The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (Peter Jackson, 2014)

What's it about? We're straight into the action again, picking up where Part 2 finished, as Smaug the dragon sets off to attack Laketown. But the real action is yet to come as various armies of Middle-Earth face off in a battle for his gold, which lies in his mountain lair.

Is it any good? And so one last time we travel to Middle-Earth to see the final stone put in place in Jackson's remarkable project. Now completed, the Hobbit trilogy may not ever reach the heights of the LOTR one, but there has been much to enjoy along the journey. This final part is no different as Jackson gleefully realises the climactic five-way battle that Tolkien dismissed in a couple of lines in the book. Thus, with a relatively free rein to let his imagination run wild, Jackson gives us plenty to savour here; Smaug burning the shit out of Laketown, sweeping overhead shots of armies clashing, cool stunts, bloodthirsty fights and so on. It has a bear dive-bombing an army of orcs from the back of an eagle. It has Billy Connolly shouting 'buggers!' as he rides a war-pig into battle. Hard to argue with any of that. Once again, Martin Freeman, by far the best thing about The Hobbit trilogy, impresses, even if Bilbo gets sidelined a bit to concentrate on the character of Thorin, battling his internal demons as much s external ones as he succumbs to the lure of the dragon's gold. All the others (human Bard the Bowman, elves Tauriel and Legolas, wizard Gandalf, dwarves Kili and Fili, orc Azog) get their moments in the limelight as they respectively battle their opponents in a variety of acrobatic ways. It's all good stuff, even if the logic and practicalities of the battles requires some major suspension of disbelief. And it finishes nicely, with Freeman deservedly getting to play a key moment that his performance and the overall saga deserved.

For all the epic sweep of the film, however, it's the lack of stirring intimate moments which hobbles The Hobbit. There are deaths here, for example, but they do not move the heart particularly, the emotional impact diluted by the over-padded story. There is comic relief, but it's mostly forced and unfunny. There is the Sauron subplot, which provides continuity with LOTR, but which feels very superfluous. There are speeches, but they sound rather silly, instead of inspiring. And ultimately, there is a real sense of a lack of focus, which applies to the previous two films also. It has been said before, but now, at the end of all things, it seems pertinent to revisit that initial meeting Jackson had with New Line Cinema in 1998 when the decision to greenlight LOTR was made - producer Bob Shaye will forgive me for paraphrasing; "Why are you making two three films when there are three books is one book?" Perhaps Jackson, as he wallowed in his mountains of gold in his own private Erebor, succumbed to dragon-sickness and forgot to focus on those small things that made him and his first three Middle-Earth films so loved in the first place.

I don't trust you. What do others think? Some confusion over who exactly the five armies are. So, to set the record straight, we have men, dwarves, elves, orcs me a minute here. Were-worms! No, wait, they were only there for a short bit. The goblins? No, I think they were part of the orc army, come to think of it. War-bats? That doesn't sound right at all. Who the hell was the fifth army. *consults original book*. Ah the eagles, of course. Forgot about them. Tolkien obviously didn't.

Anything else I should know? Anything Jackson can do, I can do better. Give me a call sometime, Peter.

The Fast Picture Show: The Battle of the Five Armies
Horses, Dogs, Dinosaurs, Cats, Miscellaneous. No eagles.

What does the Fonz think? Worth one last trip.

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