2/10
A Lazy, Cynical Retread of LOTR
19 December 2014
Warning: Spoilers
I first experienced The Hobbit at the age of 4, when my mother read it to me, and I have been a Tolkien fan ever since. And I have been generally disappointed with Peter Jackson's take on The Hobbit since the beginning. Jackson abused the mythos, struck out trying to turn a lighthearted children's book into a trio of Serious Epics, and created bloated, endless action scenes that did nothing to legitimately advance the plot (before this film, the barrel-battle and the golden dragon-dip were the most egregious). I honestly could not think of a single scene which was not addressed more effectively in the cheap 1970s cartoon. And I found it painfully obvious that Jackson was trying to cheat his way to success by hitting all of the same notes as he did in the Lord of the Rings films, whether or not they made sense in this context (the character Tauriel exists solely to be Arwen; the character Alfrid exists solely to be Wormtongue).

That last point is far and away my greatest complaint about the final effort. I almost didn't believe what I was seeing: the ridiculous, eternal Battle of Five Armies wasn't just reminiscent of Helm's Deep and Minas Tirith, it WAS those battles, shot for shot. Jackson literally plopped the same choreography from his good trilogy into this film and called it done. It's bad film-making, it's lazy, and it's just an inexcusable, cynical cash-grab. For instance:

-In the lead-up to Helm's Deep, a scared, desperate people streamed (left to right) over barren countryside into the fortress. In BOFA, a scared, desperate people streamed (left to right) over barren countryside into the ruins of Dale.

-Characters hidden on a rocky outcropping witness the gates of a great enemy fortress open. A massive army streams out, while its general urges them onward from above. Is that Frodo and Sam at Minas Morgul or Legolas and Tauriel at Gundabad?

-We had a sweeping shot of ranks of spear-bearing Uruk Hai before the walls, who part to allow a mounted leader to advance menacingly through their ranks. Now we have a sweeping shot of spear-baring ELVES before the walls, who part to allow a mounted elf-king to advance menacingly through their ranks. In both cases, we have shots up at the outnumbered defenders peering down from their hastily rebuilt fortress. In both cases, a prematurely fired arrow opens the hostilities.

-A berserker carrying a bomb ran urgently towards the culvert, leaping headfirst to bring down the wall. Now we have a troll with a ram on his head, who runs urgently and leaps headfirst to bring down a wall. The Uruk Hai/orcs following stream together through the narrow hole, then fan out.

-Gandalf rides (right to left) up the steep, winding streets of both Minas Tirith and Dale to warn and rally the citizens.

-Characters say "Send forth the legions", "Kill them all," "The Age of the Orc has begun". In both trilogies.

-Before, Legolas slid on a shield (left to right) down a staircase to save Gimli, using the shield to impale an Uruk. Now, Bard rides a wagon (left to right) down a hill to save his children, using the cart to bowl over a troll.

-When All is Lost at Helm's Deep, a heroic younger character confronts the aging king, urging him to fight rather than hiding. The king agrees, and the small band charges out in one final desperate effort while a dwarf blows an impractically large horn. The burly character shouts "To the King!" The attacking Uruks are taken aback by the blinding sun and bowled aside. When All is Lost at Erebor, a heroic younger character confronts the aging king, urging him to fight rather than hiding. The king agrees, and the small band charges out in one final desperate effort while a dwarf blows an impractically large horn. The burly character shouts "To the King!" The attacking trolls are taken aback by... well, nothing, apparently... and bowled aside. Yeah, this one is EXACTLY the same, without even an effort to hide it.

-In ROTK, Legolas makes his way to the head of a Mumak and brings it down by piercing its brain from above, causing it to crash into another Mumak, resulting in an earth-shaking collapse. In BOFA, Legolas makes his way to the head of a troll (which seems to have morning-stars for feet) and brings it down by piercing its brain from above, causing it to crash into a town, resulting in an earth-shaking collapse.

-In a one-on-one showdown outside Minas Tirith, Eowyn faces the Witch-King, who is armed with a sword and an improbable mace. In a one-on-one showdown above Dale, Thorin faces Azog, who is armed with a sword-arm and an improbable mace.

I could cite more examples, but I'm bumping up against the word limit.

The acting in The Hobbit is generally solid -- Martin Freeman in particular is excellent. But Peter Jackson either ran out of ideas or didn't bother trying. This film is a bloated, self-plagiarizing mess, and the only worthwhile moments are those pulled unaltered from the book.
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