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Article by Teddy Durgin

There and back again for Tolkien fans with last Hobbit film

I am acutely aware that a number of my criticisms of "The Hobbit" movies are the same nitpicks and issues that many people had with George Lucas' "Star Wars" prequels that I've defended. Mainly that they were too bloated; there was too much reliance on computer-generated effects and less use of real locations; there was an awkward, poorly written romance shoe-horned into the narrative; the new characters weren't as compelling as the old ones from the previous, better trilogy; and, chiefly, there was no real tension in any of the films, since we already know exactly where the story was headed and who would survive. Yeah, OK. Fine. But at least the three prequels combined were about six and a half hours long. That was two of these "Hobbit" movies! "Star Wars: Episodes I, II and III" also had lightsabers. Advantage? Galaxy far, far away. "The Battle of the Five Armies" is the "Revenge of the Sith" of the three "Hobbit" movies. It's not only where most of the "meat" is, it's the one that the filmmaker at the helm seems to have really wanted to make all along. I think it's the film audiences have been clamoring for two years for, too - a story better-paced and more emotionally intense than the previous two outings, with actual lives and fates at stake and with ties and tips of the cap directly back to the original three films that we all know and love. With "The Battle of the Five Armies," this is director Peter Jackson unleashing his inner 12-year-old spazz boy, who surely went down to his parents' basement on numerous occasions, seized their biggest table out of storage and set up his little toy armies to wage battles royale of plastics and die-cast metal that only he could really see in his mind. While Martin Freeman remains a delight as the young Bilbo Baggins, Jackson is really most interested in pitting legions of elves against dwarves against orcs against humans. There is about a 70- or 75-minute stretch of movie that is just straight, flat-out battle footage, and he and his crew are drunk with spectacle. Sure, everyone seems to be battling over a fortune of gold in them thar castle halls and not for the collective fate of Middle Earth. And yes, not a single confrontation has the visceral tension of Aragorn vs. Lurtz at the end of "The Fellowship of the Ring" - a one-on-one fight to the death between a human actor and a stunt performer in heavy monster make-up in a real outdoor location with good lighting and NOT in 3-D. But there are several battles within battles in "Five Armies" that totally grab the audience's attention. This is crisp, clear action grandly realized on the silver screen. And for the first time in these films, just as in "Revenge of the Sith," there is real loss to deal with. A fair amount of characters die. Of course, there are still about 45 to 50 scenes where characters almost perish from an evil orc creature lining up his bow and arrow, his sword, his ax, his spear, his hatchet only to have some other character swoop in at the last possible instant and stave off the death blow. But this time, the bad guys are allowed to kill and kill some more. And since most of the characters really haven't mattered much until this third film, there was a certain unpredictability as to who would live and who would die. I kept asking: "Who's gonna bite it next? Nori? Dori? Ori? Fili? Kili? Bifur? Bofur?" And, uh, "Which one is Nori? Which one is Dori? Ori? Fili? Kili? Bifur? Bofur?" For those who are feeling a bit melancholy that this will be the last we see of Middle Earth on the big screen, take heart. Ya never know, folks! Especially when there is Hollywood money at stake.

"The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies" is rated PG-13 for intense fantasy action violence and frightening images


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