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Front Page - Friday, December 26, 2014

The Hobbit: The Battle to Give a Darn

The Critic's Corner

David Laprad

I’m going to sound like I’m complaining, but I’m not. “The Hobbit” movies, by writer and director Peter Jackson and his band of merry helpers, failed to inspire enough passion in me to grumble about this third and, thankfully, final chapter.

One book, three movies. A jaunty read about a Hobbit’s adventure in Middle Earth turned into a bloated trilogy of movies. It doesn’t take that long to read the book.

A few things become obvious while watching “The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies.” One, J.R.R. Tolkien’s book did NOT need to be stretched into three movies. There’s material here that could have easily been excised, including the unlikely and limp love story between the dwarf Kili and the elf Tauriel – a needless addition that wasn’t in the book.

Two, this trilogy doesn’t have the narrative drive of the “Lord of the Rings” films, nor do the characters have the same gravitas. “The Lord of the Rings” films were driven by Frodo’s quest to destroy the One Ring. I remember being on the edge of my seat as he stood over a raging pit of lava, trying to overcome the evil in the ring and save Middle Earth. While watching “Five Armies,” in which a dwarf broods over the gold he’s reclaimed from a dragon, I kept checking the time.

Given the number of major deaths in “Five Armies,” I’m surprised I didn’t have a stronger emotional response to the film. I could feel Jackson plucking halfheartedly at the strings, but in “Five Armies,” even he seems to have been drained of excitement for the project. He’s been making these movies for the better part of 15 years, so maybe he was glad to get this last one over with.

Three, Jackson has an eye for great imagery, and is a talented choreographer of action. “Five Armies” looks great and contains some terrific set pieces, but because I didn’t care, I enjoyed these scenes more for their technical merits than their impact on the story. I have no idea what Jackson is doing next, but I hope it’s based on a good character-based script that calls on his skills for directing action.

The plot: Having reclaimed Erebor and its vast treasure from the dragon Smaug, Thorin Oakenshield turns on his friends as he seeks the Arkenstone, despite attempts by Bilbo to reason with him. Meanwhile, Sauron sends legions of Orcs in a sneak attack on the Lonely Mountain. “As the fate of Middle Earth hangs in the balance, the races of Men, Elves and Dwarves must decide whether to unite and prevail – or all die,” says Internet Movie Database. That sounds more thrilling than it actually is.

Several scenes in “Five Armies” set up the first “Lord of the Rings” movie, “The Fellowship of the Ring.” I understand the lure of nostalgia, but these bits just muddy the waters. For example, the scene in which Galadriel casts Sauron – the primary evil in the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy – away from a crumbling fortress is of no consequence to “Five Armies.” Was it necessary to set up movies we’ve already seen?

I’ll stop. If you’ve seen the other films, you’re going to see this one, and maybe you connected with the material in the “Hobbit” movies more than I did. In the end, I think these films served only to show how good the “Lord of the Rings” movies were.

Two stars out of four. David Laprad is the assistant editor of the Hamilton County Herald and an award-winning columnist and photographer. He’s looking forward to seeing “Interstellar” on a true IMAX screen. (See the story on this page.) This will be his fourth viewing of the film. Contact him at dlaprad@hamiltoncountyherald.com.