The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

Magicians have a saying: "Once revealed, never concealed." What it means is that, once the audience sees how the trick is done, they can never un-see it and, in fact, it becomes all they see. That's how I feel about The Hobbit series. With the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Peter Jackson pulled off one of the most astonishing cinematic magic tricks of all time. Now he's trying to do it again with The Hobbit, and all I can see are his calculated efforts. Jackson has tried to capture lightning in a bottle twice, turning a much shorter book into another trilogy, and doing everything in his power to make it look and feel exactly like LOTR.

The first chapter, An Unexpected Journey, started very slow but eventually offered up some promise. Chapter two, The Desolation of Smaug, on the other hand, was a complete disaster, with a full three-fifths of its running time devoted to obvious filler that brought any story momentum to a screeching halt. Now we finally (finally!) arrive at the end, via The Battle of the Five Armies. The end result proves massively underwhelming.

What began as the story of Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) setting out to help retrieve a treasure that had been seized by the dragon Smaug got off-track in the second film, with the addition of a lot of side elements torn from the appendices of J.R.R. Tolkein's work (i.e. the stuff not important enough to be included in the main text). Jackson even added an original character, the thoroughly unnecessary and completely boring Tauriel (played by Evangeline Lilly), love interest of Legalos (Orlando Bloom).

That creates a problem The Battle of the Five Armies simply can't get around. By inserting so much filler into the second movie, this finale is saddled with the need to pay it all off. So again, the one thing we really care about the journey of Bilbo gets largely relegated to the sidelines. Jackson could easily have called the series Everyone But the Hobbit. Consequently, the unfocused story meanders all over the place, losing its main thrust in the process. By the end, when everything wraps up, there's a palpable "So what?" feeling that's the exact opposite of the thrilling, emotional ending to The Lord of the Rings.

Jackson's dilemma is pretty well-known. He was originally supposed to produce a two-film Hobbit series that would be directed by Guillermo del Toro. When legal issues delayed production, del Toro had to drop out. With so much pre-production work already done, Jackson opted to step in as director. Fair enough, but then he made the creative mistake of deciding to turn it into a trilogy at the last minute (around the time An Unexpected Journey was released). Whereas del Toro certainly would have brought his own perspective to the project, Jackson stayed well within his wheelhouse, giving The Hobbit an almost slavish continuity with LOTR in both tone and visual style. It's impossible not to compare them, and equally impossible not to realize that this is vastly inferior. It has no life of its own.

The Battle of the Five Armies does offer a good performance from the ever-reliable Martin Freeman and some visually impressive action sequences. The action is pretty empty, though. It never feels as though there are any real stakes because the story goes in multiple different directions all at once. I remember walking out of The Return of the King feeling that I, too, had been on an epic journey, one three years in the making. That was satisfying. At the end of The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, I merely felt relief that I wouldn't have to sit though any more.

( out of four)

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies is rated PG-13 for extended sequences of intense fantasy action violence, and frightening images. The running time is 2 hours and 24 minutes.

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