- - Tuesday, December 16, 2014

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

At 144 minutes, “The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies” is the shortest of director Peter Jackson’s six Middle Earth movies yet, and yet it still feels endless. The finale to a trilogy at least two films too long, it plays like an extended third act that lacks the traditional rhythms of a feature film. It’s exhausting and interminable, a big-budget, high-fantasy slog that will test the patience and endurance of even the most devoted fans of the source material.

Like its two predecessors, “The Battle of the Five Armies” is an adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s children’s fantasy, “The Hobbit.” Mr. Jackson has taken that slender, 300-page prequel novel about hobbits, dwarves, and dragons and expanded it into a pummeling, garish, noisy blockbuster — or, rather, into three of them.

With a total running time of roughly eight hours, not including the extra hour’s worth of bonus material on Jackson’s extended editions, the movie trilogy will take most people longer to watch than the book will to read.

Mr. Jackson is no stranger to Mr. Tolkien’s fantasy world. A little more than a decade ago, he adapted “The Lord of the Rings,” a trilogy of novels about an epic journey through the land of Middle Earth to destroy a ring of great power, one that inevitably tempted its bearers to evil, slowly chipping away at their souls.

Mr. Jackson’s take on that series was glorious, a giant-sized passion project from a director deliriously in love with the books. It had scale and scope, bombast and bravado. It was also a massive commercial success.


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With the prequel trilogy Mr. Jackson has tried to conjure up a similarly grand sense of adventure, but neither he nor the material are up to it. The book has enough incident and adventure for a single film, but not three, and Jackson’s additions tend to feel like either padding or pandering. (Was it really necessary to bring Legolas, the bow-wielding elf from the “Lord of the Rings,” into the prequel?)

Meanwhile, Mr. Jackson seems exhausted. He repeats himself constantly in “The Battle of the Five Armies,” borrowing from his earlier trilogy to increasingly diminishing returns. There’s another massive siege at a stony keep, another overlong multi-army battle, and another mad king driven by lust for power and wealth. It is ironic that a sequel that is so obviously a commercial cash-in should have as its theme the destructive nature of empty greed.

Mr. Jackson still has a way with spectacle and visual detail; one can’t help but marvel at the movie’s enormous fantasy vistas, its digitally conjured armies and roaring medieval monsters. This is a movie that features a surly dwarven general riding an armor-plated war-pig and oversized battle Orcs wearing metallic diapers joined with skulls. There is always — perhaps too often — something interesting to look at.

Yet for all its splendor, the movie lacks all but the barest human warmth or feeling. Many of the performers — Ian McKellen as the wizard Gandalf, Martin Freeman as the hobbit Bilbo, Evangeline Lilly as the elf Tauriel, Richard Armitage as the dwarf king Thorin Oakenshield — are fine actors, yet they all get lost in the onslaught. It is a pointless, prolonged exercise in spectacle, empty and endless. Mr. Jackson has not adapted “The Hobbit” so much as succumbed to its commercial power, letting its dark lure tempt him into an overblown trilogy devoid of a soul.

★★

144 minutes

Rated PG-13 for epic fantasy violence

Directed by Peter Jackson, screenplay by Mr. Jackson, Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens

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