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Cinema in Focus: ‘The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies’

2 Stars — Troubling

This review is best understood if you are familiar with J.R.R. Tolkien's book The Hobbit.

When Tolkien created the world of Middle Earth, he did so both as an expression of his literary talents and to explore his Christian faith through analogous symbols. Thus the power of the rings, the dragon’s treasure, the warring nations and species and supernatural good and evil all weave together a new but familiar tale with which we all identify. However, when the violence inherent within the telling of this tale becomes divorced from its metanarrative, we are left with a troubling gratuitous violence that has little redeeming value.

This is what happened when director Peter Jackson took the prequel volume of the Lord of the Rings trilogy and made the single volume into three full-length films. This seemingly economic choice was a creative mistake brought to full failure in this last of the films, The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies.

Having experienced Jackson’s masterpiece of storytelling and filmmaking in the trilogy of films that mirrored the trilogy of the Lord of the Ring books, it is all the more disappointing when he reversed his usual mode and divided this single volume.

That is not to say that the film is technically lacking. The ability to create creatures from five realms who battle over a cursed treasure of gold and gems did build on the creative imagery of the previous films. However, what is lacking is the depth of the story. Only lightly weaving through the violence are the deeper messages of love and loyalty that overcome greed and arrogance.

Picking up where the second film in the Hobbit series left off with the killing of the fire-breathing dragon Smaug, there is now no protector, however evil, of the dwarves’ ancient treasure. King Thorin (Richard Armitage) now takes his loyal band into the heart of the mountain only to become mad as the curse of the treasure overtakes his mind. Going back on his word to the men and elves who helped him kill Smaug, Thorin barricades himself inside the fortress and summons the help of his Scottish cousin, who is also a dwarf king.

Into this mix of greedy madness and ego, we also have the arrogant prejudice of the elven King Thranduil (Lee Pace). When we add the albino leader of the orcs, Azog (voiced by Manu Bennett), whose demonic ambition is matched by the desperation of the army of men, we have five armies locked in mortal conflict.

We won’t spoil how this ends except to say that the depiction of the battle is more graphic than in any of the previous films and not for the young or sensitive viewer.

The moral messages of this final film are several although underplayed. The ring’s deceptive power over Bilbo (Martin Freeman) is obvious, and Gandalf’s (Ian McKellen) struggle to know how to protect both Bilbo and Middle Earth is clear. But also present is Bilbo’s courageous loyalty and Bard the Bowman’s (Luke Evans) love for his family. These and other themes do set the stage for the trilogy in all of its glory. But in the final analysis, this sixth and last film of this epic tale is a troubling disappointment in an otherwise excellent series of films.


» The curse on the gold of the mountain was only broken in King Thorin’s life when he faced it squarely. This act of honest confession seems to be the only way any of us can become free to be ourselves. How do you face those things that capture your soul?

» The kind heart of Bilbo Baggins was still able to be seduced by the power of the ring, at least to the extent that he was willing to lie to Gandalf about still having it in his possession. Have you found that lying or deceiving is a part of your own obsessions? How do you stop doing so?

» The coming of the eagles into the war is said to be a reference to the United States coming into World War II to turn the tide and save England. If that is true, who do you believe Tolkien saw as being the English in this battle of Five Armies? Who do you think the other armies represent, or is this all fictional and not specific to actual nations and their armies?

— Cinema in Focus is a social and spiritual movie commentary. Hal Conklin is a former mayor of Santa Barbara and Denny Wayman is pastor of Free Methodist Church, 1435 Cliff Drive. For more reviews, visit www.cinemainfocus.com, or follow them on Twitter: @CinemaInFocus. The opinions expressed are their own.

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