The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies
by Hope Madden
This Christmas, Peter Jackson gives us the gift of his final trip to Middle Earth with The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (or Enough Already).
I went reluctantly to LOTR: Fellowship of the Ring back in 2001. I am not a big fan of fantasy and was never able to make it through one of Tolkien’s epics as a kid, so a cinematic adaptation held no interest. But I did go, and immediately celebrated that decision.
Peter Jackson (previously know to me solely for splatter-gore comedies) had such a facility for the landscape and heart of these Middle Earth sagas that I was immediately beguiled. And while by hour 4 of the third installment I had wearied of this first trilogy a bit, still I marveled at the accomplishment. Jackson and his versatile cast had carved out genuine characters, which made the peril and adventure all the more absorbing. The fact that Jackson’s native New Zealand lent an authentic backdrop to the derring do completed the fantasy.
The Hobbit has become a tougher slog. Though Martin Freeman continues to be a joy as Master Burglar Bilbo Baggins, the balance of the cast struggles to find dimension for their characters, and Jackson falls back far too often on swelling strings, dramatic lighting and lengthy, ponderous shots to emphasize drama.
What drama? Well, the dragon Smaug (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch) flies toward innocent Laketown to unleash his fiery fury; meanwhile Thorin Oakenshield (of the Glorious Mane Oakenshields) (Richard Armitage) begins his descent into madness, victim of the Dragon Sickness. Unbeknownst to him and his band of wee warriors, Azog the Defiler (now that is an awesome name) leads Orc armies to claim the mountain Smaug just vacated. Plus some fairies have grievances.
Unfortunately, the most interesting character is done away with before the opening credits, and though the film boasts almost constant action, it fails to hold attention.
Jackson’s first trilogy worked as well as it did because he managed to ground the high fantasy in something authentic. His second go at Tolkien abandons authenticity, creating stagey sets and falling back on theatrical performance and uncharacteristically so-so CGI. The late-film nods to the LOTR films only serve as reminders of that trilogy’s superiority. It’s time to ramble on.