The Hobbit review - Film - The Listener

December 8, 2014 10:32 PM

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In 1944, Christopher Tolkien was in South Africa, serving in the Second World War. His father, JRR Tolkien, who was about halfway through writing The Lord of the Rings at the time, wrote him a long series of letters. “The utter stupid waste of war is so staggering to those who have to endure it”, he comments in one of them. “But so short is human memory and so evanescent are its generations that in only about 30 years or so there will be few or no people with that direct experience which alone goes really to the heart. The burned hand teaches best about fire”. As it happens, The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies opens in flames, with a prolonged strafing attack on Lake Town by the enraged dragon Smaug. It’s an effective enough sequence, though it feels rather abrupt; the film does nothing to get us back inside the heads of its characters or back up to speed with its story. This is because the film hasn’t really started yet; we’re seeing the tactically delayed final scenes of last year’s Desolation of Smaug. If you’ve forgotten why Bard the bowman was locked up, or what that whole bit of business with the black arrow was about, you might want to read up online before you sit yourself down for part three.

If you do this, you will be unable to avoid learning that the new film ends with a 45-minute extended battle scene. It’s a figure which seems to have fascinated most of the online commentators. As blink-inducing as the number seems when you first encounter it, it understates the case. For one thing,...

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