Saturday, March 7, 2015

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies. A Review (Review #700)


You Don't Know the Hafling of It...

At long last, I have seen the third and final film of a short novel that can be read in a day or two, a week at the most. The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies I think could be a very good film.  It just needs to cut something completely irrelevant to both this particular film and the epic trilogy.

They need to cut out the character of Bilbo Baggins. 

If they do that, I figure they'll have a more streamlined film that cuts out all the unnecessary fat from the bloated trilogy.  In this case, the 'fat' is the main character, who plays virtually no role in this story.  I seriously wonder whether a recut Hobbit trilogy where Bilbo is all but excised from the three films would be a good idea.  It certainly is plausible, given the final product I saw.

Picking up from where we left off, the Dragon Smaug is rampaging through Lake-Town.  The citizens are fleeing the enraged dragon, with only Bard the Bowman (Luke Evans) to stop Smaug.  He manages an escape from prison in the chaos and smites the mighty dragon.  Bard becomes the reluctant leader of the survivors, constantly suffering the comical machinations of the late Mayor of Lake-Town's minion, Alfrid (Ryan Gage).  Bard decides to lead the survivors to the Lonely Mountain, where a ruined city can offer some refuge.  He can also get part of the treasure promised to him by the dwarves who got provisions in Lake-Town. 

Meet the real star of
The Hobbit 3

Unfortunately, the dwarf king Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) has pretty much gone insane.  Infected with lust for gold, he drives everyone away, brooding with his treasure while still searching for the Arkenstone, the King's Jewel.  He suspects one of his dwarves has taken it, but this is not the case.  Thorin will not receive Bard, or give up one bit of his gold.  Bard wants to keep the peace, but the Elven King Thranduil (Lee Pace), who has his own need to get at particular parts of the treasure, has brought his Elven Army to take his share by force.  Outnumbered, the dwarves appear to be totally powerless, but Thorin has a few tricks up his sleeve.  He secretly called upon his cousin Dain (Billy Connolly), who brings his own army.

OK, so you have Dwarves, Elves, Men.  That's three armies.  We then get two armies of Orcs,  who are determined to wipe out all their enemies (dwarves, elves, and men).  They attack from two fronts, and the rest of the movie is taken up by the massive battle of these five armies, with a little time left over to resolve the odd (and non-canonical) romance between Elf Princess Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly) and dwarf Kili (Aidan Turner), which is frustrated by the fact that Legolas (Orlando Bloom) is also in love with Tauriel.  Tragedy comes to them all, and to Thorin.  However, in the end the unlikely alliance of men/dwarves/elves defeats the dual Orc armies, and peace reigns.

It's amazing that in the recap of The Battle of the Five Armies, I could go throughout it without once mentioning Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), the hobbit from The Hobbit.   I cheated a bit because it is Bilbo who took the Arkenstone and delivered it to Bard and Thranduil, joined by Gandalf (Ian McKellen) in an effort to prevent war.  However, such is the case with The Battle of the Five Armies that one could go the whole movie without mentioning him without affecting the flow.

In fact, I would argue that Bilbo has such a small role (no pun intended) that would it have mattered if one of the dwarves (perhaps the hunky Kili) performed whatever part Bilbo played?  I would say 'no', which is disastrous for a movie like The Hobbit.

As I watched the film, I felt very overwhelmed by its sheer monstrous length.  That's rather curious because The Battle of the Five Armies is actually the shortest of the three films. However, after a while a bit of fatigue set in for me, and I confess to nodding off for perhaps a few seconds to maybe a full minute.

Can't keep the Pace up.

However, it's pretty easy to do when the film drags and drags, insisting on pumping me up with massive battles that are impressive but that gave me virtually no one to really care about.

Why would I care about the elves, who here are so otherworldly they become boring?  Why would I care about the dwarves, who suffer under Thorin's greed and paranoia but don't really do much to snap him out of it? 

When it comes to the men, that's a bit of a mixed bag too.  Peter Jackson decided to make things again so serious that people like Bard become less human and more caricatures, rather glum creatures.  OK, part of me gets it: their homes have burned down, they are being thrust into a war they'd rather not fight, and have to deal with the more dull elves and irritating dwarves.  That's enough to make anyone lose their sense of humor.

However, like with certainly Desolation of Smaug, everything in Battle of the Five Armies is given such lofty THIS IS SERIOUS manner to the proceedings that when Jackson and his scribes do try to inject a smidge of humor (through Ryan's sleazy Alfrid) it comes off as idiotic.  At one point, to save his life, Alfrid grabs a child and literally says, "Think of The Children!  Won't someone please THINK OF THE CHILDREN?!"  I burst out laughing at this.  When the cowardly Alfrid is caught in drag to avoid fighting, it isn't funny.  It isn't even sad.  It's dull and a wasted opportunity since Bard's son finds him, then pretty much leaves him there with some of the women, as far as I know never to be seen or heard from again.

I say 'some of the women' because there is a call among them to fight alongside their men, but truth be told I don't remember the women doing any actual fighting.  Maybe they did and I nodded off longer than I thought.  I can't say for sure, but if in a movie that is this long (nearly two-and-a-half hours in the theatrical version, a punishing and downright Satanic two-hours-fifty-four minutes in the Extended Edition), you can't be bothered to show the brave Women of Lake-Town fighting, why bother mentioning it at all?

I'd like to take this opportunity to mention that both The Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers are a mere four and five minutes longer than the extended edition of Battle of the Five Armies.  They at least have the excuse of being part of a massive, massive book, so large that it is sometimes split into three separate books.  No one in their right minds has ever split The Hobbit into three books.   Unless of course, you want to milk the source material for every cent you can and denigrate the source material.  In that respect, Peter Jackson and Company have managed to outdo themselves in that ambition.

It is this uber-serious nature that makes Battle of the Five Armies such a slog.  This romance between the elf and the dwarf (which doesn't exist in the novel or even in the addition Tolkien material Jackson raided to make The Hobbit fit into The Lord of the Rings prequel films he so desperately wants us to see them as) is such a waste of time.  Here's a spoiler: they don't end up together.  That's all the more a shame because seeing what a half-elf/half-dwarf child would have looked like might be real fascinating...or as freakish as the abandoned idea for a half-man/half-ape child considered for the Planet of the Apes sequel that became Beneath Planet of the Apes.  Still, it would have made for a more interesting movie. 

It's extraordinary that for all the sound and fury of Battle of the Five Armies, so little actually happens.  Even what does happen is so hopelessly clichéd as to be embarrassing.  One of the many 'climatic' moments (when Legolas is leaping about a crumbling tower that has been knocked down to form an impromptu bridge like he was in a Tetris game) is almost funny.  The final battle between not-Aragorn (aka Thorin) and the Main Orc (I don't care what he's called) is equally dumb.  If he falls into the ice, the logical thing to do is to follow his floating 'corpse' and we're all suppose to be shocked, SHOCKED that the 'dead' Orc comes roaring back to life.

That went out in bad horror films, but in this?

It's as if Jackson decided, 'Screw it...I already got my Oscar and I have to get through this, so I'll make the fanboys who know The Lord of the Rings only through the movies happy by giving them what they think they want'.  I imagine fans of the LOTR movies may like all three Hobbit films, but for myself, who likes both book and films, I found this last chapter more than a disappointment.  I found it dull, uninteresting, and a waste of time.

 I can't say anything about the performances because none of them are memorable.  Thanks to Jackson's decision to give Freeman virtually nothing to do in Battle of the Five Armies, the only real bright spot in the two previous Hobbit films ended up pretty much marooned in a story that didn't need him.  Pace comes across as more insufferable than as ethereal, and the romance between Lilly and Turner had no real rooting interest.  Bloom does his best to prove my theory about him wrong: that he is good only in costume or fantasy films, but at least it kept him out of other films. 

Evans I think did the best of the lot as the stoic Bard, but then again The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies is about his character, right?

In all the goings-on in Middle-Earth, Bilbo Baggins serves no role, no purpose.  It's as if he was left over from a previous draft...say, the original J.R.R. Tolkien novel.  With Peter Jackson, the new authority on all things Middle-Earth, running the show (into the ground), The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies has a lot of nifty action, some pretty visuals, but at its core is a hollow, empty affair.

All I can say is, 'Thank Heaven THAT'S all over!' 

How'd I end up here?


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