Reviewed by GREG KING

Director: Peter Jackson

Stars” Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, Luke Evans, Evangeline Lilly, Ian McKellen, Lee Pace, Orlando Bloom, James Nesbitt, Billy Connolly, Aidan Turner, Ryan Gage, John Bell, Benedict Cumberbatch, Cate Blanchett, Christopher Lee, Hugo Weaving, Graham McTavish, Ken Stott, Dean O’Gorman, Stephen Fry, Ian Holm, Manu Bennett.

While The Hobbit may not quite match The Lord Of The Rings trilogy for its epic sense of grandeur and action, at least here Peter Jackson brings the trilogy to a satisfying conclusion. This epic film brings Jackson’s epic adaptation of JRR Tolkien’s Lord Of The Rings prequel The Hobbit to a close and ties up loose ends. But stretching the original thin novel (only some 320 pages) out to almost eight hours of film in three parts has become something of a bloated affair, at least for non-fans. At 144 minutes this is the shortest of the three films in the trilogy, and even though it seems to move at a faster pace, there is also a sense that some scenes have been unnecessarily padded out.

Those audiences who were slightly disappointed with the lack of epic action and the languid pacing of the first two films in this series will be pleased that The Battle Of The Five Armies leaps straight into the action. The film takes up the story immediately after the second film finished, with the fire breathing dragon Smaug laying waste to Laketown in a spectacular sequence. This is the desolation that the second film promised in its title, and this sequence probably should have been the conclusion to part two of the series.

This is an ambitious film in both scope and visual achievement, with Jackson and his WETA team pushing the envelope with their special effects, green screen backdrops and 3D visuals. The Hobbit is certainly a visually impressive film with its mix of CGI digitally created characters and epic landscapes that bring Tolkien’s fantasy to life. Like the previous film in the trilogy, The Battle Of The Five Armies unspools at the higher rate of 48 frames per second, which gives the visuals a much crisper look but also a heightened sense of reality.

But one of the main failings is that there are too many characters and it becomes hard to empathise or identify with many of them. Martin Freeman has an affable presence as Bilbo Baggins, the reluctant hero of the piece, but his character is relegated almost to a secondary character in his own story. Much of the focus here on Luke Evan’s Bard the Bowman as he leads the survivors of Laketown to safety, and Richard Armitage’s Thorin Oakenshield who becomes obsessed with the fortune in gold found inside the Lonely Mountain and is almost driven to the edge of madness. And Jackson also spends an inordinate amount of time following the craven and weasly Alfrid (played by Ryan Gage), a former underling of Laketown’s duplicitous mayor (Stephen Fry), who brings a touch of comic relief to proceedings.

But unlike the other films in the series, there is some emotional connection to characters here as we feel for a couple of key characters who are killed. And there is also a hint of forbidden interspecies romance between the dwarf Kili (Aidan Turner) and the elfin warrior Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly) that adds a more emotional element to the drama. And Bard the Bowman also worries about his son Bain (John Bell), who is eager to join the fight despite his young age. And it is smaller moments like these that make you wish that Jackson would return to a more intimate and smaller scale of filmmaking with three dimensional human characters, much like his Heavenly Creatures.

But the centrepiece of Jackson’s ambitious and epic film is undoubtedly the climactic titular battle sequence between the dwarves, the orcs, goblins and the elves to decide the fate of Middle Earth. This energetic scene takes up almost a third of the film’s running time, and it is quite rousing at times. Andrew Lesnie’s camera swoops down and through the various skirmishes with dizzying speed. And Howard Shore’s lush, driving score provides a suitable accompaniment for the spectacular action.

But after 45 minutes or so it becomes a bit tiresome, repetitive and overwhelming. And somehow we feel as if we’ve seen this all before. The epic battle sequences do feel a bit like a video game at times.

Jackson frenetically cuts between the various smaller fights within the epic battle, with one of the highlights being the one on one fight to the death between Thorin and Azog (Manu Bennett) on a treacherous ice field.

Jackson has assembled a solid cast, many returning from the earlier film, like James Nesbitt and Ken Stott reprising their roles as dwarves, and Orlando Bloom makes for an athletic and heroic Legolas. Lee Pace brings a touch of dignity and strength to his role as Thranduil, the king of the elves. Christopher Lee’s Saruman, Cate Blanchett’s elfin warrior Galadriel, and Hugo Weaving’s Elrond appear very briefly in a digitally created fight sequence that adds little to the overall film. And Billy Connolly pops up as Thorin’s cousin Dain, but he is buried under layers of prosthetic makeup and is virtually unrecogniseable until he opens his mouth and you hear his distinctive voice.

Guillermo del Toro was originally slated to direct, and he is still credited here as one of the screenwriters and producers. One wonders if he would have brought a darker edge to the fantasy had he still directed the trilogy. But then again, having seen the mess he made with the special effects driven Pacific Rim, maybe not!



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