The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

Middle Earth brings the same emotional attachment as The Wizard of Oz. What a pity you can’t wake up in Kansas.

The Hobbit The Battle of the Five ArmiesDirector Peter Jackson and his wife/Producer Fran Walsh bring to the screen everything that I love about the movies. There simply has never been a better series than their Lord of the Rings films (2001-2003), and The Hobbit prequels rank a close second.

All of these films breathe life into J.R.R. Tolkien’s “Middle Earth”. Humans, hobbits, elves and dwarves join forces with the Wizard Gandalf to challenge the Dark Lord Sauron and his Orc hoards, and the saga playing out on the screen challenges your emotions at every turn.

The special effects have been equaled but never exceeded on the big screen. On top of that, Mr. Jackson films these movies in his native New Zealand, and the cinematography leaves you yearning to put a long visit there on your Christmas wish list.

I know several people who don’t buy into these films about Middle Earth, but I’m afraid I’m the guy who considers watching them to be an honor. The angst involving the death of favorite characters is interspersed with the love and friendship formed by others on their terrific journey, and I could only watch the last of both of these series with a tear in my eye as I said goodbye from the theater.

In the Hobbit finale, you go in knowing that it is going to be one constant battle for survival. The film begins with the dragon Smaug (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch) torching a city and its inhabitants. It is quickly followed by powerful scenes where dwarves, humans and elves have to decide whether they are friends or foes.

Since this is a prequel, you know who is going to prevail, but you don’t know who is going to be left standing. The legendary Ian McKellen recreates his role as the wizard Gandalf. While he doesn’t dominate as in the other films, it really doesn’t matter given the performances of numerous others.

Richard Armitage takes center stage as Thorin, the leader of the dwarves who dances on the edge of madness when he takes control of Smaug’s castle and the huge amount of gold inside. You embrace Martin Freeman as he plays Bilbo Baggins, a hobbit holding several secrets, one pertaining to the special ring playing such a big role in the three original films.

Additionally, Orlando Bloom recreates Legolas, the elf who is exceeded by no one with a bow and arrow. Joining him again is Evangline Lilly as Tauriel, a beautiful elf emulating Legolas’ archery skills while also wrestling with her forbidden love of the  dwarf Kili (Aidan Turner). Luke Evans is also unforgettable as Bard, the human with a small family who duels with Smaug. Not to be overlooked are the brief appearances of Cate Blanchett, Hugo Weaving and Christopher Lee in roles you will recognize from the Lord of the Rings series, and any Orc fighting them is overwhelmingly likely to be a dead Orc.

And the film would never work without the performances of Manu Bennett and Lawrence Majoare as the Ork villain Azog and Bolg, his wicked First Lieutenant. Ironically, it is a breath of fresh air to have a film pay this much attention to villains lacking any moral code or compassion of any kind, and your hatred of them is compromised by the fact that you can’t take your eyes off of them.

All of these films deal with important issues in a small way. Here, the corruption provided by a desire for gold is described as a dragon’s curse, and that dragon continues to play out to this very day.

However, it is the ending of both film series that seemingly reached out and wrapped its arms around many viewers. Years ago I cried unashamedly when Frodo had to tell Samwise Gamgee goodbye as his contamination from the ring forced him to join Gandalf and journey by boat to a mystical kingdom.

Here, Tauriel was left in uncontrollable despair over the loss of her lover while Bilbo had to say goodbye to his closest friend. Tauriel learned the hardest lesson in life, namely that the inevitable price of falling in love involves the agony of saying goodbye long before you are ready to do so.

So let me join others and say a heartfelt goodbye to the Hobbit series. They  may be gone, but never forgotten in my aging heart.