Monday, December 22, 2014

The Unstoppable Pointy Ears

Elves kick ass. Legolas really kicks ass. Galadriel, you can't even comprehend the scope of ass she can kick. Barefoot. This is what I took away from The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, what the advertisements are calling the "defining chapter" of Peter Jackson's Middle Earth films. If that's the case, I'd say the definition is action--decadent action. It's fun. It's sometimes vaguely like The Hobbit, too, which is nice.

At a mere two hours and twenty four minutes, it's the shortest of the series, presumably because it's based on about ten pages of material from the very short book Peter Jackson has agonisingly stretched out into three films. I felt that stretch, like my brain were a rubber band pulled between two cacti by Wile E. Coyote as I watched Thorin deal with his greed, his thoughts slurred and slowed down, lines from earlier in the films and the solid gold floor beneath his feet slowly seemed to melt into honey. Thhhhhhiiiiiiiiiiiissss iiiiiiiiiiissssss thheeeeeeeeee hhhhhoooooooooobbbbbbbbiiiiiiiiiiiiiittttt.

Thorin kind of loses his mind in this movie. The believably complex people in the book become straight forward good guys and bad guys or good guys under evil spells. Thorin's psychotic break is so overplayed, nowhere is the stubborn old man from the book, just a twitchy young guy overcome by "dragon sickness". There are no Boromirs in this movie. And that's just how this isn't the defining chapter of Peter Jackson's Middle Earth movies. Because his Lord of the Rings films are marked by people who are tortured by internal conflicts as much as external ones.

Also lost is Tolkien's meditation on a town led by a basically good military man, Bard, who finds himself running things and trying the control the general greed and needs of the people while a greedy and incompetent Master is basically quiet. Instead, we have one over the top greedy toady who is for some reason made second in command even though everyone else from the town is apparently a paragon. And Bard gets a sappy subplot about his kids.

Martin Freeman's seemingly effortlessly brilliant performance as Bilbo can be glimpsed through the clouds at times and he is given his bit with the Arkenstone and the nice final dialogue with Thorin. But there's not much of the character's anxiety as expressed in the book.

But as a spectacle, especially one for watching Orlando Bloom going through all the cartoonish acrobatics Johnny Depp got to do in the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, it's a lot of fun. Jackson riffs from that first moment in The Two Towers where we watched Legolas swing up onto a horse to make Legolas a non-stop one man circus. Evangeline Lilly, as the elf warrior woman invented for the films, is basically Robin to Legolas' Batman and has only slightly less impressive gymnastics. She has a few scenes with Aidan Turner as Kili, the dwarf, to suggest a Romeo and Juliet style romance but the movie doesn't seem to feel like it has time to let the characters really talk to each other.

This is the first one I saw in the experimental High Frame Rate that Peter Jackson shot the film in. Combined with 3D, the effect was somehow like looking at a diorama about half the size of the screen. I'm not sure what accounts for this impression of smallness--maybe it's just me. I'm inclined to say I prefer the old 24 frames per second but part of me also wonders if the 48 frames per second might look better with more naturalistic lighting and fewer special effects. It doesn't look like it's catching on, though, so I may never know.

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