Hard 'Hobbit' to break

Thus it ends, and as the title suggests, Peter Jackson's “The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies” is more or less a long battle. As a standalone movie, it's not terribly interesting, but as the conclusion of the three-part, nearly eight-hour “Hobbit,” it's most welcome.

There are two real problems with “The Hobbit,” and neither have much to do with the experience of watching this latest movie.

The first is that it compares unfavorably to Jackson's three-part Oscar-winning epic “The Lord of the Rings.” For many fans, it's too little, too late.

The second is that, while “The Lord of the Rings” consisted of three films made from three books, “The Hobbit” splits J.R.R. Tolkien's one book into three movies (2012’s “An Unexpected Journey,” 2013’s “The Desolation of Smaug” and the current “Battle”).

“The Lord of the Rings” had natural stopping points, and “The Hobbit” does not.

Not to mention that fans smelled a rat, assuming that the decision to make three films based on “The Hobbit” was more financial than creative. Many have felt cheated rather than entertained, although that may change for some, now that the trio can be one.

Also, Jackson has come a long way since “The Lord of the Rings.” His direction here feels more relaxed and more confident. In a big battlefield, he has learned exactly where to place his camera, clearly showing both space and movement. The movie has a fluid, kinetic flow throughout.

It's also more lightweight and more fun. Martin Freeman is a goofy, lovable Bilbo Baggins, and he has a warm relationship with Ian McKellen's Gandalf. In this movie, after all is said and done, the two friends just sit quietly for a moment. The moment builds up to a laugh, but it suggests a genuine bond and a genuine friendship.

Comedian Billy Connolly also joins the cast as Dain, the burly, brusque dwarf cousin of Thorin (Richard Armitage).

While many have complained about the movie's tacked-on romance between the dwarf Kili (Aidan Turner) and the elf Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly), it adds a bit of old-fashioned movie entertainment, and a nice break from the battle.

The dragon Smaug (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch) is here, too, and the movie begins, of course, with his demise, so that his treasure chamber is open to all comers. That's where the battle of the five armies is established, as each wishes to lay claim to the treasure.

If you didn't know that – and you haven't seen the first two “Hobbit” films – don't bother starting with this one. However, if you can forgive all the behind-the-scenes nonsense and focus on the completed movie, you may find it to be a joyous, rousing adventure – even one for the ages.

REVIEW

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

Three stars

Starring: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Evangeline Lilly, Richard Armitage

Written by: Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson, Guillermo del Toro

Directed by: Peter Jackson

Rated PG-13

Running time: 2 hours, 24 minutes

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