Film and TV

Reviews for the Easily Distracted:
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

Title:The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies

Peter Jackson Is Done With Middle Earth, Right? So he says. Here's a little exercise in masochism for you: once BotFA is released on DVD, watch all six movies back to back (special editions, of course). That's probably close to 30 hours.

Rating Using Random Objects Relevant To The Film: Two-and-a-half Orson Beans out of five.

Brief Plot Synopsis: Short person tries to prevent war, mostly gets in the way. Like they do.

Tagline: "Witness the defining chapter of the Middle Earth saga."

Better Tagline: "What Would Legolas Surf?"

Not So Brief Plot Synopsis: Having defeated the dragon Smaug -- this happens in the first 15 minutes, so don't tarry in the concessions line, as they say -- Bard (Luke Evans) leads the survivors of a devastated Laketown to Erebor to see if Thorin (Richard Armitage) will keep his word and give them money to rebuild. Thorin, however, is growing increasingly paranoid thanks to something called "dragon sickness." Burglar Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) attempts to broker a truce, but peace appears unlikely, what with the pissed off elves, led by King Thranduil (Lee Pace), and *really* pissed off orcs converging on the scene. Oh, and an ancient foe is also ready to make his (re)appearance. I won't spoil anything, but his name rhymes with "Gowron."

"Critical" Analysis: Well, that's over.

The Lord of the Rings and Hobbit trilogies have offered moviegoers a unique opportunity to see the erosion of a film franchise in real time, as each successive entry demonstrated Peter Jackson's inability to contain the series' bloat or properly manage their scope. From The Two Towers on, fight scenes were unnecessarily stretched out, ancillary material was needlessly added, and every scene positively oozed with MAXIMUM DESTINY.

We mourned the (apparent) death of *a hedgehog* in An Unexpected Journey, for chrissakes.

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies is shorter than any of the other movies, so there's that. This isn't because Jackson has learned to trim the narrative fat, ha ha, but because the whole movie is pretty much one giant fight scene. The dragon eats it before the credits even roll, and after some dithering about whether or not the elves will storm the mountain along with the men of Laketown, Azog the Defiler (you take a dump in one swimming pool and you're branded for life) and his son Bolg show up, forcing all the non-orcs to unite and fight them.

And fight they do. Between the street fighting in Dale (the abandoned town at the foot of the mountain), the clash of dwarves and orcs (Billy Connolly's Dain Ironfoot is a high point) and the "this time it's personal" melee between ... let's see, Thorin, Legolas (Orlando Bloom), Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly), Bilbo, Dwalin, Fili, and Kili vs. Azog and Bolg, et. al., more or less the final hour of the movie is solid combat. On one hand, it's pretty exhausting. On the other, it helps disguise the lack of plot.

Given that Jackson has essentially fashioned the bulk of his film around events that took up six whole pages of J.R.R. Tolkien's book, he's naturally thrown in some supplementary material. Some concerns Alfrid (Ryan Gage), the sniveling aide-de-camp to the Master of Laketown who is inexplicably allowed to live despite his obvious weasel-ness and persistent endangering of women and children (and whose existence in these films serves absolutely no purpose). Some is just puzzling, like when the giant sandworms show up to bore tunnels for the orcs to launch their surprise attack. I was waiting/hoping for Azog to yell "ATOMICS!"

And some is just patently hilarious. I can't remember what made me finally zone out for good: Legolas surfing on a fucking bat, or the pitched battle between the Nazgul on one side and Galadriel, Elrond, Gandalf, and Radagast on the other. Apparently Jackson got so desperate for filler material he starting trolling Tolkien fanfic sites.

I'll allow that my Middle Earth fandom colors my perception of these movies somewhat, and also that I'm certainly in the minority (An Unexpected Journey grossed a billion dollars worldwide, and Desolation of Smaug nearly that much). You may not care about expanding a book that's adequate for about a week's worth of toilet reading into three 2+ hours movies, rabbit sleds, or any of the rest. What you *should* care about is when filmmakers and studios decide certain source material is insufficiently splashy for the big screen, which justifies any and all subsequent fuckery as they try to spruce it up.

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies is in theaters today. Pray that Peter Jackson doesn't tackle the Foundation series next.

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Peter Vonder Haar writes movie reviews for the Houston Press and the occasional book. The first three novels in the "Clarke & Clarke Mysteries" - Lucky Town, Point Blank, and Empty Sky - are out now.
Contact: Pete Vonder Haar