The last Hobbit film, The Battle of the Five Armies, is big on spectacle but short on any real drama, with the story’s climax already reached in the previous film.In the past, I’ve defended writer-director Peter Jackson’s decision to turn J.R.R. Tolkien’s compact children’s novel The Hobbit into an epic trilogy to rival his previous The Lord of the Rings adaptation. But as we reach the end of this long, long tale, there’s an undeniable sense of diminishing returns.
At the end of the second Hobbit film we already seemed to have arrived at the climax, with hobbit homebody Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) and his dwarf companions awakening the well-spoken yet fearsome dragon Smaug (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch), guard of the golden hoard that was the object of their quest.
Sad to say, Smaug bites the dust a short way into this final chapter. But there are still numerous subplots to be resolved, which Jackson and his co-writers have either elaborated from Tolkien’s hints or simply invented: the doomed romance between the elf Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly) and the dwarf Kili (Aidan Turner) or the would-be comic antics of the craven Alfrid Lickspittle (Ryan Gage).
The main trick of the book was to suggest the existence of a vast fantasy universe while remaining within Bilbo’s ground-level, childlike point of view. This is not a strategy Jackson follows: Freeman rarely has anything more to do than stand on the sidelines looking worried, letting the focus shift to characters with more obvious gravitas, such as dwarf leader Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) and human archer Bard the Bowman (Luke Evans).
Spectacle takes over from drama of any kind during the Battle of the Five Armies itself, which occupies roughly an hour of screen time, the camera swooping high above the battlefield as dwarfs, men, elves and orcs all converge in the valley at the foot of the Lonely Mountain – and yes, I know that sounds like only four armies but perhaps these arguments are best left to serious Tolkien buffs.
Certainly it’s easy to lose track in the midst of all the tumult, not to mention the touches of sheer absurdity, as when giant worms burst from the earth and a character actually mutters “Oh, come on!”
At such moments the film approaches the kind of delirium that, say, Tsui Hark can achieve on a fraction of the budget. For the most part, however, this is comfortably straightforward hokum – which is to say that Jackson, for all his delusions of grandeur, remains a bit of a hobbit at heart. SMH
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