Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies



Main Cast: Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage

Director: Peter Jackson

Steven Spielberg by Georges Biard

Steven is thrilled to be working with me. Of course.

Things are absolutely hectic here at Chateau Maine as Normy and I are up to our proverbial eyeballs in pre-production for the new musical movie spectacular that Steven Spielberg has asked to me to devise for him.  Into The Woods has been such a global success with its mash-up of fairy tales that we’re going to mashup all of Spielberg’s oeuvre into one grand and glorious musical spectacular, shoehorning all of his famous films and characters into a single filmic tour de force that is sure to sweep the Golden Globes, the Oscars and the People’s Choice Awards.  With forty some years of classic film moments to choose from, the question becomes where to begin?  As Spielberg first came to prominence with tales of aliens, our opening number is going to take place in a super-secret air base, somewhere in the desert where the Close Encounters of the Third Kind spaceship, piloted by E.T. has been on a biological collecting expedition, netting up a selection of earth creatures, including a great white shark.  Then the ship runs out of fuel, having had its tanks siphoned off by Frank Abagnale to aid his Pan Am 707.   We then cut to an amazing and fiery emergency landing and the surviving aliens run into a band of evil Russians being pursued by Indiana Jones who is rescuing the Ark of the Covenant from an enormous warehouse on the property.  We’re calling the song that accompanies this complex intercut sequence Aria 51 and Normy is working with John Williams to transcribe his famous themes for Theremin to give the audience a truly unique musical experience.


Normy getting ready for John Williams. John must be so excited!

I am playing the heroine of the piece, Indiana’s girlfriend, a new character who has the spunk of Karen Allen, the wardrobe of Kate Capshaw, and the mesmerizing screen presence of Alison Doody.    I handle most of the vocal heavy lifting but later in the number, it becomes a trio with E.T. and Bruce the shark so I need to have real legit voices who can handle the major vocal demands of these roles.  Fortunately, a search of the back page of Operetta Today revealed an available baritone/tenor combo known as “The Two Coreys” who have made quite a name for themselves on whatever it is they call the successor to the Orpheum Circuit.  I had Joseph, my manager, contact their representation and the two darling boys are supposed to arrive later this week for fittings.  The tenor must fit in the E.T. suit so I hope he doesn’t mind scrunching down to under four feet tall while the baritone must be willing to get quite expansive as a large mindless predator.  I hear he was once a divine Mack the Knife so it shouldn’t be much of a stretch but I do hope the darling boy can swim in the outfit Mary Gee is whipping up from pleather, latex and some leftover pieces we borrowed from the producers of Sharknado.

Normy reached a point where he could take a break (having finished a duet late in the movie for Abraham Lincoln and one of the aliens from The War of the Worlds) and so we decided to toddle off to the local Cineplex for a matinee.  We were both in the mood for something bold and expansive, handling great themes with verve and epic sweep but we wandered into the wrong theater and ended up seeing The Hobbit:  The Battle of the Five Armies, Peter Jackson’s conclusion to his latest trilogy of Middle Earth shenanigans.  I am an enormous fan of his film version of The Lord of the Rings and think it was one of the finest adventures ever to come out Hollywood.  Out of a misguided sense of loyalty and blind hope, I have dutifully suffered through all of The Hobbit trilogy, hoping to find some of the magic conjured up by the earlier films and usually ending up disappointed.  The Lord of the Rings, based on a long and complex novel that more or less invented the genre of epic fantasy, had more than enough narrative material to sustain three long and complex films.  The Hobbit is based on a rather simplistic adventure tale written by J.R.R. Tolkien to amuse his children and could have been easily dispatched with a single film but trilogies are so fashionable.

This last installment covers roughly the last fifty or so pages of Tolkien’s original novel so, in order to get nearly three hours of movie out of it, there has been a lot of padding by Jackson and his co-screen writers, his wife Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens.  What Tolkien dispatched with in a paragraph, they have blown up to hours and hours of action sequences, creating characters and subplots Tolkien was smart enough to avoid, such as a completely unnecessary doomed romance between an elf and a dwarf.  The film begins directly where The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug laid off.  With no recap or exposition to remind viewers of where they are, Smaug the dragon (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch) descends on the poor citizens of Laketown including the seedy mayor (Stephen Fry), the heroic Bard (Luke Evans), and a bug eyed bit of what I think is supposed to be comic relief (Ryan Gage).  With the town destroyed, the surviving citizens head for the Lonely Mountain to ask assistance of Thorin (Richard Armitage) and his plucky band of dwarves.  They set up shop in the ruins of Dale outside the gates but Thorin has become obsessed with his new found riches from the dragon’s horde, especially the fabled Arkenstone and refuses to aid the refugees.  Thranduil (Lee Pace), the elven king, then turns up on his moose with his army and Thorin’s cousin Dain (Billy Connolly) turns up with a dwarven army and then the orc armies arrive and soon it’s a Mexican standoff that descends into a free for all, the titular battle that rages on and on and on.  Bilbo Baggins, the hobbit of the title (Martin Freeman) seems to be mainly an afterthought as he switches allegiances back and forth and runs around the battlefield in time to be present at various significant events.  If this synopsis confuses you, imagine trying to make heads or tails of the film without having either read the book or seen the previous films in the series.  Even with all of this time, there are still loose ends creating plot holes large enough for an H3 Hummer.

Jackson is a hugely talented filmmaker and there are sequences that are extremely well composed such as a sword battle on a frozen lake.  It’s too bad that they are trapped amongst so much CGI bloat.  The Lord of the Rings relied on multiple scenes of human scale with the occasional large battle.  The crafting of the weapons and the costumes and the sets was intricate and melded so well with the natural beauty of the New Zealand film locations that it was possible to get lost in the storytelling and hours would pass.   The battle scenes were often the weakest moments in the films, such as the army of the dead defeating the orcs at the battle of the Pellinor fields, a scene that looked somewhat akin to a Dow bathroom cleaner scrubbing bubble commercial.  This installment of The Hobbit unfortunately relies so heavily on epic visual sweep and a cast of thousands of CGI avatars that it ultimately becomes ludicrously boring.

The human actors, who I am sure spent most of their time emoting in front of green screens somewhere, are either not given enough to do (Christopher Lee, Cate Blanchett, most of the dwarves) or are given so little to play that they are reduced to little more than plot devices (Ian McKellen, Orlando Bloom, Evangeline Lilly).  I’m hoping their agents negotiated them all a percentage of box office gross to make it worth their while. Ian McKellen, as Gandalf, probably gives the best performance in the picture but he’s been inhabiting the role for nearly twenty years now and should be able to do it in his sleep.  Martin Freeman tries valiantly to provide a moral center, but is undone by some of the more turgid moments in the script.

The winners in the film are the legions of New Zealand craftspeople that Peter Jackson has assembled at his Weta workshops who create the thousands upon thousands of costumes, props and sets that bring Middle Earth to life.  The settings are gorgeous and New Zealand itself re-emerges as the true star of the film in its locations.  This film is much more static than the previous ones, taking place predominantly at the base of the Lonely Mountain and this hampers some of the drive the other films have had as they move from place to place.  Andrew Lesnie’s cinematography and Dan Hennah’s production design are top notch.  In the end however, it becomes Shakespeare’s tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

Burning tower.  Javelin arrow.  Gratuitous transvestism.  Unadulterated greed.  Moose riding.  Frank Herbert worms.  Goblin warriors.  Ravens and eagles.  Gratuitous Orlando Bloom. Furniture auction.

To learn more about Mrs. Norman Maine, see our Movie Rewind introduction and visit her entire back catalog.

photo of Steven Spielberg by Georges Biard

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