Friday, December 26, 2014

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies


Starring: Martin Freeman, Richard Armitrage, Ian McKellan, Lee Pace, Luke Evans, Orlando Bloom, Evangeline Lilly

Rated PG-13 for Extended Sequences of Intense Fantasy Action Violence, and Frightening Images

"The Lord of the Rings" is a landmark film (and yes, I consider them to be one film divided into three parts by necessity...they were written and filmed as one giant project).  Easily worthy of any list of all time great films next to "Casablanca," "Psycho," and "Spirited Away."  Naturally, New Line Cinema was hoping for lightning to strike twice with the prequel, titled "The Hobbit," but due to tangled rights and lawsuits, it took nearly a decade for the first installment to come out.  Expectations were high, but they haven't been met.  The story just isn't as interesting and dividing a single novel into three movies reeks of studio greed and results in bloated movies.  The first two movies were decent, but nowhere near the level of quality of "The Lord of the Rings."  I can, and will, say the same thing about "The Battle of the Five Armies."

Now that Smaug (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch) has been expelled from the dwarf city, everyone seems to want their share of the riches that are inside.  Bard (Evans) wants Thorin Oakenshield (Armitrage) to honor their agreement to be paid enough to rebuild his city in exchange for defeating Smaug, while Thranduil (Pace) wants a specific jewel inside (I think).  But the gold is cursed, and Thorin's refusal to play fair may result in all-out war.  Bilbo (Freeman) tries to play peacekeeper, while Gandalf (McKellan) and Legolas (Bloom) and Tauriel (Lilly) make their own disturbing discoveries.

"The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies" is divided into two parts: set-up and battle.  Both are effective, but nothing special.  The former moves along at a decent clip and effectively sets up the pieces, but lacks the emotional investment that made the 2001-2003 film so awe-inspiring.  Still, we get to see Elrond (Hugo Weaving), Galadriel (Cate Blanchett) and Sarumon (Christopher Lee) do battle with some nasty spirits/ghosts/whatever, and that's worth the price of admission in and of itself.

Few people know how to stage a battle as well as Peter Jackson.  Steven Spielberg, James Cameron, George Lucas...there really aren't many.  The battle scenes in the originals were awe-inspiring and packed with high drama and adrenaline (and even some humor).  The climactic battle in this film, while effectively staged and executed, doesn't begin to compare.  It's closer to a video game than an actual movie.

What's really disappointing is the film's look.  While the film doesn't seem to be in High Frame Rate like the first two (despite the fact that I saw neither in that for the first few minutes of the first film), the film's look is generic.  Jackson has taken the easy way out with the special effects.  It's all CGI, and looks like it.  The massive armies are too perfectly composed, and the re-vamped creature designs are cheesy looking and the use of computers is painfully obvious.  It was almost seamless in the original, which is strange, since each "Hobbit" film cost roughly the same amount as the entire "Lord of the Rings" series combined.  And was made nearly a decade later.  So much for making it better for cheaper!

The acting is fine, although the only ones who are especially memorable are the ones we have gotten to know from the original film.  Martin Freeman lacks the screen presence and appeal of Elijah Wood (and Ian Holm), making us miss Frodo and Old Bilbo.  Ian McKellan has no trouble sliding back into the old gray outfit.  Richard Armitrage is effective as Thorin, but not much more.

What I missed with this film and the other "Hobbit" movies is the sense that I was exploring a new world.  "The Lord of the Rings" was a window into a world that felt so real that I wanted to touch the screen and explore every part of it.  Middle-Earth here feels small and depressingly generic.

Should you see it?  Sure, if only for completeness sake.  It's no better or worse than the previous entries, and if you want to see how the story ends, it's at least not a waste of time and money.

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