THE HOBBIT: THE BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES (2014, directed by Peter Jackson, 144 minutes, New Zealand, U.S.)
BY DAN BUSKIRK FILM CRITIC Like Frodo drunk with the power of The Ring, Peter Jackson could not resist his greedy plan of making a near eight hour version of The Hobbit. Now in its concluding chapter, The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies is an oddly affectless spectacle, emotionally inert, barren of thrills and in the end downright dull. The goodwill Jackson accrued from his wildly successful Lord Of The Rings trilogy has allowed The Hobbit‘s gaping flaws to be overlooked but as we reach its end there is no escaping that this final trip to Middle Earth has been like one foggy slow-motion trip to nowhere.
I could fill you in on the plot at this point but the thread has been lost long ago as Bilbo (the likeable but lost Martin Freeman) skips from conflict to conflict. The scene-stealing dragon Smaug of the last chapter is dispatched early on and the five armies (Is it really five? I lost count.) assemble to decide the fate of the mountain of gold in Smaug’s lair. As Howard Shore’s score blares incessantly, threats are issued, ultimatums are given and mountainous vistas are soon filled with swinging swords and a rain of arrows. Then, the war ends and peace is restored.
The army of artisans who created Lord of the Rings must have been overjoyed to reassemble and get to work on bringing Middle Earth to life again in modern New Zealand. Hobbits are a cottage industry there and The Hobbit: The Battle of The Five Armies does feel like an industrial product, utilitarian, anonymous and joylessly efficient. Its dialogue never shying away from cliches, (“We attack at dawn!”) its outcome never in doubt, its earthy design rendered hum-drum from our five previous adventures, The Hobbit ends not as a desire fulfilled but as a contractual obligation made whole. With the last Orc slaughtered (turns out they’re not as sturdy as they look) my main relief is that the once estimable Jackson might again find some project worthy of his vast talent. Or at least a failure that doesn’t take half a decade to unspool.