December 16, 2014 for NARC. Magazine
Length: 144 minutes
Writers: J.R.R Tolkein (novel); Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson, Guillermo del Toro (screenplay)
Dir.: Peter Jackson
Starring: Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, and the rest…
It’s strange to see just how often and how quickly Hollywood history repeats itself. Not too long ago (just as the Lord of the Rings was being filmed), George Lucas released a trilogy of sub-par sequels to a beloved franchise of his own creation. He totally messed it up. He replaced innovative practical effects and model shots with bad CGI and green screens. A simple but effective story with well-established characters that developed over time were replaced with a dull and convoluted narrative and cardboard characters that no one cared about. All in all, the films were written-off as a betrayal by the fan-base and genuinely some of the worst movies ever made.
As objectively as possible, The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies is a fundamentally bad film. It seems very clear to me that it was never intended to be a movie in its own right. Its 2 hour 24 minute runtime (incidentally, the shortest of all The Hobbit movies) is largely taken up by the eponymous battle and padded with pointlessly long scenes and liberal use of slow motion. I would outline the plot, but there basically isn’t one. Dragon’s dead, five armies show up, there is a battle. The end.
Okay. There’s a bit more to it than that. In fact, there is a whole host of tangential sub-plots that go nowhere to fill out the running time. For example, for some reason it is decided that Chubby Legolas has unresolved mummy issues and the story takes a massive detour to explain this, only to forget about it by the end. What little story there is is inconsistent, convoluted and ultimately confusing. Couple this with some surprisingly bad editing and it becomes extremely difficult to figure out what is going on half the time.
Speaking of Chubby Legolas, he is given a lot of screen time in this film and it’s mostly devoted to him doing stupid stuff. A particular low point that provoked an audible groan from the audience in the screening I was in was when he runs up falling masonry. Stones that are falling through the air. The funnier thing for me though was that this immediately follows a scene where Legolas runs out of arrows (in a shot-for-shot remake of that scene from Avengers Assemble). The juxtaposition of a half-hearted attempt at realism followed by an apparent homage to bad kung-fu movies tickled me somewhat.
The comparison with the Star Wars prequels is an easy one to make, as there are so many similarities. If I was being particularly kind, though, I’d have to say that I don’t think it’s entirely Peter Jackson’s fault. Whereas with the Star Wars prequels, the problem was that George Lucas had total creative control and no-one to tell him that his ideas were awful, the faults of The Battle of Five Armies – and The Hobbit films in general – smack of studio micromanaging. The film has been engineered to make the LOTR lightning strike twice; a series of loosely connected action set pieces, devoid of subtlety and soul, designed specifically to squeeze more money out of a perfectly good franchise.
Here’s the ultimate irony: the film that is the most perfect cinematic example of flogging a dead horse attempts to make a moral point about the dangers of greed and the virtues of being happy with what you have. This is advice you should definitely take. Stay at home and read the book; it’s much, much better.