By CATHOLIC NEWS SERVICE | Published December 23, 2014
NEW YORK (CNS)—With “The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies” (Warner Bros.), director Peter Jackson’s trilogy of films based on Catholic writer J.R.R. Tolkien’s 1937 fantasy novel “The Hobbit, or There and Back Again” reaches a rousing finale.
Mixed opinions have been generated by Jackson’s transformation of a single, relatively slim volume into a trio of longish movies. But few will deny that this concluding screen chapter progresses at a steady clip and successfully engages viewers’ interest—even if newcomers to the story are not offered much in the way of explanation or exposition.
On a deeper level, the climactic struggle of Jackson’s wrap-up chronicles between the forces of good and evil, both within and surrounding its characters, offers valuable lessons for those moviegoers mature enough to endure the narrative’s many armed confrontations.
An early example of these frequent clashes pits heroic human warrior Bard (Luke Evans) against the fearsome dragon Smaug (voice of Benedict Cumberbatch), the bane of many in Tolkien’s imaginary world of Middle-earth. As those well-versed in their Hobbit lore will know, it was Smaug who long ago exiled the hearty but stubborn Dwarves from their ancestral mountain bastion of Erebor.
After Bard takes advantage of a hidden vulnerability to slay Smaug, accordingly, the Dwarves’ quest to reclaim their fabled citadel—a mission on which they’ve been skillfully aided by the formerly fainthearted Hobbit Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman)—reaches a successful culmination.
But no sooner have the Dwarves recovered their stronghold than the untold wealth stored up there begins to obsess their king, Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage). It’s a particularly inopportune moment for Thorin to be plagued by the hopeless greed and paranoia that are symptomatic of “dragon sickness,” since a vast army of evil Orcs, led by their odious chief, Azog (Manu Bennett), is on the march against Erebor.
With their natural opponents on the verge of war with each other over Thorin’s refusal to recognize anyone else’s claim—however just—to a portion of Erebor’s treasures, the Orcs’ malignant plan to reestablish the dominance they once exercised over the whole of Middle-earth looks likely to succeed. All the more so once the dire warnings of Bilbo’s wizard mentor, Gandalf (Ian McKellen), appear to fall on grievance-deafened ears.
The script for this combat-heavy parable—on which Jackson collaborated with Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens and Guillermo del Toro—poises the warping effects of avarice against the redeeming consequences of heroic selflessness. Teens and grown-ups alike will profit from seeing these contrary traits weighed in the balance, even as they enjoy the picturesque adventure that provides the backdrop for such affirmative moral reckoning.
The film contains pervasive, sometimes harsh battle violence with minimal gore and a couple of crass expressions. The Catholic News Service classification is A-II—adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13—parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.
“Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb” (Fox)
All creatures great and small, including some long-dead humans, spring to life when the sun goes down in this good-natured and mostly family-friendly third film in the popular franchise, directed—like its predecessors—by Shawn Levy. A guard (Ben Stiller) at New York’s American Museum of Natural History harnesses the power of an ancient Egyptian tablet, which makes the exhibits around him come alive at nightfall. But the talisman is decaying, and fixing it requires crossing the Atlantic to London’s British Museum. A gaggle of Gotham-based exhibits, among them President Theodore Roosevelt (Robin Williams), an Egyptian pharaoh (Rami Malek), Attila the Hun (Patrick Gallagher) and Lewis and Clark’s Native American guide Sacajawea (Mizuo Peck), accompany the watchman and his rebel teenage son (Skyler Gisondo) on their excursion overseas, where Sir Lancelot (Dan Stevens), legendary knight of the Round Table, joins the quest. Despite occasional toilet humor and outsized dinosaur behavior that might intimidate tots, overall, Levy’s film offers viewers good-natured and amiable fun. Some intense action sequences, childish scatological humor, mild innuendo. The Catholic News Service classification is A-II—adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG—parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.
Exuberant, updated adaptation of the 1977 Broadway musical (and 1982 film), based on the “Little Orphan Annie” comic strip by Harold Gray. In present-day Manhattan, a foster child (Quvenzhane Wallis) dreams of finding her real parents, while living with four other girls and a wicked, drunken mess (Cameron Diaz) of a temporary guardian. Her rescuer arrives in an unlikely form: a billionaire businessman (Jamie Foxx) who takes her in for publicity purposes as he campaigns for mayor. The fun begins as she casts a spell on her new benefactor, and vice versa. Director and co-writer Will Gluck’s wholesome story for all ages carries positive messages about love, family, and forgiveness. A couple of crass terms, fleeting mature references. The Catholic News Service classification is A-II—adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG—parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.
“Exodus: Gods and Kings” (Fox)
Big but boring, director Ridley Scott’s epic 3-D take on the biblical event of the title is skittish where miracles are concerned and revisionist in its treatment of the relationship between Moses (Christian Bale) and the Almighty. Raised as a foster son to Egypt’s Pharaoh (John Turturro) and adoptive brother of the heir to the throne (Joel Edgerton), the future patriarch is sent into exile when a corrupt official (Ben Mendelsohn) whose wrongdoing he has uncovered reveals his lowly origin as the child of a Hebrew slave. Working as a shepherd, he finds solace in married life (with Maria Valverde) until his contentment is once again disturbed when God—oddly personified by an 11-year-old boy (Isaac Andrews)—calls on him to lead his enslaved compatriots to freedom. While Scott’s film has computer-generated effects to spare, especially in the plague scenes, its human interaction is stilted and uninvolving. Considerable combat and other violence with some gore, religious themes requiring mature discernment, restrained sexual content, including a gay innuendo and two marital bedroom scenes. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III—adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13—parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.
“Into the Woods” (Disney)
Despite its fairy-tale roots, this initially pleasing but ultimately problematic adaptation of Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s long-running 1987 stage musical is an inappropriate choice for youthful moviegoers. As scripted by Lapine, the action wittily interweaves a number of classic children’s stories—those of Cinderella (Anna Kendrick) and Rapunzel (Mackenzie Mauzy) among them—with its main narrative tracing a childless couple’s (James Corden and Emily Blunt) quest to undo the curse of barrenness placed on his family by a witch (Meryl Streep) whom his father (Simon Russell Beale) long ago wronged. All this transpires whimsically enough at first under Rob Marshall’s direction. But late plot developments lead into brooding reflections on the two-edged legacy of gaining worldly experience and, more disturbingly, into an apparent rejection of objective moral standards in favor of do-it-yourself ethics. Possibly acceptable for older teens. Complex moral themes requiring mature discernment, a scene of adulterous kissing, some stylized violence, the mildly abusive treatment of minors. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III—adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG—parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.