The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (2014)

(On Cable TV, September 2015) On one hand, watching The Hobbit after enduring so many generic fantasy films is like sipping very high-quality product: this is how fantasy should be done, respectfully and with big budget and capable filmmakers.  Everything feels slick, polished, handled with wit and intelligence.  Peter Jackson’s direction is fantastic, the script holds its own, the special effects are still capable of astonishing audiences and there are a number of great moments built into the film.  (The Legolas fight on top of a crumbling tower, in particular, is an action-scene showcase.)  It decently wraps up the trilogy, makes a solid bridge to The Lord of the Rings and shows how modern cinema can fully realise even the most complex fantasy mythology.  Well done.  But on the other hand… This third installment of The Hobbit, as well-made as it is, also shows exactly what’s wrong with modern Hollywood filmmaking: The quest for profits has blown a kid’s book into a massive movie trilogy, with added battles, characters, romantic subplot and links to the previous/subsequent trilogy.  Perhaps worse: the result feels intensely flabby, everything handled without nimbleness to the point of feeling oppressed by the imposed grandeur of the result.  This couldn’t be any more important, shouts the trilogy, as if there weren’t any other modes in which to tell the story.  At times, it feels dull –we expect the test questions to pop up at any moment to test our knowledge of all there made-up names and useless complications.  But, of course, that’s sort of the point of those films: to appeal broadly to people who aren’t invested in the story, while providing plenty of depth to the aficionados.  I just happen to fall on the wrong side of the divide (that is: the casual audience) most of the time.  Now that we’re done with The Hobbit, maybe Peter Jackson can do something else with his life than strip-mine Tolkien’s work.

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