The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

Having reclaimed their treasure from the dragon Smaug, Dwarf king Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) descends into the madness of greed, unable to focus on anything but recovering the fabled Arkenstone, held secretly and uncertainly by Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman). When the people of Lake-Town arrive looking for shelter, Smaug having destroyed their homes, Thorin's men are distressed by his decision to barricade the entrance to Lonely Mountain. Bilbo makes a risky choice to avoid war when Thranduil (Lee Pace, AMC's 'Halt and Catch Fire') arrives with his Elvish Army, joining Bard (Luke Evans, "Dracula Untold") with his demands for Thorin to honor his word, but Sauron's dispatch of hordes of Orcs forces alliance in "The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies."

Laura's Review: C+

60 years before Frodo agreed to head to Mordor to destroy the ring sought by Lord Sauron, his uncle, Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman, "Hot Fuzz," TV's 'Sherlock') took on another quest, traveling with a dozen dwarves to reclaim their kingdom of Erebor from the dragon Smaug. Along the way, Bilbo will run into Gollum (Andy Serkis) and inherit the 'Precious' ring from the distraught Sméagol in "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey." Middle Earth fanatics rejoice. Cowriter (with Fran Walsh & Philippa Boyens and Guillermo del Toro)/director Peter Jackson has delved into LOTR's 120 pages of footnotes expanding on Tolkein's earlier story to present "The Hobbit" with no stone left unturned. Others, like myself, may not be so overjoyed about a children's book adapted into an epic, overlong trilogy. Even in this very first episode, the action gets a bit redundant with the dwarves repeatedly being chased down by some group or other (Orcs! Goblins!). There's also Jackson's decision to present the first theatrical release shot in 48 frames per second 3D (film is usually shot at 24 fps) and the result, while making night scenes easier to see, still looks like overlit HDTV. See. Every. Blade. Of. Grass. If Jackson had only taken his visual effects and applied them to something new - the books of Terry Pratchett seem made for his world - it might have been raised the excitement quotient. After a prologue which tells us how the dwarf king became obsessed with obtaining gold and how they then lost their kingdom followed by another where the elder Bilbo (Ian Holm, the LOTR's Bilbo) prepares to tell his nephew Frodo (Elijah Wood) the story, we're transported to the very green and grassy shire, where a contented Bilbo is dared by Gandalf (Ian McKellen, gray locks replacing LOTR's white yet clearly older 60 years earlier) to join him in an adventure. Dwarves begin arriving at the startled Hobbit's home in ones and twos, taking first his supper, then his entire larder, as they plan their journey. Bilbo opts out, but after they've gone, he signs their contract and catches up with them. Head dwarf Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage, "Captain America: The First Avenger") will gradually come to value the Hobbit's worth after initial suspicion. Jackson and his cowriters are obviously trying to hook their Hobbit more completely into their earlier Rings trilogy, and so we hear and see threat of the Necromancer (Benedict Cumberbatch, TV's 'Sherlock') and visit Rivendell and Elrond (Hugo Weaving) Galadriel (Cate Blanchett). More interesting is a run in with three trolls who steal the dwarves horses, then decide the dwarves themselves might be tasty eating until they're outwitted by Bilbo. Later they run into the gross Great Goblin (voice of Barry 'Dame Edna' Humphries), but being chased by goblins is much the same as fighting Orcs. Jackson's visualization of the mountains themselves throwing boulders at one another as the band tries to traverse them looks like gray Rock 'Em Sock 'Em robots throwing rocks. More compelling is the time given to the wizard Radagast (Sylvester McCoy, TV's 'Doctor Who') and his attachment to the natural world. And although most of the effects are really impressive, simple things like CGI smoke and Gandalf's exaggerated height next to the dwarves (played by normally sized actors) fail to convince. Howard Shore's score is a rather dull chorale. Freeman is a solid Bilbo, just the right amount of reluctance mixed with bravado. Andy Serkis again is the star of the show with his incredible conveyance of Gollum's psychosis. Armitage gets us invested in the dwarves' mission, but BBCA's 'Being Human's' handsome Aidan Turner may be the breakout star as the youthful Kili. Three actors double as dwarves and troll voices. Others include "Toast's" Ken Stott as Balin and "Bloody Sunday's" James Nesbitt as Bofur. "The Hobbit" is for the faithful. For everyone else, it will probably prove the same as any long journey, periods of discovery and excitement countered with long stretches of boredom.

Robin's Review: DNS