December 16, 2014

SHOWBUZZDAILY REVIEW: “The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies”


THE HOBBIT:  THE BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES – Watch It At Home – The Best of the Hobbit Trilogy Is Still Just Its Tallest Dwarf

It’s hard to get around the sad fact that Peter Jackson’s THE HOBBIT trilogy has diminished the stature of his great Lord of the Rings series.  It’s all well and good to say that the Rings movies still exist and are as fine as they ever were, but the Hobbit movies, by cannibalizing the Rings imagery and characters, and ultimately by turning that landmark of screen adaptation into a commodity, have retroactively lessened the specialness of the original trilogy.  The Hobbit installments have gotten steadily easier to sit through (and, not coincidentally, shorter), and THE BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES is the most entertaining of the group, yet it still feels like an entirely unnecessary (except financially), tired repetition of spectacles we’ve seen before.

Armies picks up with the cliffhanger that ended The Desolation of Smaug, as fearsome dragon Smaug (voiced and performed in motion capture by Benedict Cumberbatch, on his way to his own Marvel franchise) terrorized the human village of Laketown.  He/it is dispensed with in fairly short order, and exactly the way you’d expect, if you recall that Bard the Bowman (Luke Evans) had the last black arrow capable of piercing the dragon’s skin, and that his father had famously failed to kill Smaug the last time the beast came calling, etc.  That clears the way for the main story, which features head dwarf Thorn Oakenshield reacting to the magical Arkenstone that will confirm his right to reign over Lonely Mountain almost exactly the way everyone reacted to the Ring in the first trilogy, becoming increasingly paranoid, greedy and evil the closer he comes to it.  He doesn’t actually call the jewel his “precious,” but he might as well.  His dwarves form one of the title’s five armies that do battle over Lonely Mountain and its treasure, although “army” may be a bit of an exaggeration in describing some of the small groups of warriors who participate in the final face-off.

Jackson certainly knows how to stage a massive, extended battle sequence–this one takes up most of the 144-minute movie’s second half–and that’s part of the problem:  the Lonely Mountain confrontation is just like the one that brought Return of the King to its climax, except without the accumulated emotional power or the end-of-the-world stakes that the earlier one had.  (And sadly, while CG effects have improved in many ways over the years, the software that churns out undifferentiated masses of soldier-shapes for extreme long-shots of battle haven’t gotten much better than the 2003 version.)  Meanwhile, dwarf Kili (Aidan Turner) trades longing looks with elf Tauriel (Evangline Lilly) in just the same way that Aragorn traded them with Arwen throughout Lord of the Rings, Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) is dependably good-hearted, Gandalf (Ian McKellan) looks worried and shows up in the nick of time, and there’s a cameo from Sauron, and magical, heroic giant eagles, and–it all feels like the 8th season of a TV series that’s already in syndication.  (Considering that these Tolkien movies began appearing 13 years ago, that’s not far off.)

Battle of the Five Armies is accomplished, and depressing.  How do cinematographer Andrew Lesnie, composer Howard Shore, production designer Dan Hennah, or editor Jabez Olssen feel at this point, after devoting more than a dozen years of their lives to 6 of these things?  Are the Hobbit movies any more than a job at this point, a secure, continuing annuity?  As talented as Peter Jackson is, and as skilled as he and his co-writers Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens and Guillermo del Toro are in compressing and extending Tolkien’s text as needed (and even inventing their own Tolkien-esque devices, like the character Tauriel), they’re long past the point of inspiration.  (The one big innovation to cinema that the Hobbit films were meant to provide, the much-discussed High Frame Rate technology, is still far from perfected after 3 movies–it varies from shot to shot within a sequence from super-sharp to the texture of a 1973 videotaped TV soap opera.)  Battle will draw many viewers around the world, and thrill more than a few of them, but personally, I’ve been more engaged by this season of The 100 than by this retread saga.  When Bilbo returns to the Shire at the end of this nearly 8-hour journey,  you too may hope that this time he stays there.


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."