The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (2014) / Fantasy-Action
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for extended sequences of intense fantasy action violence, and frightening images
Running Time: 144 min.
Cast: Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, Luke Evans, Lee Pace, Evangeline Lilly, Ian McKellen, Orlando Bloom, Aidan Turner, Benedict Cumberbatch (voice), Manu Bennett (voice), Billy Connolly, Cate Blanchett
Small role: Christopher Lee, Hugo Weaving, Stephen Fry, Ian Holm
Director: Peter Jackson
Screenplay: Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson, Guillermo del Toro
Review published December 17, 2014
This is the one that finally broke me.
J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Hobbit" has the secondary title of "There and Back Again", which certainly rang true for many readers, who enjoy going back to the wonderful lands in Middle Earth, sometimes re-reading it as soon as the story finishes. Peter Jackson's (The Desolation of Smaug, An Unexpected Journey) version should have the secondary title, "Been There, Done That", as he's not only revisiting many of the same tropes that made his original Lord of the Rings trilogy a gargantuan success among films, but also viewers will likely watch these movies once and are content to close out the chapter without giving them any second thought.
While audiences have been largely split regarding the relative worth of Peter Jackson's three-movie adaptation of Tolkien's masterwork, I've been mostly on board, even though I wholeheartedly acknowledge some missteps, like introducing new characters that neither enhance the original storyline nor are interesting to follow on their own. Jackson goes all out to try to deliver the most epic, most prolonged battle sequences in any of the six films set in Middle Earth, but in so doing, he's lost sight of what Tolkien's book is supposed to be about. While the battle scenes can only be viewed as impressive from a visual standpoint, where the film finally shows its fatal flaw is in the utter lack of emotional grip, as characters live, love and die, and yet no tears are shed among a viewing audience despite following these hearty heroes for over eight total hours of film time.
This isn't a children's story, it's a machine, constructed to deliver blow-your-socks-off moments throughout. Yes, it's really cool to see Smaug (Cumberbatch, Penguins of Madagascar) destroy Lake-town, but it's also so rife with CGI that it looks more like a well-made video game than an honest-to-goodness real-life tale of fright and might. After that huge opening battle, we find Thorin Oakenshield (Armitage, Into the Storm) set to claim his rightful place in the dwarven throne at the Lonely Mountain, though his loyal band become unsettled to discover that the massive treasure they've gained is rapidly corrupting their leader. Looking to gain compensation for their part in helping Thorin and clan, the people of Lake-town and the Elves of Rivendale come to claim their relatively modest piece of the pie, only to get a cold shoulder and a threat of all out war. Meanwhile, the battle may become inevitable when Azog and his evil army of Orcs and Goblins enter the scene, leaving lowly Bilbo Baggins (Freeman, The World's End) and trusty mentor Gandalf (McKellen, X-Men: Days of Future Past) to try to finagle peace out of what could be the end of Middle Earth as they know it.
Other than as sheer spectacle, there's not a great deal to hold one's interest in the events of The Battle of the Five Armies. Certainly it isn't because it's a fitting ending to the journey of Bilbo, as he's not even involved in the majority of this film, instead taking a back seat to a host of characters that are either greatly beefed up from their small supporting roles in the original Tolkien work, or, as in the case of lovelorn wood elf Tauriel (Lilly, The Long Weekend) and handsome dwarf Kili (Turner, The Mortal Instruments), complete fabrications injected to put in a love story for, presumably, the young female set. That romance ends up being a complete wash, as we have no rooting interest in seeing whether they consummate their nearly socially taboo stirrings. However, their distraction pales in comparison to the beefed up role for another fictitious character, Bard's (Evans, Dracula: The Untold Story) servant Alfrid (Gage, Hamlet), who is meant to be the film's comic relief, but ends up being so broad and overbearing, you'll long to find him beheaded and skewered on the end of an Orc's spear after just the first of a dozen intolerable scenes in which he appears.
The real problem here is that Jackson bolsters up the five armies battle, which is a mere one chapter in the Tolkien book, to such an extent that it dwarfs (no pun intended) the entire storyline with the main nemesis of the book, Smaug, and nearly suffocates the significance of Bilbo to just a minor manipulator of events. Jackson appears to be straining to turn "The Hobbit"'s final chapters into something that rivals The Return of the King's, but it's just not the nature of the beast, no matter how hard he tries to shoehorn it in. It's just not the same build-up, the situations aren't as dire, and whatever emotional content we might bestow upon the story arcs of Thorin and Bilbo feel like chicken-feed compared to those who've been injected into the piece to supposedly give some resonance. It's a gamble that certainly has backfired.
I consider Tolkien's modest, 300-page epic to be one of the highlights of my reading experience as a child (I read it twice in a row), but I don't even want to claim this as the same property. Jackson's The Hobbit trilogy is half Tolkien, half his own fan-fiction, and in that regard, it's only half decent in execution (can you guess which half?) While I wouldn't mind playing with some of these side characters and superfluous plotlines in a video game, as an adaptation of a beloved work that has enchanted many millions of readers, young and old, I'm left longing for a different kind of fan film -- the inevitable one in which someone edits out all of the stuff not from the writings of Tolkien -- and makes it the movie it always should have been from inception.
©2014 Vince Leom>