Talk about beating a dead orc. In dutifully completing his prequel trilogy to his three-part Lord of the Rings triumph, director Peter Jackson has sadly saved the worst for last. The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies is 20 percent inspiration, 80 percent desperation. At 144 minutes, it’s half an hour shorter than its drag-ass predecessors. But the hard truth is that J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit is a slender volume, a quarter the size of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings masterwork and taking place 60 years before. It was never meant to be three movies, except by those who worship at the altar of box-office. Wish granted. The Hobbit films mint money. But Jackson and screenwriters Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens don’t seem as fired up as they once were. The Hobbit movies are so bloated they could survive at sea without flotation devices.
If you haven’t read Tolkien and seen the previous two films, you will be lost at The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies. I’ve done all the prep work and I still struggled. The film picks up with the pissed-off dragon Smaug (icily voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch) laying waste to the citizens of Laketown who stupidly led hobbit Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) to his lair. It’s an opening sequence of digitial dazzlement. Then the plot — er, plots — kicks in.
With Smaug smote, everyone heads to the mountain of Erebor to slobber over treasure and seize power. There are the dwarves led by General Ironfoot (Billy Connolly), the Woodland elves headed by Thranduil (Lee Pace), and the humans who look for guidance to boat-captain Bard (Luke Evans). Even the dwarf prince Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) falls prey to greed. The only thing that brings these homies together is opposition to the armies of ugly Orcs, beholding to the dark lord Sauron. Even the wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen) can’t stop the war. The doomed romance between Amazonian elf Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly) and the besotted dwarf Kili (Aidan Turner) doesn’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world.
At that point, Jackson marshals the five armies in a battle that goes on relentlessly for days. OK, it’s only an hour of screen time, but it taught me the meaning of eternity. I was relieved when Bilbo worked his way back to the Shire for a little R&R before the tale of the ring begins. The Lord of the Rings trilogy will always have a place in movie history. The Hobbit is a footnote and, for me, easy to forget.