Peter Jackson’s “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy serves as a monumental testimony to what can happen when a director with boundless imagination, advancements in technology and a beloved story come together. The result is magic.
But Jackson’s “Hobbit” trilogy — noteworthy for the way Jackson has transformed the book into a visual feast and delivers the tent pole moments — ends on a different note, with uninspired battles and muddled characters.
In the final chapter, “The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies,” which opens in theaters Tuesday, Dec. 16, personal moments are overshadowed by endless battles with characters poorly defined. All it would have taken is a slight reduction in the endless clash between computer-generated characters to allow for deeper emotions to resonate, such as those between Bard the Bowman (Luke Evans) and his family or the blossoming ill-fated love of Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly) and Kili (Aidan Turner).
That wasn’t the case.
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Even the good-natured Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) doesn’t have enough screen time to bring his tender, journeyman touch to the tale. Freeman, a remarkable actor, can’t make a role work when he’s reduced to a footnote in the story.
Jackson’s skill as a storyteller — that was so well displayed in the “Rings” movies — has been replaced by a mishmash of action with recycled characters. The most annoying example is Ryan Cage’s role of Lake-town flunky Alfrid, which has been expanded from a meaningless player to a painfully unfunny comic relief.
Appearances by Cate Blanchett as Galadriel and Christopher Lee as Saruman feel forced, as if Jackson was more interested in giving loyal fans a treat than keeping to the story structure. Just because this is the end doesn’t mean everyone needs to take a curtain bow.
“The Five Armies,” the conclusion to “The Desolation of Smaug,” starts so abruptly, you’ll be checking to make sure you haven’t arrived after the movie had started. It’s been a year since the first half ended, but Jackson treats it like yesterday, cranking up the film just frames after the last movie stopped dead in its dragon tracks.
It takes a few minutes to get re-oriented to what’s really happening. The Dwarves of Erebor have reclaimed the tremendous wealth of their homeland. In the process, they have released Smaug — the fire-breathing dragon voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch. As Lake-town is reduced to rubble, all of the armies converge on the mountain to lay claim to the treasure.
If all you want are massive battle scenes, then this film will feel like a triumph. There was a time when fields covered with thousands of warriors would have been impressive enough. But audiences are too savvy to filmmaking to be blinded by quantity over quality. The battles aren’t as crisp as they should be in the 3-D version. The process always darkens the image and this movie’s inherently lack of lighting suffers more because of the gimmicky film process.
The two main problems with “The Battle of the Five Armies” is the abrupt leap into the story coupled with an over indulgence in computer-generated military chaos. In a film series that has pressed the importance of even the simplest person, the last film replaces the oneness of a touching story with the blinding fury of the action sequences.
It’s not a bad ending to the Hobbit’s unexpected journey, but it does not reach the standard set by the other films. But even with all its flaws, there is a brave cinematic heart at the core that makes even this weaker Jackson film better than most.