Director Peter Jackson made a number of questionable decisions in his adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit. First, he split the author’s shortest book in three movies. Then, he decided to show it in a 48 frames-per-second format (the usual is 24), giving the film a weirdly hyper-realistic look. Lastly, he inserted two elves that weren’t in the original text: Fan favorite Legolas (Orlando Bloom) and made-up Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly). Furthermore, Tauriel falls in love with Kili, one of Thorin Oakenshield’s companions. An elf! With a dwarf! The scandal!
While some of these choices fell flat (the first and second movies should have been merged into one), Jackson deserves some credit for taking some risks instead of resting on his Lord of the Rings’ cred. The Tauriel-Kili romance enhances the emotional impact of the conclusion. The high frame count makes the 3-D work better (at the very least, it infuses the preternaturally dark gimmick with additional light), and makes the battle scenes look more fluid. The dwarves are still interchangeable, but other characters’ development makes it less noticeable.
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies kicks off minutes after the second one’s cliffhanger. Moody dragon Smaug turns Laketown into ashes, but is brought down by Bard the bowman (Luke Evans) in glorious mythological fashion. The dragon’s death triggers a major problem nobody had considered: A power vacuum and unimaginable riches up for grabs (Smaug was the Saddam Hussein of Middle Earth).
In a matter of hours, armies of elves, dwarves and orcs head to Lonely Mountain to get their hands on the treasure. An increasingly unhinged Thorin (Richard Armitage) has locked himself inside, alongside the rest of the dwarves and master burglar Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman). Miles away, Gandalf (Ian McKellen) and a trio of familiar faces (Galadriel, Saruman and Elrond) get a taste of the Necromancer (a.k.a. Sauron) for the first time.
The highlight of the film (outside Christopher Lee’s surprisingly nimble Saruman) is the battle. Peter Jackson has perfected this aspect of his craft significantly: Even though there are thousands of fighting bodies on screen, you know the position of each army and their goal. Furthermore, some beats give you the goosebumps, like the Thorin-led dwarves charge. The visual panache is all over the place: Even though the eagles’ appearance feels like cheating (it’s Tolkien idea of weapons of mass destruction), they join the fight using bears as projectiles. That’s right, EAGLES DROPPING BEARS ON ORCS. What’s not to love.
I saw the film in 3-D and 48 fps, just like Hobbits 2 and 3, but added D-Box to the experience. The D-Box device makes your armchair move and vibrate in synchrony with whatever is going on in the movie. I figured this would be the most appropriate film to try it: Lots of battles and an ill-tempered dragon. It’s off-putting in the beginning, sort of enjoyable midway through, and you completely forget about it towards the end. It reminded me of a mildly entertaining amusement park attraction that goes on for too long. Definitely not worth the 10-dollar overcharge.
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies: Four prairie dogs. The Hobbit trilogy: Three prairie dogs complaining it should have been just two movies.