Sunday, January 4, 2015

The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies

After watching the first installment of The Hobbit, I determined that the series had reached a point of diminishing returns and so I avoided the next film in the series.  Peter Jackson's films about Middle Earth, of course, represent an important aspect of my life -- these were films that I saw with my children when they were young and I recall The Lord of the Rings trilogy with great warmth -- these were violent movies for boys, but boys deserve good films as much as anyone else and Jackson's pictures were dignified, noble, and thrilling.  But the vastly inflated Hobbit series seemed to me gratuitous, unnecessary, and redundant.  However, out of  a certain nostalgia, I went to the theater in the terrifying January cold of this new year 2015 to see the last picture of the Hobbit trilogy.  The movie was a disappointment to me.  It seems much longer than its 2 hours and 15 minute run-time and, since I had not seen the previous installment, I really couldn't understand what was happening.  To a viewer innocent of the Desolation of Smaug, the movie is baffling and, indeed, its plot seems willfully perverse.  A dragon strafes a Venice made of wooden towers reducing the island city to burning wreckage.  In a ruinous, but well-illuminated grotto, a parody of The Treasure of the Sierra Madre seems to be playing-out:  a dwarf called Thorinn has succumbed to gold-lust.  Like Humphrey Bogart in Huston's movie, he rants and raves and suspects his dozen or so colleagues of theft.  For reasons that are completely inexplicable, an army of monsters led by bigger albino monsters is marching toward the vast cavern where Thorinn sits surrounded by his golden hoard.  Elves arrive en masse, a Fascist army of robot-like men in sparkling armor -- apparently, they also want the gold under the mountain, a Matterhorn-type peak that looks remarkably like the Paramount Studios logo.  There is a face-off between the elves and the dwarves and, then, a million troll-like orcs attacks the city.  An interminable, tedious battle results with much hacking and piercing --orc heads bounce around like soccer balls.  Thorinn, like Achilles brooding over Briseis, remains in his immense, well-lit cave -- he refuses to join the fray although it is hard to see how his presence with his twelve associates could possibly make any difference in a battle that is fought between a hundred-thousand trolls, twenty-thousand elves, 20,000 dwarves led by an uncle of the intransigent Thorinn, and assorted giants, war-bats, and combat-eagles.  Finally, as in the Iliad, Thorinn emerges from his isolation and leads the allied armies to victory.  Caught in the cataclysmic fighting are a couple hundred bedraggled human beings, refugees from the Venetian city destroyed by the dragon, Bilbo Baggins, a tiny Hobbit, who really has almost nothing to do with the story or the endless battle.  (The most interesting character in the series of films, Gollum, a tormented figure like one of demonic figures haunting a Dostoevsky novel is nowhere in evidence in this movie.)  The film goes on and on and on and seems, more or less, a pointless exercise in violence.  There are some charming special effects:  I liked the way the great dragon, mortally wounded lunges upward above the burning city, like a kind of desperate, exhausted flame himself; at one point, a dwarf riding a kind of bighorn sheep scales an icy escarpment nimbly hopping from crag to crag, and one character is chauffeured around on a sleigh drawn by huge jack-rabbits.  A dead monster, drowned under an icy river or, maybe, a lake, drifts beneath the dwarf who seems to have killed him, partly obscured by a veil of translucent ice.  Many of the images have the stony, crystalline appearance of paintings or woodcuts by Mantegna; everything is densely textured and the screen swarms with detailed action to the extent that it is exhausting to watch the movie.  The Battle of Five Armies is resolutely humorless and the dialogue is mostly exotic proper names and fictional geography:  "Eramor has fled to wastes of Domedon..." and so on.  There is no love interest and the focus of the film on the greed of the dwarf-king sulking in his cavern is baffling to me.  The movie is noble, beautifully made, and, often, exciting but many of its special effects are so spectacularly implausible that, it seems, that Jackson has not only creating his own world, Middle Earth, but also exempted it from the laws of physics.  The sequence of movies is finished now; they are monumental accomplishments, but, The Hobbit trilogy in my mind is flawed and I persist in seeing it as completely redundant of effects and dramatic incidents much more brilliantly realized in The Lord of Rings films. 

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