Thursday, December 25, 2014

All This and Middle Earth, Too—“The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies”

Movie Review by Jack Silbert
First off, kudos to Peter Jackson for getting the word “the” into his movie title three times. That’s only two fewer “the”s than armies!

If you read my review of the first Hobbit movie and the second one, you’ll know that everything I know about Tolkien comes from these movies and the Lord of the Rings films too. (And if you didn’t read those reviews, well, you still know it from reading the previous sentence.) So I’ve had no literary expectations to be met, crushed, or exceeded. I’ve put my faith in Mr. Jackson to tell these stories as he pleases. And thus far I’d been very pleased.

Now the Hobbit trilogy is complete and I’m still pretty pleased. Yes, I’ve heard some grumbling that Jackson added a bunch of stuff that isn’t in the book, and played up some small things. If your kids are devoted Tolkien readers and have seen the first two Hobbit movies, they likely already have a strong opinion on this one way or the other. At the very least, they’re getting a decent enough lesson in comparing books and movies. (Helpful hint: If you really want a movie to be better than the book, read lousy books.)

Martin Freeman as Bilbo
Regardless of one’s Tolkien scholarship, Five Armies felt to me like a very satisfying conclusion to the story. We start smack in the middle of an action sequence featuring Smaug, he of the ridiculously titled second film. That mean old dragon (voiced by the also ridiculously named Benedict Cumberbatch) is attacking the city from above, breathing fire, and it is kind of scary. But the family we’re rooting for is trying to escape in a boat on a canal, so the whole thing is almost like a Disney ride: scary stuff at a safe distance.

Even so, as these children’s film series tend to go, the final installment is the darkest. (I suppose the logic being that as the audience ages, they can handle some slightly more mature content.) Evil and madness are afoot, including a psychedelic sequence. Groovy, baby!

As parents, I wouldn’t be overly concerned, because the main messages here are quite straightforward and kid-friendly. Loyalty to our friends is of utmost important. War is bad. (“I’m not a warrior, I’m a hobbit,” says our hero Bilbo.) Also, money is bad. (“Don’t underestimate the evil of gold,” warns the wizard Gandalf.) And people go to war because of money and that is totally stupid.

It’s all couched in some very cool filmmaking: wild creatures and thrilling action sequences. One bit with Legolas the elf (Orlando Bloom) ascending a crumbling bridge was especially eye-popping.

I only have two real gripes. One, Tauriel the elf (Evangeline Lilly), who was such a dynamic female role model in the second film, doesn’t get very much to do here. Her main purpose seems to be delivering the “love hurts” message.

Ian McKellen as Gandalf
My other complaint: I would’ve ended the movie before its epilogue. I spoke to a friend who is “in the know” and he explained that the ending does match the Hobbit book, but then goes further to connect these events to the Lord of the Rings. I certainly understand Jackson’s reasoning; kids starting with the Hobbit movies are now ready for Frodo and friends. But strictly as a moviegoer, there was a moment that would’ve been a really satisfying cinematic conclusion—emotional oomph, swelling music, roll the credits! But this film keeps going for another scene and a half. Come on, it’s been 2.5 hours after 13 years of Tolkien movies, and some of us have to use the restroom!

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