Saturday, December 27, 2014

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies / *** (PG-13)

Bilbo Baggins: Martin Freeman
Gandalf the Grey: Ian McKellen
Thorin Oakenshield: Richard Armitage
Thranduil: Lee Pace
Tauriel: Evangeline Lilly
Legolas: Orlando Bloom
Bard: Luke Evans
Alfrid: Ryan Gage
Kili: Aidan Turner
Fili: Dean O’Gorman
Balin: Ken Stott
Dwailin: Graham McTavish

New Line Cinema and MGM present a film directed by Peter Jackson. Written by Fran Walsh & Philippa Boyens & Jackson & Guilermo de Toro. Based on the novel “The Hobbit” by J.R.R. Tolkien. Running time: 144 min. Rated PG-13 (for sequences of intense fantasy action violence, and frightening images).

If “The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies” proves anything, it’s that we’re pretty much done with Middle Earth now. There are only so many times you can watch digitally created armies of humans, dwarves, elves, orcs and various other monsters come together in epic battle and still glean anything worthwhile from it. “The Hobbit” hasn’t exactly overstayed its welcome. Peter Jackson has once again crafted an exciting and visually stunning piece of cinema, but I think I’m done now; and I doubt I’m alone.

If you’ll remember, the last movie, “The Desolation of Smaug”, left us with the biggest cliffhanger of all five previous films. Smaug had targeted the human city of Laketown for his revenge against the Dwarves for trying to claim his treasures of the Lonely Mountain. He destroys it in probably the most stunning opening action sequence of the series. The elf Tauriel and the remaining dwarves in Laketown set out to save as many as they can while Bard tries to takes down the dragon with the only remaining Black Arrow, the only weapon capable of piercing its hide.

Meanwhile, the dwarves lead by Thorin Oakenshield look on from the confines of their reclaimed throne of Erebor. Thorin begins to sink into madness brought on by dragon sickness attached to the treasure Smaug left behind. The humans struggle to survive and the wood elves come to make their claim on the treasure. Also building is the unknown—to all but a few—presence of a dark force that threatens all the lands. His orc legions also march on Erebor. The title “The Battle of the Five Armies” pretty much sums up what’s left to cover in the Tolkien universe.

If I seem a little snarky about this synopsis, it’s important to point out that all of this is expertly produced and engaging for the audience. It helps that this installment is the first of all of Jackson’s Tolkien films to clock in at less than two and a half hours. It does speed along, even with a forty-five minute battle sequence as its centerpiece and climax. There is a great deal about loyalty and personal strength as themes that secure an ideological foundation here, with the burglar hobbit Bilbo stepping up as the unlikely beacon of hope for all the races of Middle Earth. The negative effects of the mysterious ring employed by the halfling are notably absent, however.

I thoroughly enjoyed returning to Middle Earth for “The Hobbit” trilogy. If I didn’t enjoy it quite as much as “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy it is only because Jackson and his screenwriters have already covered Tolkien’s world so comprehensively. If “The Hobbit” had been made first, I have no doubt it would’ve enthralled just as much as “Rings” did. It lacks some of the substance of that trilogy, but Jackson and company do a good job culling the extensive archival material Tolkien created for his fantasy world to build the almost innocent introductory novel into something on the same scale as the “Rings” movies. “The Battle of the Five Armies” is a fitting end to our time in Middle Earth and doesn’t suffer the extended multiple endings of “The Return of the King”. Now, there is only the Extended Edition of this film for the devoted to anticipate. I still count myself as one of ‘em.

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