do not realize is that the evil Sauron, who desires Erebor and its gold as well, is planning to take advantage by sending in two armies of orcs and assorted other creatures to wipe all of them out and take over all of Middle Earth once and for all.

This all leads up to the titular battle that takes up at least an hour of screen time and let me just say that there are many ways to hack, slash and skewer a dwarf while still managing to retain a PG-13 rating and "The Battle of the Five Armies" displays pretty much every single one. For the hard-core fanatics of this particular saga--such people must exist somewhere--this may be a battle royale for the middle ages but for those not quite as heavily invested in the story, this sequence allows time for them to reflect on all of the enormous flaws on display. For starters, having invested so much in the journey, both literal and metaphorical, of Bilbo Baggins in the first two films, he is basically reduced to a side character this time around who only rarely gets the spotlight. Instead, we are meant to be moved and interested in the transition of Thorin from benevolent dwarf to a man driven to madness by his newly-awakened lust for gold but even if the character was interesting, which he isn't, it is a little late in the proceedings to suddenly make him the focus. (The irony of the notion of making a film about a once-benevolent figure driven to madness and willing to sacrifice his loyal followers in the pursuit of enormous wealth does not appear to have dawned on Jackson at all, in case you were wondering.) Then there is all the stuff involving the elf Tauriel (Evangeline Lily), the character that Jackson and co-writers Fran Walsh, Philippia Boyens and Guillermo del Toro invented for the story in order to prevent it from being a Vienna sausage fest (and yes, I used that joke the last time around) and presumably meant to bring a bit of tragic romance to the proceedings via her thwarted love for dwarf Kili (Aidan Turner)--none of this stuff works and it all feels awkwardly jammed into the proceedings. Then again, none of the characters make much of an impact--certainly not to the degree that they did in the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy and therefore, once they are launched into their final life-or-death struggle during the interminable final battle, it is impossible to give a damn about whether any of them live or die. And, as was the case with "Return of the King," Jackson doesn't know when to leave well enough alone and allows the proceedings to continue on with one finale after another until even the most ardent fans may find themselves wishing that he would just wrap it up.

Then again, I guess it makes sense that "The Battle of the Five Armies" would have feature one unnecessary addendum after another following its natural climax since the whole goddamn movie is one long and unnecessary addendum to the story following its natural climax. Ever since it was announced that Jackson was stretching Tolkien's relatively slim book into three three-hour films, there have been complaints that he was unnecessarily bloating out a story that could have easily been summarized in its entirety in one three-hour narrative and now that the saga is over, it is now painfully obvious that this was the case after all. Aside from the opening Smaug sequence, which theoretically could have served as the conclusion of the previous film, there is absolutely nothing to this film that is particularly vital to the story as a whole. Hell, even the disbursement of the gold, the thing that inspires the damn battle in the first place, winds up getting shunted to the side in order to make room for more mayhem and more endings. Perhaps now that it is all over, some enterprising person will do a recut that boils the three films into the single unit that they rightfully should have been in the first place. Of course, that would require someone to sit through all three of them again and frankly, I wouldn't wish that on anyone at this point.

As I said, "The Battle of the Five Armies" is probably the best of the three "Hobbit" movies, if only because of the thrilling opening sequence and the kick-ass cameo from Christopher Lee, an actor whose sheer force of personality can cut through any CGI fog, as Saurman. Alas, even the best moments here barely manage to equal the weakest ones on display in the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy. In essence, this film is sort of like the "Revenge of the Sith" of the "Hobbit" films in that it provides a little more of the lift that was completely lacking in the earlier films without ever living up to the promise of the original saga. The one true bright side is that now that it is all over, perhaps Peter Jackson can get back to becoming the wildly inventive filmmaker that he used to be in the days before he fell under the spell of the ring. Whether he has the chops and drive to pull it off is a question that is far more gripping and interesting than anything to be found on the screen here.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=25958&reviewer=389
originally posted: 12/16/14 16:54:08
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User Comments

3/02/15 john lasseter why jackson? your make LOTR as the best film ever made! but this? 2 stars
12/24/14 PAUL SHORTT Peter Jackson is a tosser 1 stars
12/20/14 action movie fan battle is dull especiaaly compared to the lord of the rings trilogy=for fans only 2 stars
12/20/14 KingNeutron Jackson sitting on laurels again, poor SFX and pacing 3 stars
12/17/14 Bob Dog One short inconsequential chapter stretched out for hours. Yeah it's crap alright! 1 stars
12/16/14 teddy crescendo All The Hobbit movies are unwatchable horse-shit. 1 stars
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  17-Dec-2014 (PG-13)
  DVD: 24-Mar-2015


  DVD: 24-Mar-2015

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