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Film Review: The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

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For any lovers of superb television, this autumn has provided some amazing content to enjoy and one of the highlights has been Tom Shankland's series The Missing on BBC One.

In that series there was a grisly and deeply disturbing scene (spoiler alert) where James Nesbitt, playing a father looking for his missing son, brutally bashes in the head of Ken Stott, a paedophile and murderer, on a beautiful sailing boat full of videos cassettes of snuff films. And so, for the majority of the running time of The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, I couldn't stop thinking of the dwarves Bofur and Balin (played by Nesbitt and Stott, again) reenacting this scene, dressed in their full middle-earth outfits. The fact that this kept me amused much more than many of the battle scenes in the film is perhaps a testament to how crushingly boring Peter Jackson's third instalment of his overblown Hobbit series is.

The first film built up the Dragon excitement factor, although we barely saw the thing. The second film built up the Dragon excitement factor, although he didn't really do anything. This third film arrives with a lot of Dragon excitement factor, since he took flight at the end of last year’s film, ready to wreak havoc on Laketown. After such a build up, surely Jackon and his gang would give us something to remember? No.

Smaug's attack makes up all but a rather grand introductory sequence. The film loses interest with such story threads and is more concerned with elves and dwarves and orcs hacking each other to pieces in extended battle scenes. This last film is all about clashes. The dwarves upset the elves and they all get upset by the orcs and things get violent.

As I have said before in previous reviews, it is upsetting to see such a charming, wondrous and relatively short children's book turned into a stage for battle violence akin to the content featured in The Lord of the Rings.

Speaking of LOTR, it will be impossible to rewatch that series of films in the same way, since a lot of characters that seemed to be unwise to details involving Sauron and the rings of power suddenly seem to know a lot about them. There is even a ridiculously cartoony scene where he turns up and starts shouting at Galadriel and Gandalf; a sequence which greatly undermines the feeling of menace Jackson expertly wove around the character throughout The Fellowship of The Ring.

The tone of the film veers wildly from slapstick comedy to serious we’re-all-going-to-die doom. There’s a very annoying character that is given way too much screen time, men dressing in women’s clothing is apparently still the height of hilarity and the actors frequently have trouble chomping through a lot of the dead wood the screenplay gives them.

Martin Freeman handles the role of Bilbo superbly. He is the most likeable character and Jackson has done well to keep him feeling Tolkien-esque whilst he sets about spinning everything happening around him into a very un-Tolkien mess. Bilbo is a character who finds himself thrown into a strange and confusing world, one very different to what he is used to.

I imagine that's how many fans of the original novel The Hobbit feel whilst watching this series of films. In a special edition of Empire magazine this Christmas, Jackson was asked by actors and filmmakers questions about his career. I was struck by how many people spoke of their love for his smaller films, particularly the near-masterpiece Heavenly Creatures, and asked if one day he would return to making such films again. I echo such a hope.

Jackson has done all the battles and animated all the CGI orcs the world needs. It is time to return to human-driven drama of the kind that impresses through the breadth of emotions covered, not the amount of battles that are staged. 

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (2014), directed by Peter Jackson, is released in UK cinemas by Warner Bros. Pictures, Certificate 12A.

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