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Arts & Culture

Welcoming The Final 'Hobbit' Movie With A Mealtime Marathon

Smaug (the dragon voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch) makes a guest appearance at the beginning of "The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies."
Warner Bros.
Smaug (the dragon voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch) makes a guest appearance at the beginning of "The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies."

Hobbit Meals And 'The Battle Of Five Armies'

The Geeky Gourmet Presents Middle-Earth Mealtime Marathon
4th Annual Lord of the Ring Marathon and Hobbit Meals Menu
The menus with recipes and time table for running a "Lord of the Rings Marathon and Hobbit Meals."

Companion Viewing

"The Fellowship of the Ring" (2001)

"The Two Towers" (2001)

"The Return of the King" (2003)

The latest installment of “The Hobbit Trilogy” — “The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies” — opened Wednesday throughout San Diego, and it boasts that it is “The Defining Chapter.” Well, let’s just say that hopefully it will be the last.

Peter Jackson tackled J.R.R. Tolkein’s “The Lord of the Rings” books with “The Fellowship of the Ring” in 2001, followed immediately by “The Two Towers" (2002) and “The Return of the King” (2003). Those films won fans worldwide and collected an armload of awards, including Best Picture and Best Director Oscars for “The Return of the King.” They were truly epic and fun. They proved that computer-generated imagery — CGI — in the right hands could be enthralling, and that you could find intimate details in the epic scope to pull viewers in emotionally.

For the past four years, I have been hosting a “Lord of the Rings” movie marathon accompanied by all seven Hobbit meals (see video above for some Hobbit test kitchen cooking tips) mentioned in the films plus dessert. For the past two years, this feast also heralded a new “Hobbit” movie. This year I continued the tradition to welcome the latest and final installment of the trilogy.

My friends and I love the “Lord of the Rings” films and look forward to our marathon. But I have to confess that enthusiasm for the “Hobbit” prequels has never equaled what we felt for the “Lord of the Rings Trilogy.” The first complaint was that while LOTR was based on three of Tolkein’s books and merited three films, “The Hobbit Trilogy” looked to one rather thin children’s book that was inflated to three films. Greed and Jackson’s increased inability to be succinct about anything seemed to be behind the three-part approach to the film. After seeing “The Battle of Five Armies,” I feel that there’s one great movie waiting to be cut together from the best of the three installments.

“The Battle of the Five Armies” opens almost exactly where the previous installment, “The Desolation of Smaug,” left off. There is no recap for anyone coming in cold to the films and no build up to the final showdown with the malevolent dragon Smaug (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch). The scenes with Smaug feel tacked on and would have better fit being at the end of installment No. 2, but then the studio would have no cliffhanger with which to lure viewers back this December.

Watching all the LOTR films before seeing “The Battle of the Five Armies” reminds one of how good those first films were and how paint-by-the-number this second trilogy is. Just the shot selection in the battle scenes at Helm’s Deep proves how much more thought Jackson put into making those LOTR films so that they genuinely pulled you into the action. You felt you were right there with Aragon, Legolas and Gimli, and you felt the danger that threatened the meagerly or completely unarmed citizens. “The Battle of the Five Armies” has plenty of fighting and on a grand scale, but that sense of intimate detail is gone. You can be impressed by how big everything is and how many orcs, trolls, dwarves and elves are out there in the field, but it feels less personal. Thousands more seem to be dying here than at Helms Deep, yet we do not feel the same sense of loss.

“The Battle of Five Armies” definitely moves the fastest of the three “Hobbit” films and is not bogged down with chatty scenes or dwarves riding barrels down rapids. So it’s an entertaining action film. But all three “Hobbit” films have lacked the kind of character development of the LOTR films.

Martin Freeman makes the perfect Bilbo Baggins in Peter Jackson's "The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies."
Warner Bros.
Martin Freeman makes the perfect Bilbo Baggins in Peter Jackson's "The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies."

But kudos to Jackson for once again finding the right actors for the lead roles. I cannot think of anyone better than Martin Freeman to play the younger Bilbo Baggins (Ian Holm played the older one in LOTR). He’s perfect — both heroic and human, and with a great sense of comic timing. Then there are seasoned veterans Ian McKellan as Gandalf and Christopher Lee as Saruman, bringing the wizards to life.

The CGI in “The Battle of the Five Armies” is wildly erratic. Far too much of the action defies all laws of physics. A single sword swing in the big battle scenes can take down an orc, but when the dwarves go one on one suddenly they are at a massive disadvantage. And huge beasts move across the screen as if they have no weight like the hippo ballerinas whose toes touched ground in “Fantasia.” It all feels more like a video game, although these days, video games are starting to outdo some movies in their graphics.

“The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies” (rated PG-13 for extended sequences of intense fantasy action violence, and frightening images) offers a lot of action and a hint of Tolkein. For completists, it’s a must see so you can complete the entire Jackson-Tolkein cycle. But like the second set of “Star Wars” films, “The Hobbit” movies leave a lot to be desired. And next year when I do my LOTR Marathon and Hobbit Meals, we won’t be including any of “The Hobbit Trilogy” in the screening schedule.

If you are interested in hosting Hobbit Meals check out the recipes I love best at Middle-Earth Recipes and my story on NPR. And of course my Geeky Gourmet instructional video.

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