<b>BACK AGAIN: </b> This final film in The Hobbit trilogy may be the best of the bunch, but it could have used a surer hand in the cutting room.

BACK AGAIN: This final film in The Hobbit trilogy may be the best of the bunch, but it could have used a surer hand in the cutting room.

Review: The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman, and Richard Armitage star in a film written by Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson, and Guillermo del Toro and directed by Jackson.

After sitting through all three Hobbit movies in a row last Monday (about eight hours, thank you very much), I feel authoritatively qualified to suggest you don’t. It’s for Middle-earthers only. The padding out of what was once a nice little adventure book isn’t boring, but it frequently seems pointless. All the knitting together with The Lord of the Rings epic tends to dilute the wistfulness that ought to haunt the end of Bilbo Baggins’s stand-alone quest. Make no mistake, though, the finale is the best of the three films because it lets the tragedies in.

In many ways, though, director Peter Jackson seems lost. The new movie begins with a bang — Smaug’s attack on innocent Lake-town — and ends with a huge battle. But the saga sags in the middle, and there’s too much that’s unintentionally funny. During the Lonely Mountain war, a bunch of giant worms come crashing up from the ground, as if they had escaped from Frank Herbert’s Dune to pad the fight. Billy Connolly, who plays a very Scottish dwarf lord, screams, “Oh, come on!” as if he were speaking for the audience. Even if Jackson is trying to be self-consciously humorous, it just doesn’t work.

The Lord of the Rings films were gigantic, yet they compressed three fat source books with an economy of gesture and an unerring adherence to the big themes. When the extended versions came out, it seemed even grander. In this case, we’re already stuck in the extended version. Many of the liberties that the script lards into the story — the Orc Azog, the political subplot of the Lake-town people, and the LOTR character cameos — seem unwarranted. In other words, it feels as if Jackson lost his mojo.

You can enjoy The Hobbit movies as escape, and maybe someday they will seem epic and not pudgy. But chances are you won’t remember anything like Strider’s lovely marches into doom. Meanwhile, the die-hards can wait and hope this film gets recut into a constricted version.

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