By the beard of Gandalf the Grey, I swear I was conscious for the entirety of The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, that not a minute of its seemingly endless titular tiff - the rain of flying arrows, the marauding Orcs, the screeching bats, the Elven king Thranduil and his antlered steed, the galloping Wargs and the prosthetic noses of a baker's dozen dwarves, the clang and thwack of computer-generated combatants of every Middle-earthian stripe - escaped my attention.
Oh, but I wished it had.
The third and final installment in Peter Jackson's bloated adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien's wondrous 1937 children's book takes the climactic conflagration and turns it into a giant-screen videogame of clashing CGI legions, of dialogue as hoary as it is hilarious. Yes, somebody actually yelps, "We attack at dawn!" (I guess Jackson and his scribes missed Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon's "We attack at dawn!" sendup in The Trip.)
With platoons of visual-effects artists and techies - and with his homeland, New Zealand, providing magnificent (albeit digitally enhanced) backdrops - Jackson delivers state-of-the-art eye candy. If you want to see a Renaissance faire turned into an apocalyptic battlefield, this is the ticket.
But if you want any kind of human-scale, er, hobbit-scale drama, The Battle of the Five Armies is woefully lacking. Beginning in sleepy ole Lake-town - under attack by the fire-breathing dragon Smaug - and ending eons later back in Bag End in the cozy precincts of the Shire, Jackson's take on Tolkien is all about gold lust, mistrust, and shaky alliances. The Treasure of the Sierra Madre was about exactly the same thing (minus the goblins and squabbling dwarves). But here, the conversation teems with Middle-earth place-names, with grand pronouncements, portentous Elfspeak, and pugnacious Orcspeak (the latter two in subtitles).
As for our hero, Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), he makes himself scarce, avoiding a good deal of the battle and the hard-charging banter that goes with it. The ring that figures so pivotally in The Lord of the Rings does, after all, make its wearer invisible.
Jackson's Rings trilogy was groundbreaking stuff, not just a technological marvel but also a heartfelt tribute to its source material. But once the filmmaker and his crew had their Weta Digital and Weta Workshop effects studios up and running, the temptation to tackle Tolkien's humble prequel was obviously too much. And too much is what Jackson hath wrought.
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies is all about overkill. And when the killing is over, we, like Bilbo, can finally go home again. Hopefully our domiciles won't have been looted in the eternity that we've been away.
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies ** (Out of four stars)
Directed by Peter Jackson. With Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Evangeline Lilly, Hugo Weaving, Richard Armitage. Distributed by New Line Cinema/Warner Bros.
Running time: 2 hours, 24 mins.
Parent's guide: R (violence, adult themes).
Playing at: area theaters.EndText