Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Zaki's Review: The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies


You may remember me from around this same time last year, fresh from seeing The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, the second leg of director Peter Jackson's jury-rigged trifecta based on J.R.R. Tolkien's relatively slight tome, and decrying the director for contorting a medium-sized story into plus-sized dimensions. It's too long, I said. It's too ponderous, I said. Well, the ponderousness is still present at times, and the length is what it is, but nonetheless, this is the part of the review where I humble myself before you and eat crow.

I dug this one. A lot. And I retroactively loved the previous ones more as a result.

By way of context, I nearly vomited during movie one, and dozed off for a bit during movie two, both of which may have negatively colored my impressions of said films. Thus, before my impending screening of number three, I set aside a chunk of my evenings for the better part of a week to re-imbibe the prior Hobbits. And not just the standard-issue theatrical cuts, mind you. Nope, I went all-in on the jumbo "Extended Editions." And by the time I finished watching the trilogy-capper, now able to view the Middle Earth series in toto, I found myself gripped by two feelings I was wholly unprepared for: Gladness for having gone on this journey, and sadness that it was now over.

To catch you up on the goings-on for this chapter, The Battle of the Five Armies picks up exactly where the last flick left off, with the dragon Smaug, voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch, vowing vengeance on the band of dwarves who disturbed his slumber and the humans who harbored them, heading toward the nearby province of Lake Town to mete out some fiery retribution. Whether this ends badly (and for whom) I'll leave for you to discover, but suffice it to say, the end of that particular story isn't the end of the journey for Bilbo Baggins, the titular Hobbit played by the impossible-to-dislike Martin Freeman. 

Serving as the de facto conscience for dwarf leader Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage), who finds himself consumed with the trappings of power now that he's reclaimed his lost kingdom under the mountain of Erebor, Bilbo reconnects with the returned wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen, now in his sixth go as the mage), and finds himself as erstwhile mediator between the factions of humans, elves, and dwarves who descend on the dwarves' mountain stronghold with designs on the piles of gold secreted therein. Oh, and let's not forget the hordes of Orcs also waiting in the wings. Without getting into too many spoilers about what ensues, there is a battle, and it may or may not involve somewhere between four and six armies.

With Jackson needing to flesh out this cornucopia of plotlines to a much greater degree than what's actually on the page, we get an extended arc for the bowman Bard (Luke Evans), whose troubled lineage seems to anticipate similar terrain for Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen) in the Rings films. We also get a star-crossed love story between Aidan Turnger's dwarf Kili and Evangeline Lilly's elf warrior Tauriel (who Jackson and co-writers Fran Walsh and Phillippa Boyens manufactured out of a whole cloth). There's also some more fancy archery from Orlando Bloom's elf Legolas (also not present in the book), only some of which feels shoehorned in.

Now, not having read the book (I'll get to it one of these days, I swear!), I'm not qualified to address how true a representation of that text this series is, but given that Jackson clocks nearly nine hours of film in service of about three hundred pages of text, I think it's safe to say that if "brevity" was one of Tolkien's original intents, that went out the window about a movie-and-a-half ago. But in lieu of the late author's relative breeziness, what we've gotten instead here is an expanded, immersive examination of the mythical, magical realm he created. 

By the time The Battle of the Five Armies reaches the end of its 144-minute runtime (which, in a testament to the power of lowered expectations, is practically puny when stacked against the endurance tests the other Tolkien adaptations have been), our man Bilbo has returned from his many adventures, back to his little Hobbit hole in the Shire. In turn, the Middle Earth cycle has been wound all the way back around to the very beginning of 2001's The Fellowship of the Ring, seamlessly segueing from this trilogy into the previous/later one.

Taken together, the filmic Hobbit and Lord of the Rings trilogies combine to provide a perfect six-movie cycle with a clean beginning, middle and end, allowing us to fully appreciate this mammoth undertaking for what it has accomplished. All my previous qualms about the girth (and necessity) of individual installments notwithstanding, there's no denying that the totality of this saga represents a singular achievement in cinematic history. We'll likely never see its kind again, but I'm grateful nonetheless that we got this opportunity to go there and back again. A

To hear more of my thoughts on The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, check out the latest episode of the MovieFilm Podcast at the link or via the embed below:

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