Starring: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Richard Armitage
Directed by: Peter Jackson (“The Lord of the Rings” trilogy, “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug”)
Written by: Fran Walsh (“The Lord of the Rings” trilogy), Philippa Boyens (“The Lord of the Rings” trilogy), Peter Jackson (“The Lord of the Rings” trilogy), Guillermo del Toro (“Pacific Rim”)
When “The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King” was released in 2003, there was the sense of celebration, a victory lap for the trilogy as a whole capped off by a huge box office haul and Oscars for both the film and for newly-minted A-list director Peter Jackson. Here we were, right in the middle of a collective indifferent, angry shrug reaction to the “Star Wars” prequels, when along came a new fantasy trilogy to sweep us off our feet, selling enough extended edition DVDs to fill up Mount Doom. Fast forward 11 years, though, and Jackson’s own prequel trilogy based on the slim tale of “The Hobbit” has been greeted with a sense of resignation and, personally, relief that the whole thing is finally over.
Picking up where “The Desolation of Smaug” left off, the gold-hoarding dragon Smaug (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch) is laying waste to Laketown. While others flee, Bard (Luke Evans) manages to fire the shot with the only arrow capable of slaying the dragon. Meanwhile, inside the Lonely Mountain, hobbit Bilbo (Martin Freeman, essentially wasted in this whole trilogy) and the other dwarves watch helplessly as their king Thorin (Richard Armitage) has caught “dragon sickness” from all of the gold and treasure and his search for the Arkenstone. At the same time, Gandalf (Ian McKellen) is being rescued by Galadriel (Cate Blanchett), Sauruman (Christopher Lee), and Elrond (Hugo Weaving) as Sauron attacks. Back at the Lonely Mountain, armies of man, elves, orcs, and dwarves begin amassing at the gate, each looking for their share of the dragon’s gold.
Much has been said the last three years about the decision to extend the slight novel into a trilogy of nearly three-hour-long films, but by now the fatigue is real and it begs the question: “What would these movies look like if there were less of them?” The years spent bringing “The Hobbit” to the screen seem to have burned Jackson out. Where the “Rings” trilogy featured Jackson working at the top of his game, combining camera trickery and physical effects with state-of-the-art CGI, these “Hobbit” movies see a director willing to give in to shiny, physics-defying computer-generated effects, robbing the films of the handmade, visceral quality that made their predecessors so effective in the age of George Lucas’ misguided prequel trilogy and all its digital manipulation. Sadly, Jackson seems to be channeling the worst of Lucas here, filling the last film he’ll likely get to make in Middle Earth with grating, groan-worthy comic relief and endless fan service that does little more that connect the dots to the “Rings” trilogy that no one needed spelled out for them anyway. Thankfully the journey is over.