HAVING reached the final instalment of Peter Jackson’s bloated Bagginsathon, there’s a temptation to praise The Battle Of The Five Armies simply for wrapping things up and sending us home.
The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies (12A)
Director: Peter Jackson
Running time: 144 minutes
Any journey requires a lot of trudging, but even Long John Silver could walk faster than this version of The Hobbit. An Unexpected Journey was a particularly protracted plod, featuring such negligible delights as the dwarf dish-collecting song, but matters improved with The Desolation Of Smaug, which gathered up both pace and peril, positioning The Battle Of The Five Armies like a train at the top of a rollercoaster.
It begins with the very irate dragon Smaug (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch) swooping and scorching the human village of Laketown, until challenged by the bowman Bard (Luke Evans).
To the dismay of Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) and his band of brothers, the dragon’s treasure then sparks off many more showdowns when head dwarf Thorin (Richard Armitage) goes all Treasure Of The Sierra Madre and refuses to share the dragon’s gold with the local elves, and Laketown’s refugees.
The battle sequences that arise from Thorin’s greed are spectacular, and so fast-paced that you sometimes have to rewind the mayhem in your mind. Was that really Billy Connolly riding a pig into battle and dispensing Glasgow kisses? Why yes. And did we really just see a tussle between some ghostly knights and the Timotei tag team of Galadriel (Cate Blanchett), Elrond (Hugo Weaving), and Saruman (Christopher Lee)? Yes again. Was this gorgeously haired stand-off dramatically or narratively important? Er, no, unless you want to admire the quality editing around Lee’s stunt double.
This is the underlying problem with Peter Jackson’s Hobbit: it’s guilty of overkill. However many giant earthworms, close-ups of Legolas (Orlando Bloom, digitally de-aged so he looks like an elf Ken doll), or earnest young adult speeches you may crave, Jackson will take you to the point of Enough Already. Take Azog, an orc already designed to resemble the big brother the rest of the Shrek family keep in the attic, but latterly also carrying a sabre shoved into the stump of one arm. It’s an undeniably arresting image, but also a distracting one. A blade for a hand is useful in battle or for buttering toast, but putting on his boots and loincloth in the morning must be a major negotiation.
Five Armies has so many battles to cram in that most of the 11 dwarves barely get namechecks here, let alone story arcs. Bilbo and the Shakespearian-style tragedy of Thorin are often sidelined in favour of lesser Tolkien characters like Bard, his passel of children and Laketown’s Dickensian coward Alfrid (Ryan Gage). There’s also a lot of time given over to concluding the uninvolving Jackson-invented love story between a Lara Croft girl elf (Evangeline Lilly) and the tallest dwarf Kili (Aidan Turner).
I’d be more relaxed about these Tolkien tweaks if they added up to something more than a series of digressions in an effects-heavy, emotionally remote, vaguely familiar action picture. The Hobbit has moments of visual splendour, fizzing imagination and fervour, but it lacks the grandeur of Jackson’s The Lord Of The Rings films – although, like The Return Of The King, Five Armies also has about four or five false endings. n
General release from Friday
A HEROINE from the north of England, a dysfunctional family and a through-the-looking-glass migration to London: Bryn Higgins’s Electricity certainly ticks some familiar boxes.
On the other hand, it also boasts a star-making central performance from former model Agyness Deyn, right, which augurs well for her next role as the emblematic Chris Guthrie in Sunset Song.
Lily is a young woman living in the kind of seaside town they forgot to close down. She’s bright, pretty and resilient, but also emotionally damaged by a negligent mother. She’s literally damaged too: her mother threw her down the stairs as a baby, causing temporal lobe epilepsy attacks.
Her fits come from nowhere as fizzing hallucinations, vividly recreated by Higgins in their terror, pain and occasional ecstasy. Pills control the condition, but they also dull Lily’s other senses.
Epilepsy has stranded Lily while her two brothers have moved on. Oldest brother Barry is a poker champion who thinks he can crack the United States, but when their mother dies, leaving a small inheritance, Lily heads south to trace her favourite brother Mikey, who disappeared to London years before.
Some of the characters in Electricity feel a bit stock – the streetwise homeless kid, the yuppie lesbian who seems to have a crush on Lily, her two terse brothers – but Deyn shows real spark and is quite fearless in depicting the stark, brutal physicality of epilepsy.
Selected release from Friday
A filmed encounter with Edward Snowden offers a riveting portrait of both the whistleblower and global surveillance.
Edinburgh Filmhouse, today; GFT, 26 and 27 December
Me, Myself And Mum (15)
Guillaume Gallienne’s sprightly directorial debut, built around his relationship with his mother, who assumes her child is gay.
GFT until 18 December; Edinburgh Filmhouse 19-22 December
Merchants Of Doubt (12A)
Robert Kenner examines the misinformation that obscures the truth about climate change.
Selected release from Friday
Charlie’s Country (15)
Walkabout’s David Gulpilil (below) stars as an Aborigine who leaves his reservation to pursue the old traditions, but finds himself stymied by authorities. Rolf de Heer provides empathetic direction, but it’s Gulpilil who makes this film intriguing.
Edinburgh Filmhouse, today
The Green Prince (15)
Documentary focused on Mosab Hassan Yousef, the son of a Hamas leader who betrayed family and friends to the Israeli security service. An amazing story, though tricky if you don’t have a working knowledge of Middle East politics.
GFT, Friday until 18 December
Eastern Boys (15)
A businessman (Olivier Rabourdin) makes an assignation with a rent boy and gets more than he bargained for.
GFT, tomorrow until Thursday
Open Bethlehem (PG)
Leila Sansour returns to her home town of Bethlehem and gives a personal account of how it has changed under Israeli pressure.
Edinburgh Filmhouse, Thursday; GFT, Friday with Q&A; Belmont, Aberdeen, Friday until 14 December; Dundee Contemporary Arts, Saturday with Q&A
The Face Of Love (12A)
Annette Bening finds the double of her late husband (Ed Harris) in this silly melodrama.
Selected release from Friday