The Hobbit, the novel by JRR Tolkien is seven chapters long and a little over 300 pages. That’s the exact amount of book—give or take some appendices—that Peter Jackson has managed to pad, stretch, strain, bloat, expand, and exhaust in his final effort to get three long “epics” out of one generally quick read. The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies, is the last gasp of this needlessly trifurcated adaptation. When the first Hobbit movie came out, the adaptation JRR Tolkien’s novel and prequel to filmmaker Peter Jackson’s adaptation of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, I was cynical about the endeavor about it like most of us, but after some time I learned to enjoy it for what it was. Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy is a fantastic example of blockbuster movie making not to mention an exercise in the value of adaptation, and I didn’t really see the harm in hanging around the franchise a while longer, even without the benefits of characters I grew to love or an interesting story. The second Hobbit film, The Desolation of Smaug tested this good-natured theory a great deal. I haven’t seen it since that first viewing, and I cringe at the idea of trying. Nevertheless, I still felt that if this is something you’re into, you should feel lucky that commerce allowed Jackson to keep delivering hours upon hours of “Middle Earth” and sword & sorcery fantasy shenanigans. The final chapter, The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, however, broke me. Personally, it’s certainly one of the worst studio tent-poles in recent years, and now alongside the other entries in this bungled trilogy of error, it adds up to a movie franchise that elicits little more than a shrug & eye roll. I’m not sure if this one is technically better or worse than the last movie, but I do know neither of them are good as movies, let alone as Lord of the Rings fan-service. Maybe the first movie is a little okay, but these last two films are just huge bloated, poorly plotted and bafflingly executed trifles.
Following the cliffhanger from the previous installment, a band of dwarves have reclaimed their lost fortress and fortune following the defeat of the dragon hoarding them. Then the titular armies show up presumably to collect what they believe is their cut of the spoils. Maybe I’m unfamiliar with the lore of Tolkien and that made the film difficult to follow (which is a mortal sin in adaptive filmmaking) but I had trouble understanding how the “5” armies should be counted. Humans are one. Elves are two. Dwarves are three. Orcs are four. Five is the tricky one. Perhaps someone more familiar with the lore could correct me but they really shouldn’t have to, as films should be able to stand on their own as an independent experience.
Beyond being baffled at how much the film expected me to be pre-familiar with (beyond the previous films), most of the film felt somewhat half-baked or incomplete. So many characters are introduced and then promptly ignored. Nearly all of these scenes and even whole characters and narrative threads could have been completely excised from the film and it wouldn’t affect the core of the film (the titular battle) nor Jackson’s understandable yet unnecessary need to connect this trilogy with the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Maybe Jackson felt he had run out of material from the actual novel? However, no matter how many additions of old franchise friends, an “interspecies” romance, vengeful side character, there’s only so much of Jackson can make out of the last 100 pages (or less) of an all-ages novel before any sense of cohesion get’s lost under the bloat. What’s worse is that all of the extraneous material obfuscates the heart of the movie, making the experience close to incomprehensible at times. Don’t get me wrong: it’s easy to tell WHAT is happening in the film, the trouble comes when attempting to follow “WHY” anything is happening. Motivations and characterization change with the drop of a hat at best or are simply lost in the shuffle at worst. And it is not the fact that the film is essentially one big battle sequence that’s responsible for mixing up an otherwise simple picture, although that does not help the final product all that much either.
The action of this film is well below the incomprehensible festival of destruction most blockbusters strive towards. The filmmakers spent the beginning of this installment, and much of the previous entries to set up this massive battle then they trade it for strangely uncompelling and almost stake-less personal fights between two or more characters at a time. These fights go on forever (with perhaps one too many false climaxes) and block us from seeing what happens to the actual armies. And the cinematography reeks of computer-generated artifice. It’s all to clear that majority of the movie was constructed on computers and that’s a bad thing: actors have that weird “chroma key” aura surrounding their bodies (giving the impression that they were added into a scene via post production) and the virtual camera swooping through the sequences is so disconnected from the physics of actual camera work that it feels like watching someone else play a videogame w/ bad controls. However, the main issue with the action of the film is how disconnected it all feels. I get that Jackson wanted a more intimate look at our supposed main players, but any sort of resonant character arc or emotional connection to them was squandered prior to their “big moments.” Instead it reads as a strange choice considering the movie’s subtitle. When we view how much attention gets paid to the movie’s actual title subject (Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins, the titular Hobbit) maybe it’s to be expected.
It’s a shame really because I really did enjoy Freeman as the Hobbit and even some of the Dwarves such as Richard Armitage as their leader Thorin Oakensheild. The two of them were standouts as most of the performers were clearly uncomfortable acting in a largely digitally constructed back lot against non-existent creatures and extras. Other things I liked in the film were the creature design and world aesthetics. And there actually was an action sequence featuring a large group of old Lord of the Rings characters that was just ridiculous enough to be kind of funny. And the movie has an ending, which is already a +1 from the previous ones. For the most part, this whole endeavor is just too needless and bloated to justify the insufferable hours spent on it. The most insulting part is how little anything that happened in the film mattered either for any of the characters or the overall movie version of Tolkien’s lore.