Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Movie Review: The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies
Directed by: Peter Jackson.
Written by: Fran Walsh & Philippa Boyens & Peter Jackson & Guillermo del Toro based on the book by J.R.R. Tolkien.
Starring: Martin Freeman (Bilbo Baggins), Ian McKellen (Gandalf), Richard Armitage (Thorin), Ken Stott (Balin), Graham McTavish (Dwalin), William Kircher (Bifur), James Nesbitt (Bofur), Stephen Hunter (Bombur), Dean O'Gorman (Fili), Aidan Turner (Kili), John Callen (Oin), Peter Hambleton (Gloin), Jed Brophy (Nori), Mark Hadlow (Dori), Adam Brown (Ori), Orlando Bloom (Legolas), Evangeline Lilly (Tauriel), Lee Pace (Thranduil), Cate Blanchett (Galadriel), Hugo Weaving (Elrond), Christopher Lee (Saruman), Ian Holm (Old Bilbo), Mikael Persbrandt (Beorn), Sylvester McCoy (Radagast), Luke Evans (Bard), Stephen Fry (Master of Laketown), Ryan Gage (Alfrid), John Bell  (Bain), Peggy Nesbitt (Sigrid), Mary Nesbitt (Tilda), Manu Bennett (Azog), John Tui (Bolg), Benedict Cumberbatch (Smaug / Necromancer), Billy Connolly (Dain).

After three films in three years, running just under 8 hours combined, Peter Jackson’s adaptation of The Hobbit finally comes to an end. There is no denying that this trilogy has not been as satisfying as Jackson`s previous Tolkien movies – The Lord of the Rings – was. But perhaps some have been a little too hard on these movies as well. Yes, they are ridiculous drawn out – taking  story that probably could have been told in one three, perhaps four hour movie, and making every scene last a little too long. Yet, watching all three of the movies in recent weeks – after a first rewatch of The Lord of the Rings trilogy in years – I have to say that in many ways the Hobbit are close to the quality of The Lord of the Rings movies. Jackson is still an expert at using special effects, and he still directs large scale action sequences well – with none of that kind of rapid fire editing that mars Michael Bay movies. And the Middle Earth Jackson and his collaborators have created is a nice place to spend a few hours each year. I’m not saying that this story needed anywhere near the treatment that Jackson has given it – I think the movies could be a hell of a lot better if there was a hell of lot less of them. Still though, I`m going to miss this cinematic universe.

The third Hobbit movie, The Battle of the Five Armies, is basically a two and half hour epilogue to the first two films. The previous installments have spent a lot of time talking about Smaug – the dragon who sleeps atop the Dwarves treasure in The Lonely Mountain that they need to enter if Thorin (Richard Armitage) is to regain his rightful throne. The last movie ended with Bilbo and the Dwarves awakening Smaug, who isn’t happy about it, and who is on his way to Lake Town to show just how unhappy he is. The ending of that movie led us to believe that the third was going to be all about Smaug, and the effort to take him down – but that`s over even before the subtitle of the movie appears on screen. What this movie is really about is the battle for the treasure of the Lonely Mountain. The Dwarves now have control, but Thorin has started to go slightly insane – he cannot find the Arkin Stone, which he needs to lead. He also will not honor his deal with people of Lake Town, who have lost everything. He has also angered the Elves, who want jewels that they say belong to them. And of course the Orcs are still coming. All of them – plus others – will eventually clash.

There isn’t much story in this third Hobbit movie. It basically covers only about fifty pages of the actual novel. Thorin seems to be slightly schizophrenic at times here – which they explain away as `Dragon Sickness`- but I was more confused by the fact that Bilbo seems to admire and love Thorin as a great man – since Thorin has basically screamed at him for three movies now. I was also somewhat disappointed that the movie called The Hobbit that Martin Freemans Bilbo seems to get lost in the shuffle through much of the movie. He basically only has one key thing to do in the plot – which he does about half way through – and then he’s just kind of there for the rest of it.

There is a lot to admire about the film though. Jackson has always been at his best in these films filming large scale battles – and the film ends with one of the biggest in all of his Tolkien films. There are multiple battles going on, on multiple fronts, but Jackson is skilled at cutting back and forth to all of them so nothing gets lost. Like everything else in The Hobbit movies, it goes on for far too long, but hell it’s well done.

Looking back over the three Hobbit movies, I think it’s safe to say that taken together they are far better than they are as individual movies. Unlike the three Lord of the Rings films, they don’t really work very well on their own. The first film just kind of ended just as things were getting warmed up. The second film had a similar problem – not ending at a natural point, but rather trying to do a TV season finale like cliff-hanger. The third film disappoints in fulfilling the promise of that cliff-hanger – and basically doesn’t have any real arch at all. Taken as a single work however, the films are bloated, sure, but they`re also well made, well-acted and entertaining. After watching all six of Jackson’s films in recent weeks, I think that while the Lord of the Rings movies are undeniably better, The Hobbit films are worthy companions to the earlier series.

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