Sean K. Cureton

There and Back Never Again, Or A Joyless Journey

In Movie Reviews: 2014 on December 31, 2014 at 12:41 pm
Theatrical Poster

Theatrical Poster

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies
1 ½ out of 4 stars
Directed by Peter Jackson

Like the last film in Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit trilogy, The Battle of the Five Armies makes an attempt at the grandeur of Jackson’s far superior Lord of the Rings trilogy, substituting adaptation for masturbatory, fan boy extrapolation, taking material culled from the appendices of J.R.R. Tolkien’s source narrative, and assembling the assorted odds and ends into an epic of sorts, albeit one that no one asked for, and one for which fans of the original, and comparatively humble, novel will not be thankful. Where 2003’s Return of the King was a triumphant, well earned, and moving piece of epic fantasy adventure, tying together its numerous sub-plots and character arcs in a way that was not only cinematically exciting, but emotionally compelling, Jackson’s supposedly final foray into the lands of Middle Earth is a toil to get through, the shortest film in his six Tolkien behemoths to date, and yet by far the most self-indulgent and thematically stagnant, its characters and plot put aside in order to feed Jackson’s insatiable need to remain in the world that made him a household name, and won him numerous Academy Awards, including the Awards for Best Picture and Best Director. And this isn’t to say that Jackson’s Middle Earth isn’t still teeming with the visual beauty and faithful indebtedness that has made his Tolkien adaptations such fantastic tributes to the beloved books upon which they are based, but rather to state that Jackson seems to have lost sight of the source material entirely, his innate gift for recapturing Middle Earth propelling him towards over representation, each and every facet of Tolkien’s text up for cinematic recreation, even if he strays away from what makes the basic stories so timeless. No doubt there are citable reference points in Tolkien’s original books and related writings for each and every twist, turn, and convolution of plot, but the fact remains that the average viewer will care little for these subsidiary elements, Jackson’s dogmatic reinterpretation of every facet of Tolkien’s world resulting in a film that is less than faithful to the very spirit of Bilbo’s unexpected journey. In attempting to bridge his Hobbit trilogy too closely to the far more allegorically nuanced and morally complicated Lord of the Rings, Jackson has delivered an adaptation that reaches too far, falling prey to an over zealous attentiveness to its source material that proves stifling, an entirely expected journey that proves joyless in its execution.

Perhaps the greatest error in Battle of the Five Armies comes in its overlong, self important, grandiosity, which is saying something given the entire franchise’s dependence on the continued relevance of said grandeur. Granted, there is not much material left to work with after the events already related in The Hobbit as seen so far on screen, which certainly serves to explain the tedium of the film’s over choreographed, computer generated warfare, but doesn’t excuse the tedium itself, each and every sequence an extension and elongation of what has already become a cinematic event that has long outstayed its welcome. In what might have been an exciting and climactic final sequence tacked onto the end of the last film in Jackson’s trilogy becomes a nebulous and ephemeral action flick, with a few dwarves, orcs, and goblins thrown in to appease the more learned fans of the source material, resulting in a film that is grand in overindulgence only, neither exciting or climactic, but redundant and boring. All sound and no fury, Jackson’s last film to take place in Middle Earth would be easily forgettable if it were not for that fact that it is meant to conclude the journey started in the thematically and tonally asymmetrical An Unexpected Journey, which aside from its own individual issues of plot and pacing served as a far better adaptation of Tolkien’s original story, lighthearted and centrifugally concerned with the titular hobbit himself, as opposed to the rogues gallery of boors and grotesques largely created for the propagation and continuation of the franchise into this the third installment. While the prior Desolation of Smaug serves to set up the war that takes place in Battle, bringing the tone around to that of Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, the narrative impetus that is present in Jackson’s first filmed Tolkien epic is absent, feeling not only out of place in the story of The Hobbit, but incongruous with its other elements and characters, Bilbo Baggins a poor man’s Frodo Baggins, his story drastically dissimilar from that of his nephew’s, no matter how it is thematically presented.

Aside from Battle’s anti-climactic, faux-action flick feel, perhaps conceived in response to the continued monetary success of The Hunger Games and its ilk, Jackson’s final Hobbit film is marred in the striking absence of its namesake creature of imaginative fantasy. What’s more, the band of dwarves who were so lovingly introduced in the first film in the series have become utter strangers, blending into the faceless denizen’s of Lake Town to the point of inscrutability and absence of character, demoted from the status of heroes to elements in establishing the film’s setting, plot, and narrative context. In introducing the aforementioned rogues gallery of assorted original heroes and villains into the trilogy in the last installment, Jackson has brought the momentum gained in the first two features to a grinding halt, the supplementary characters so tactlessly applied to the source narrative to the point of being indistinguishable, leaving little reason to care whether they live or die, taking all of the tension out of each and every scene and sequence of potentially awesome fantasy adventure. What’s more, many of these characters’ individual roles, be they of comic relief, romantic divergence, or noble daring do, are already provided in Bilbo and his company of dwarves, the beggar and his wayward outcasts more than fitting points of interest for audience engagement, participation, and enthrallment. In populating Tolkien’s original story with extraneous characters and plot lines, the point of entry into Jackson’s final Hobbit film becomes hard to find, leaving the viewer as bewildered and uninterested in the film as its characters are, to say nothing of the equally redundant five armies to which these characters supposedly belong or oppose.

Maybe the most poignant and dramatically relevant moment in Peter Jackson’s The Battle of the Five Armies comes in the final scene, in which a much older Bilbo Baggins, now played by Ian Holm as he appeared in 2001’s The Fellowship of the Ring, is seen closing the book on the narrative relating the particulars of his great unexpected journey, thus returning the viewer to The Lord of the Rings cycle, and putting an end to The Hobbit trilogy, once and for all. And yet, in ending his Hobbit films in direct connection to his far greater cinematic adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s work of imaginative fiction, Jackson serves to establish his new trilogy as an entry point for future viewers, thereby lessening the potential impact of his far more cinematically compelling trilogy with the addendum of a lesser one. What’s more, certain fans will be sure to propagate the need to see all six of Jackson’s Middle Earth films in a certain “order,” some inevitably starting with An Unexpected Journey, thereby losing potential fans in the process, the effort of getting through Journey  in and of itself an arduous task even for the already initiated. It’s lamentable that if it weren’t for the fact that the Lord of the Rings trilogy was such a critical and financial success, The Hobbit trilogy wouldn’t exist, and if it did it would more likely than not have been achieved in one self-contained film, preferably clocking in at around two hours. However, given the success and applause that was rightfully lauded onto Jackson in 2003, viewers now have his Hobbit trilogy to contend and come to terms with, remarkable in its enfeebled indebtedness to a far greater series of films, The Battle of the Five Armies the final brushstroke in Jackson’s grand canvas depicting a cinematic fantasy that no longer appears as subtle and deftly accomplished as it did just over ten years ago.

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