Bloated fan service and CGI in Peter Jackson’s final Hobbit film
The end of the Middle-earth prequel trilogy is visually striking but substantially lacking
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies
Directed by Peter Jackson
Starring Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, Evangeline Lilly, and Lee Pace
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, has sucked up over $700 million in global box offices, if only because the film is director Peter Jackson’s final trip to Middle-earth. But the movie, despite its expectedly breathtaking cinematography, is a mediocre lobster roll — there’s not much meat and quite a lot of filler.
The film begins immediately where the previous one left off — that is, the irked dragon Smaug is taking out his fiery anger on the hapless village of Laketown. Smaug, voiced convincingly by Benedict Cumberbatch, was the highlight of the previous movie in the Hobbit trilogy, but he lasts all of five minutes before Bard the Bowman (Luke Evans) manages to bring him down.
Meanwhile, the main troupe, composed of Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), dwarf leader Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage), and a gruff band of 12 dwarf companions, is holed up with an immense pile of treasure. Thus begins Thorin’s slow, irritating descent into “dragon-sickness,” in which his greed for gold starts to degrade his usual honorable and brave self. Yet his character change is simply outrageous, resulting in behavior that’s more childish and comical than psychologically disturbing. He finally regains his senses in a trippy gold-induced epiphany, and he and his buddies rejoin the battle, but it’s difficult to sympathize with the protagonist after he spends half the movie acting like a spoiled brat in a candy shop. There’s also no shortage of sloppy dialogue and bad character development, such as that of the boorish and stereotypically Scottish cousin of Thorin’s, Dain Ironfoot (Billy Connolly).
Anyone who’s seen this movie could sum it up as action sequence after action sequence, interspersed with leaders mustering their armies in preparation for more action sequences. The central battle and smaller skirmishes between elves, dwarves, men, and orcs, which fill up much of the aching 144-minute run time, are numbingly drawn out in predictable fashion – if you’re looking for something remotely suspenseful, this movie will disappoint. The romance of the she-elf Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly) and dwarf Kili (Aidan Turner) was not present in the J.R.R Tolkien book, and it should have been left out of the movie. The conclusion to their love story seems like a sideshow, or rather a failed attempt to bring emotional depth to a movie that lacks it.
Speaking of sideshows, Bilbo is mainly relegated to a minor role in a movie in which he is supposed to be the central character. During the climactic battle, he really doesn’t have much to do; you don’t really notice him all that much until the conclusion of the movie, when he’s the only character in the shot.
Granted, there are some bright spots in this steaming mess. Orlando Bloom, as elf-prince Legolas, has some genuinely entertaining scenes as he prances around with his bow and arrow, eventually facing off against the orc Bolg in an impressive display of elven athleticism. And of course, the cinematography is stunning, although seeing only one of the three Hobbit films would give most moviegoers their fill of Middle-earth special effects.
I have conflicted feelings over one of Battle of the Five Armies’ most intense scenes, in which Lady Galadriel (Cate Blanchett), Saruman the White (Christopher Lee), and Elrond (Hugo Weaving) go to save the wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen), who has been imprisoned by the dark lord Sauron. In the hauntingly beautiful fortress of Dol Guldur, the White Council battle Sauron’s ghostly minions, and it’s refreshing to see the 92-year-old Lee swing his staff with gusto. But the whole sequence, which turns strange and psychedelic near the end, seems too much like unnecessary fan service. Normally, putting those four actors on the screen together would be mouthwatering, but it feels forced in this instance.
Be confident that Peter Jackson won’t get his hands on the rights to any more J.R.R. Tolkien works. The Tolkien estate is in a feud with Warner Bros and is unlikely to ever give up more film rights. Tolkien’s youngest son, Christopher, who edited his father’s works after his death, summed up his scornful stance to Le Monde in 2012: “The chasm between the beauty and seriousness of the work and what it has become has overwhelmed me. The commercialisation has reduced the aesthetic and philosophical impact of the creation to nothing. There is only one solution for me: to turn my head away.”
So much for The Silmarillion, then. Perhaps it’s for the better. Perhaps it would be best to step away from Middle-earth for a while, before Tolkien’s legacy devolves further into the fodder of Hollywood marketing.