You might want to brush up on your Hobbit knowledge because director Peter Jackson (who wrote the movie with (Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens and Guillermo del Toro) plunges you right into the action in “The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies.” This bloated last film of the Hobbit trilogy gives plenty of time to 1) admire the hair extensions and wigs of the characters in windblown closeups and 2) wonder about the psychology of greed (“Dragon sickness”) and why it should infect dragons (what exactly to they buy).
The first movie, “An Unexpected Journey” took a while to get rolling, beginning as the soon-to-be 111 Bilbo Baggins sits down to write the story of his great adventure and in flashbacks we are introduced to the great gold-hoarding dragon Smaug (obscured glimpses) who drives the Dwarf king Thror out of the Lonely Mountain and we also meet Thror’s grandson Thorin who survives the battle with a bitter memory of how King Thranduil and his Wood Elf army stood by and watched their defeat. No word if they wood elves and the dwarves had reciprocal treaties.
Now Bilbo (Martin Freeman as the middle-aged Bilbo) joins the Lone Mountain dwarves (Thorin, Balin, Dwalin, Fíli, Kíli, Dori, Nori, Ori, Óin, Glóin, Bifur, Bofur, and Bombur) through wizard Gandalf the Grey’s intervention as a burglar. The group meet and escape from trolls, goblins and orcs with the help of Gandalf, (Ian McKellen) and his friend and fellow wizard Radagast (Sylvester McCoy). Bilbo also bumps into Gollum and finds the ever precious ring.
At this point, we haven’t seen Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch). The big reveal is saved for the second movie, “The Desolation of Smaug.”
A whole year has passed since Bilbo left his home. Before we meet Smaug, the company gets a dose of arachnophobia, meet a shapeshifter (Mikael Persbrandt) who sometimes take the form of a bear and become the prisoners of Thranduil. (Lee Pace). Jackson’s script added to the complicated interspecies socialization with a romance between Thranduil’s son Legolas (Orlando Bloom) and fellow elf Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly) but also the forbidden attraction between Tauriel and Kili (Aidan Turner) flickers to life as the children audience focus dies.
The dwarves and Bilbo are then taken into Esgaroth by a bowman named Bard (Luke Evans). At Laketown the company learns that Bard is the descendant of the last ruler of Dale and has the only arrow that can kill Smaug. Thorin promises a share of the treasure in Lonely Mountain and then the dwarves and company travel on to Lonely Mountain. Bilbo finds a secret entrance and while attempting to find the Arkenstone, the hobbit awakens the dragon. The dwarves and Bilbo attempt to kill Smug with molten gold, but when this fails the dragon flies off to destroy Lake-town with the dwarves watching.
So at the beginning of “The Battle of Five Armies,” the dwarves are at Lonely Mountain and Smaug isn’t exactly the toast of Lake-town, but he is toasting the town. Bard has been imprisoned and now must escape and find his family and kill Smaug. That’s a demanding to-do list.
Smaug does die and that gets us to the Five Armies. Thorin contracts dragon sickness and refuses to honor his agreement with the Lake-town people under Bard. Besides the Bard and his rabble, the beautifully armored wood elves arrive as the king, Thranduil wants to reclaim some jewels. That’s three armies and each has problems within the ranks. The dwarves are worried about Thorin’s increasingly irrational and almost paranoid behavior. Thranduil must deal with his rebellious son Legolas and his son’s love interest Tauriel. Bard has a greedy, cravenly dude with bad teeth to worry about. This is all padding, even more padding than the dental-nightmare dude eventually dons when he goes drag queen.
Yet news has spread about the liberation of all that gold, even without the Internet and social media, cellphones or landlines. Our small dwarf troop rejoices at the arrival of an army of their cousins. But the men, dwarves and elves have a mutual enemy coming as well. Azog leads an Orc army and Bolg leads an army of the goblins, bats and wargs. The five armies are then 1) dwarves, 2) Lake-town men 3) wood elves 4) eagles and 5) orcs. In addition the eagles, and the shape-shifting bear come near the end.
We know how this ends because Bilbo survives to write a book and set his nephew off on a more serious adventure. Ian and I made a bet who would die Kili or Tauriel. He was wrong. I won’t give spoilers here. Jackson gives us long, windblown takes of tresses and meaningful gazes between the beautiful people during the rough and tumble of the battle scene which is like having perfume commercials or glam-rock shots interspersed within a computer war game. We argued if Thranduil wasn’t unfairly portrayed as cold and pragmatic and if Tolkien used the eagles as a deus ex machina or as he termed it eucatastrophe (think of it as catastrophe avoidance device), Jackson’s script explains the eagles (which may or may not be one of the armies) he also adds a one-time appearance creature to help out the orcs.
According to Amazon, the book “The Hobbit” is for ages 12 years and up (7th grade) and the paperback edition is 300 pages. In comparison, the first book of “The Lord of the Rings” is 432 pages, “The Two Towers” is 352 pages and “The Return of the King” is 432 pages. That’s a total of 1,216 pages that became three movies compared to “The Hobbit” which is only 300 and became, three movies. I heard on the radio that it takes longer to watch the three Hobbit movies by Peter Jackson than it does to read the book.
The book has its flaws such as the reliance on deus ex machina and while Jackson attempts to explain them, he also adds more conveniences (the worms), Hollywood hooks (e.g. romantic triangle) and padding (e.g. Thorin’s death scene and the windblown hairography) and embraces CGI excess to the detriment of character development and a tighter story line and few movies. “The Hobbit” is a children’s book, but Jackson drags it into the young adult arena with uneasy tonal shifts. Bilbo was a modest and sensible burglar and Freeman portrays as such, but his movie saga is anything but.