2.5 stars
It is a desperate shame that when some 17 hours have been spent in Middle Earth - a film feast that has going on for over a decade; that when the final two and half hours come to a close, the feeling is one of relief.
Not excitement, sadness, inspiration, hope or despair. Relief. It's an indictment on Peter Jackson's now infamously bloated Hobbit / Lord of the Rings series. But it was always going to be this way. We got wind of that when Jackson spent nearly an hour farewelling his Ring cycle. We knew it when he announced that The Hobbit, slender, children's bed-time reading, would become a trilogy of movies. There was only one way it could end and Jackson hasn't disappointed. In fact, he cut us some slack in that The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies is the shortest of all instalments.

It opens with a bang, fiery scenes of Laketown being razed by the dragon Smaug are truly thrilling and show Jackson at his best. There's no doubting he's on top of the game when it comes to staging spectacular disaster in delicious 3D detail. But it also heightens what has always been a problem with both series. That this sequence in which Smaug is felled opens the film, and didn't close the previous Hobbit (The Desolation of Smaug) as it should have (and there's a clue in the title Peter), underlines the money-making intentions of its producers. I'll get back to that.

Meanwhile, with one adversary out of the way, Bilbo and the dwarves lay claim to a vast treasure beneath the Lonely Mountain that man, elves, dwarves, orcs, more dwarves and even more orcs all want a share of. It sets the stage for the ultimate show down, the battle of five armies, further complicated by a touch of dragon-sickness that has crept up on now-mad Dwarf King Thorin (Richard Armitage). Running around the edges and trying to keep the peace is the sidelined wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellan), a few more elves and most curiously, the titular hobbit himself.

That Bilbo, the story's most interesting character, is distanced from events is a major weakness as it leaves Martin Freeman, the film's biggest acting asset, with little to do. And let's face it, everything else has been done, and seen, before though perhaps not in such tantalisingly, eye-wateringly crisp precision. This Super-Duper-HD3D version presents a hyper-real vision of staggering detail that opens up a view of Middle Earth not seen before. Sometimes, as with Legolas bouncing improbably over digital mountains on a digital goat, these are things you don't want to see. But it is a minor quibble. The major one, as always, rests with story. There was never enough to sustain three, long, films.

Hence familiar personal parachuted into the Hobbit story, and those created especially for it. This character ballast is an attempt to offset what is otherwise one, long fight sequence (it's also in the title). Because no matter how well staged, battles must be the crescendo from all that came before. They are not the film itself, even if, further to Jackson's credit, his management of chop-and-slay is engaging and explicit. He doesn't create the kind of digital smear that bedevils Michael Bay, and retains our focus on the peril at hand. Some new creatures and some unexpected losses maintain interest, even if the once stomach-churning fear of orcs has been lost along the way.

It is the accumulation of loss that is the undoing of Middle Earth. After seventeen hours, what is left is a feeling of exhaustion, and it could have been so different. Rather than pander to excess, ego, Hollywood and its offshore accounts, here is a trio of movies which should have been one epic, Hobbit film. It should have sat before a revised The Lord of the Rings Parts 1 and 2, two films created by excising that trilogy and shaving off fifteen false endings. With Jackson in command and running a neat 9 hours, this compacted event would have been remembered as one of cinemas finest achievements. As it is, we're left with one great film, a number of good moments and an overwhelming sense of relief.


Previewed at Event Cinemas, George St, Sydney on December 17, 2014


Martin Freeman
Richard Armitage
Ian McKellan
Evangeline Lilly
Orlando Bloom

Peter Jackson

Fran Walsh
Philippa Boyens

USA / New Zealand


141 minutes

December 26, 2014
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (2014) on IMDb