Film / Reviews

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies: 'initial exhilaration gives way to fatigue'

by Giovanni Fazio

On the one hand, we have the fanboys, for whom “The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies” will be the “Best. Film. Ever.,” as director Peter Jackson delivers a ginormously action-packed finale to his second Middle Earth trilogy. Kicking things off with a fire-breathing dragon razing the town of Lakewood, Jackson moves quickly into a supersized battle between elves, dwarves, men, goblins, bats, wizards and orcs, but alas, no winged monkeys. One film to rule them all . . . at least until “Star Wars: Episode VII — The Force Awakens” comes along.

On the other, we have Christopher Tolkien — son of author JRR Tolkien, who wrote both “The Hobbit” and “The Lord of the Rings,” and the man in charge of the Tolkien estate — who has said that director Peter Jackson has “eviscerated” the books by making them into juvenile “action movies.”

“The chasm between the beauty and seriousness of the work, and what it has become, has overwhelmed me,” said Tolkien in an interview with Le Monde. “The commercialization has reduced the aesthetic and philosophical impact of the creation to nothing.”

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (Hobbit: Kessen no Yukue)
Rating
Director Peter Jackson
Run Time 144 minutes
Language English
Opens Dec. 13

Jackson’s films are entertaining enough, but they don’t reveal the Tolkien I found in the books, nor the one I created in my head (though as a child of the 1970s, my vision of Tolkien is forever tied to a haze of shared joints with Led Zeppelin playing in the background). But then again, the Brothers Hildebrandt, with their tacky neo-Aryan paintings of Tolkien’s world, didn’t get it right, and neither did Ralph Bakshi or the Rankin-Bass studio with their animated versions of his books.

It’s hard to argue that Jackson hasn’t tried to be faithful; one need only look at Tolkien’s own paintings of the Shire or the dragon Smaug lying atop his pile of treasure to recognize what Jackson has accomplished. And while the acting is all over the map, certain characterizations — particularly Ian McKellen’s Gandalf, Martin Freeman’s Bilbo, and Kate Blanchett’s Galadriel — seem to have sprung from the page.

Yet Jackson seems equally influenced by the geeky spawn of Tolkien: generations of RPGs like D&D, World Of Warcraft, and just about every other game on the app store where the point is combat and killing monsters and little else. Just look at Tolkien’s description of the five-army battle near the end of “The Hobbit”; it’s a terse 10 paragraphs. Jackson however, stretches this out to a numbing hour of screen time. His battle sequences are fantastically well executed but excessive, and a viewer’s initial exhilaration gives way to a sense of fatigue.

The problem here is that within a fanboy culture that worships the “epic,” the only way to go is bigger and badder-ass. Jackson not only has to out-do his siege at the end of “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King,” but also every other fantasy film released since then, such as “300” or “Eragon.” Fanboys can never get enough, but for the casual viewer of fantasy, we may have hit the point of diminishing returns.