Saturday, December 27, 2014

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

**1/2 out of ****

There’s a forgiving fan in me, who is simply happy to see familiar characters and places, when viewing a movie attached to a franchise, which I love. While watching The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies - Peter Jackson’s final entry in the Middle-Earth saga - I enjoyed myself in spite of the cold truth: The final film of the Hobbit trilogy confirms that it wasn’t worth the 8 ½ hours of material spread over three years of our lives to explore Middle Earth before Frodo would go on a quest to save it.

Throughout these three movies, I was faithful that even under the studio pressure to milk this series for every last drop, Jackson and Co. would conceive worthwhile expansions to this short children’s novel. While the conclusion of the main plot is satisfying and doesn’t drag (unlike the conclusion to the other trilogy), it turns out that nearly every subplot, distracting us from the journey of the title character, lacks a satisfying payoff.

The growing love between a young dwarf and a beautiful warrior elf lady; wizards searching for the Necromancer (aka Sauron); Bard’s leadership of the Laketown people and the demonic White Orc’s ill-fated mission to wipe out the dwarves –are all unnecessary additions which lead to boring exposition -and are the source of most of the film’s more tedious action scenes.

A great amount of attention in this film, is given to Bard (Luke Evans) - man of the people, who is fighting for the survival of his refugee townsfolk and his children. In more than one scene, he hilariously jeopardizes their lives in the process of saving them.

In the original book, Bilbo was knocked unconscious for the entire Battle of the Five Armies. Had the movie taken that comical point of view, the audience could have been spared an extended battle of little consequence compared to the stakes set in battles like Helm's Deep and Minas Tirith later on.

The Hobbit Trilogy should have been focused on establishing Middle-Earth as a wonderful, funny and magical place, where explorers may find danger afoot, but not much of the sort that inspires the serious dread that comes about in the Lord of the Rings Trilogy.

After Return of the King, when Peter Jackson had achieved a powerhouse status comparable to George Lucas, one might have feared that he would go in a similar direction. The responsibilities that come with that kind of success, can inhibit artistic ability. If there's one thing he's been doing wrong ever since, it's trying to make every movie excessive and epic as if he believes it to be the key to his success.

In this movie, whenever Martin Freeman is onscreen as Bilbo Baggins, something is incredibly right. Jackson seems to understand what is important with the story at its core. Casting him as a younger version of a character played by Ian Holm turned out to be worth the risk. Freeman brings all the whimsical anxiety of this reluctant hero summoned to adventure, which is pretty much what the book was all about. When you think about it. These movies seem to have gotten most of the original story right. It’s what’s been added that brings them down.

Seriously, aspiring movie editors of the 21st century, Get to work on these. There’s a very good single movie buried beneath this trilogy of waste and it must be uncovered. I really want to see it! Get to work on it now!

If there is a vague note to make of this return to Middle-Earth, it is similar to what I have to say about a lot of other unnecessary remakes, sequels and prequels of late: I don’t need this thing like I needed it then. Most of the joy found in re-watching the Lord of the Rings Trilogy now, is the memory of its impact back then. Trying to recapture that kind of thing is an exercise in futility.

It's wise for the makers of any series that ever had an awe-inspiring impact, to consider the stage to be set. If you get distracted and keep making more additions and extensions to that stage, then you're forgetting what the audience is there for.

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