The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies–Movie Review

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3.5 Stars
The Hobbit 3 poster
After watching the first two films of the series I felt I had to watch The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (IMDB) even though it might well turn out to be a train wreck. And I’m going to surprise you by giving it a marginal recommendation.

I’m not saying that this really is a good adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s classic novel. But my rule is that a movie should be judged on its own merits without reference to the source material. If this were an original work I think that most people who like such things would say that this is a pretty decent though somewhat uneven action-adventure fantasy.

Peter Jackson’s 3 movie adaptation of Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings was good because it mostly stuck close to Tolkien’s original text. Where it deviated from the text it tended to be mediocre, or in some cases bizarrely bad. (And he only made it worse in the director’s cut.)

Whatever his faults, J.R.R. Tolkien was a master storyteller, far out of the league of the average present-day screenwriter. So when a movie adds extra material the results generally aren’t good. The Hobbit has enough material for one movie, or at most two if you really stretch it out. So this certainly would have been better if Jackson had not tried to make three movies out of it.

Good things:

  • The movies look great, at least on a regular movie screen. (Some people warn that the higher resolution of a IMAX screen reveals the flaws in the CGI.)
  • Martin Freeman’s performance as Bilbo Baggins. He’s the heart and soul of the movie.
  • I rather liked the addition of Radagast and Tauriel. They may not be absolutely necessary to the story, but in small doses they are a nice touch.

Bad things:

  • All of the scenes in Dol Guldur should have been cut out and buried in a lead-lined coffin.
  • There are too many added fighting scenes and they go on too long. The original book probably had the right number of action scenes. Adding more just diminishes the impact. (Of course if you are trying to pad the movie, it’s easier to write action scenes than good dialog.)

The bottom line: it’s a decent popcorn flick and easy on the eyes. Possibly a good editor could cut this down into something really great. Less is more.

UPDATE: 11/20/2015: Peter Jackson says “I didn’t know what the hell I was doing’ when shooting The Hobbit. (Though I think he still doesn’t see the larger problem.)