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There is a fantastic scene in The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies that has nothing to do with the battle itself. We see Thoirn Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) walking across the halls of Erabor, the halls itself covered in solid gold. He has a vision of himself sinking to the abyss of the halls that have melted down to liquid, screaming and crying out for help, but only sinking faster. The last time we left his company, they had driven the dragon Smaug out from under the Lonley Mountain, but let him loose on the people of Lake Town. The son of Thrain, son of Thorn has his home again, but has gone mad with greed over the treasure. The pissed off former residents of the town, led by Bard (Luke Evans), along with King Thranduil (Lee Pace) demand he honor his promise to share in the wealth of the Mountain, or else they'll reign Elvish arrows down on his ass. Blinded by his greed, his own company begins to turn on him, including Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) who tries to make a deal with the leaders of the Men and King of Mirkwood  in order to get him to listen to some sense. The scene in question is simple, but well-acted by Armitage, because we're allowed to see just how much his greed and stubbornness has affected all those around him. I also think it's an excellent metaphor for what's become of director, co-writer and producer Peter Jackson.

The original Lord of the Rings trilogy was a spectacle in its own right, but the original trilogy never forgot what made the journey of the Fellowship so compelling: the individual stories of the members themselves. Jackson paid as much attention to how much of a mental and emotional toll the burden Frodo Baggins was carrying as he and Samwise Gamgee made their way to the darkness of Mordor to destroy the One Ring, as he did to the practical and visual effects. He remembered that Aragon's story of how he has to come to grips with being the rightful King of Gondor and being a leader of Men was just as important as staging the Battle of Helm's Deep. Simply put: he never forgot that the story, the character's personal dramas and arcs were just as important as wowing the audience at the sheer size, scope and clear vision of bringing J.R.R. Tolkien's world to vivid life. And it's painfully, abundantly clear that he's forgotten that crucial aspect in his prequel trilogy; none more so in the final chapter to his Middle-Earth saga, and in his films following the conclusion of Return of the King.

The titular battle between Elves, Men, Dwarves, Orcs and Goblins, as promised, is a 45-minute spectacle of CG carnage, swords clashing, shields smashing and well-executed choreography.And believe me: you feel every last minute of it, to the point where you just stare at the effects and wonder to yourself, 'when does it end?' Sure there are breaks in the action, but they feel few and far between. And even-though it runs at 2 hours and 24 minutes - the shortest of the Middle-Earth saga, it still feels like we've been in the theater for longer than that. The battle itself isn't even that impressive, because the wow factor he had when we saw an army of Uruk-hai march on the Hornburg, or seeing King Theoden march his Riders of Rohan to the fields of Pelennor at the point is long gone.

Walking away from tonight's 7:00 p.m. showing of The Battle of the Five Armies made me feel something that I've never felt before with the other Lord of the Rings movies: that I was glad that it ended.

** stars out of ****


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