Screened Out – The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies

By : Stephen Miller
Comments: 0

Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Richard Armitage, Lee Pace, Orlando Bloom, Evangeline Lily, Aidan Turner, Luke Evans, Cate Blanchett, Christopher Lee, Billy Connolly

Eleven years ago, Peter Jackson did a sound job making J.R.R. Tolkien’s beloved Lord of the Rings into a thrilling epic – sprawling and yet still focused on character. Arguably, The Hobbit should have been easier; the story is shorter and less complex. Instead, Jackson hasn’t been able to make this trilogy very compelling at all.

The main problem is that Jackson continually loses his protagonist, the diminutive hobbit Bilbo Baggins (Freeman). Bilbo should’ve started out as a scared little guy who learns the powers and dangers of adventure, who gains some life-changing experience. Instead, he is sprinkled throughout the films. This last film is just prolonged, gory battles barely broken up by comic and dramatic bits. There are a lot of bombastic speeches, but Jackson gives us little reason to care.

Mostly, all three Hobbit films are just set-ups for LotR. The wizard Gandalf (McKellen) has convinced Bilboa and 13 dwarves to recapture their rich mountain kingdom. First, they must wrest it and its piles of gold from a dragon (voiced by Cumberbatch). Then they must defend their kingdom from humans, elves, and orcs who want either its military position or its treasure. The problem is that the quest has made the dwarf king (Armitage) seemingly mad.

Any LotR fan can tell you where this leads. Somewhere out there, the shadow of the evil lord Sauron is reasserting his power. Someday, to destroy the all-powerful ring, the brave Fellowship will have to pass through this dwarf kingdom. Another hobbit and his three friends will prove immeasurable bravery, and a human king will emerge to take over leadership of the lands.

Even gay hero Sir Ian McKellan suffers under a chopped-up story and extensive battles.

Even gay hero Sir Ian McKellen suffers under a chopped-up story and extensive battles.

In these prequels, there are several problems, starting with too many people we are never pushed to care about. The Hobbit has 12 dwarves, and many of them are barely caricatures, less discernable than Snow White’s gang. Jackson even introduces new characters to make this a little more emotionally engaging. I still wonder why Jackson’s script didn’t focus more on Bilbo, especially since Freeman’s portrayal is actually wonderful.

The battles are elaborate and bloody, for sure. Jackson and his Wingnut Productions have definitely raised the bar on filming massive armies using multiple camera and computer animation tricks. However, it seems we’ve seen all that Jackson can do – nothing here is new. These fights are incredibly protracted; in fact, this film only feels like two very long wars, where characters are shoved to the side for swordfights and bloodshed.

Ratings Key

See it now! Buy the DVD! Quote lines at parties!

Definitely worth the price of admission

It’s useful as a distraction

Maybe if someone else pays and you need a nap

Slightly worse than eternal damnation

Freeman plays humble and spry so well – bringing such energy to his scenes – that it’s sad that his character really hasn’t had an arc over the last three films. The added story of an elf (Lily) falling in love with a dwarf (Turner) is a mix of heft and cliché. Armitage vacillates between sane to mad without much exploration as to why he changes.

In short (Ha! A hobbit joke!), the LotR journey was exhilarating. To borrow from Shakespeare, these three Hobbit films are all sound and fury signifying nothing.

Share this story: