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The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

| January 3, 2015 | 0 Comments

Let’s get this issue off the table right away: I have no problem with Peter Jackson and his company expanding J.R.R. Tolkien’s slender tome “The Hobbit” into three movies. If he tells a good story and the movies don’t bore me to tears, I’m okay with the extra time. I think the derisive grousing that has come from critics leading up to the film’s release has been unjustified not to mention, painfully unfair. Even if you don’t care much for Jackson’s second trilogy there is no denying that his heart is on every frame, that he works virtually alone in an arid desert of modern cinema where studio executives limit their imaginations and are terrified to take chances. Jackson should be applauded for his efforts.

That said, I was happy with The Battle of the Five Armies, the concluding chapter of this series. It is evenly paced, and the organization of the narrative is much cleaner than The Desolation of Smaug which I felt was messy and too stuffed with uninteresting characters. Here the placement of characters and their motivations is handled much better and much more economically. Even better, when there is a battle sequence, it’s not just a jumble of swords and hair and armor. There’s actually some orientation to what’s happening. Everyone has a purpose for being in battle and there’s a price to pay for every action.

When we last left Lake Town, it was about to be besieged by the dragon Smaug. This movie picks up immediately where the previous movie leaves off, and deals with Smaug in a scene that feels like it should have been tacked onto the end of the last movie.

Once things settle down, we find tension amid the ranks – the men, the dwarves, and the elves, most of it fueled by greed over the mountains of gold currently locked away with the dwarves in The Lonely Mountain. Within its walls are the baker’s dozen of dwarves and the Hobbit Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman). They could easily form an alliance against an army of Orcs headed their way, but they are held off by their leader Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) who has reclaimed his throne, but wants nothing to do with anyone outside, mainly due to the fact that the accursed gold inside the mountain is poisoning his mind.

The tension between the Dwarf king and the other factions makes up the film’s first half which works well as a story of the deadening power of greed. The second half, of course, mends those issues in order to portray the battle the Orcs. This is the part I was least looking forward to – yet, as I said, they are organized well so that we feel the tension in what is happening to individual characters. Do they go on too long? Yes. Was I bored? Not for a second.

In between are the individual characters, and the movie organizes them well too. Everyone has a motivation and everyone has a story to tell. Yet, they don’t leaden the story. Something that I think was missing from the last installment was time for individual characters. Here, the extra time leads to some very good performances, especially by Martin Freeman as Bilbo who seems to be the only voice of reason amid factions that only want to bark and fight with one another. He manages to keep Bilbo’s charm and leaven a very heavy-handed story.

The great drama of the film comes from Richard Armitage as Thorin Oakensheild, whose character has an arc. There’s a reason for the misdeeds that he is committing and he sees the damage that he is doing. Thorin is this trilogy’s most complete character, a dwarf who has been through a terrible ordeal, wants to return home, reclaims his kingdom, and pays the price by allowing his new-found power to poison his mind. That’s a great story, and it fuels much of what happens here. We get to know him so well, that when he finally has his moment of truth, we care about his fate.

That’s the film at its best. Where it fails, I’m afraid, is in the visual effects. Much of what made the Lord of the Rings trilogy work was that we felt that there was a mixture of various effects so that they weren’t distracting. Here, there’s so much reliance on computer effects that some action scenes feel like a video game. Characters tumble down hills or run across landscapes and we don’t feel the weight of motion, it’s clumsy and awkward. The same goes for several characters who are created via computer and don’t feel flesh and blood. For example, a dwarf called Dain (Billy Connolly) comes into the story on the back of a pig, but both he and the pig are mostly made up of CGI, and look almost as if the effects weren’t finished. Same goes for the villain, Azog (Manu Bennett) which is made up of so much CGI that he never seems to be in the same scene with the actors.

That objection aside, this is an enjoyable movie. It’s not as good as the first, but it’s better than the second. I think that this trilogy is underrated and I’ve had a good time watching it. Does it match The Lord of the Rings? No. But it is entertaining. You feel that you’ve gotten to know Bilbo, and you feel that the will have a wonderful tale to tell when he gets home.


Terminator: Genisys
Lately, I’ve sort of written off The Terminator. The Cameron movies were phenomenal. Terminator 3 was kind of bland. The TV show was a snooze. And Terminator: Salvation was just a bad Mad Max rip off. I guess I’m excited about this one based on the fact that after The Last Stand I’m ready to see Arnold get back to making movies again.
Will I see it: Yes
Excitement level: Middling

San Andreas
It’s another disaster movie along the same lines as 2012 – this one starring The Rock. The premise apparently is exactly what you expect, the title fault line begins to shake, rattle and roll and that’s about it. The twist to this trailer is that it’s accompanied by a slowed-down version of “California Dreamin’”. I’m sort of indifferent to this kind of movie. I’ve had my fill of disaster movies, and after The Impossible I now know what the top of the line looks like.
Will I see it: Probably not.
Excitement level: Low

It’s hard for me to be indifferent about this one because I’m sort of alone in liking the first one. Plus, Shailene Woodley has become one of my favorite actors as of late. She’s a natural actor even when given bad material. I’ll see this one based on my affection for the first movie, but I’m not expecting much. P.S. I never read the book.
Will I see it: Yes
Excitement Level: Middling

I actually had to go to IMDb to find out what this movie was about. The trailer is slick and pretty and mainly focuses on slick and pretty people doing slick and pretty things. It stars Will Smith as a con artist who takes a PYT as his new student and, inevitably, they start falling in love. What I’m gathering from this plot is that it’s a lot of pretty furniture, pretty bodies and sexual tension. Much of the trailer focuses on Margot Robbie as the pretty blond student. I’m not sure about this one, it’s looks pretty shallow – though I could be wrong. I think I’ll wait for the reviews.
Will I see it: Pending
Excitement Level: Low

Kingsmen: The Secret Service
I’ve been seeing this trailer since the summer and I’ve yet to get excited about it. Like Focus it’s another movie about a professional who trains a student. Only in this time it’s about a secret agent who takes a young street kid under his wing in order to train him for the service. It looks intriguing, but I keep forgetting about the movie. It has two of my favorite actors, Colin Firth and Samuel L. Jackson, but I can’t really drum up much excitement for it. Maybe it’s the familiarity of the premise, or maybe it’s the fact that I’m distracted by Jackson’s pronounced lisp. This one goes on the “we’ll see” pile.
Will I see it: Pending
Excitement Level: Low

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.