3.5 stars. Rated PG-13, for intense fantasy action violence and some truly scary monsters
By Derrick Bang • Originally published in The Davis Enterprise, 12.19.14
Peter Jackson certainly knows how to stage a spectacle.
He’d have had a great time during Hollywood’s Golden Age, choreographing the fabled casts of thousands.
That said, he has become a poor judge of narrative structure. Although this final installment of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit builds to a rousing, suspenseful, crowd-pleasing climax, this cinematic saga definitely didn’t deserve the three-part presentation that seems to have been dictated entirely by commerce.
Consider the irony: We couldn’t get enough of Jackson’s three-part adaptation of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, and fans eagerly snapped up the extended-edition DVDs, to savor all the additional scenes left on the cutting-room floor. That adulation was entirely warranted, because those three books are extremely dense.
But The Hobbit lacks that complexity; it’s a shorter, single book, and — more significantly — is aimed at a much younger audience. Granted, Jackson and his fellow scripters — Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens and horror maestro Guillermo del Toro — drew from the 125 pages of notes and appendices included with modern editions of The Lord of the Ring ... but, even so, this newest trilogy has suffered from bloat since its first installment. (I still haven’t recovered from the slapstick, Disney-esque dwarf songs in Bilbo’s dining room.)
Although the major plot points have been impressively realized, there’s a definite sense of treading water along the way, and extraneous characters we’d be better off without. Notable case in point: the Master of Laketown (Stephen Fry) and his weaselly aide (Mikael Persbrandt), who popped up in the middle installment and return here. They’re no more than stunt casting, particularly in Fry’s case, and their characters seem to have wandered in from a Blackadder installment. Very poor judgment, on Jackson’s part.
More disappointing, though, is the fact that — in this third and final installment — Martin Freeman’s Bilbo Baggins has become a bystander in his own story. That’s a shame on all sorts of levels, not the least of which is the lessened degree to which we’re able to enjoy Freeman’s marvelously subtle performance. I just love the way he twitches his nose, or starts to say something, checks himself, and then decides that silence is the better part of wisdom.
Freeman gets more mileage out of Bilbo’s double-take decisions not to speak, than many of these supporting characters deliver via pages of dialogue.