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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies is the final (and most violent) installment in director Peter Jackson's three-part adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien's classic fantasy novel -- and, as the title suggests, it features the biggest battle sequences of the trilogy. The most like The Lord of the Rings, this finale is all about epic confrontations: between Thorin Oakenshield who has finally reclaimed the mountain kingdom of Erebor for the dwarves, the elves and humans who want their rightful share of his treasure, and Sauron's orc army that's a threat to them all. This movie has the highest body count in the trilogy; all of the armies sustain losses, and many characters -- primary, secondary, and extras -- die, either in battle (via arrows, axes, swords) or from dragon fire. Some of the death scenes are brutal and particularly sad or disturbing, but ultimately this is a must-see for any family that has already seen the first two Hobbit films.
What's the story?
THE HOBBIT: THE BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES picks up right where the last installment, The Desolation of Smaug, ended: Smaug (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch) flees the Lonely Mountain and unleashes his murderous rage and lethal fire on the people of neighboring Lake Town. Bilbo (Martin Freeman) implores Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) to help, but the dwarf leader is becoming mad with gold lust and is obsessed solely with securing his treasure. After Bard (Luke Evans) leads the survivors of Smaug's assault to relative safety, he meets elf king Thranduil (Lee Pace), who has brought an army to secure the elf treasures from Erebor. But Thorin, much to Bilbo's horror, refuses to part with even one coin. And as the humans and elves prepare to fight the dwarves, an even bigger threat -- Orcs -- is headed to the Mountain to destroy all of the amassed armies.
Is it any good?
The production design, cinematography, and music are as always, ethereal and evocative. Although it still seems unnecessary for Peter Jackson to have expanded The Hobbit into three films, this culminating installment brings on all of the drama of high-stakes battle, the heartbreak of characters sacrificing themselves for one another, and the thrill of seeing such an epic tale finally (finally!) come to an end. Purists may scoff at the added details, but for the average viewer, the inclusion of Legolas (Orlando Bloom) and Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly) -- and Tauriel's doomed inter-species romance with Kili (Aidan Turner) -- makes for a more emotional final story. Because there are so many characters converging on the Lonely Mountain -- and because Thorin is too miserly and consumed with his gold to be anything but a tyrannical embarrassment for most of the The Battle of the Five Armies -- it's the secondary characters like Thranduil and Bowman Bard who drive the drama this last time.
Whether or not you already know what's going to happen, the finale is more of a nail-biter than its predecessors, since it's clear that not everyone (well, at least those that we didn't meet in Lord of the Rings) will survive the dragon fire and Orc steel. Jackson is less adept at humor than at battle (a couple of lines lead to unintentional laughter), but it's amusing to see Billy Connolly play a wise-cracking dwarf chieftain, and it's entertaining to once again witness Legolas' over-the-top gymnastics during his fights. There are a few tender moments and a few more that are utterly heart-wrenching, which is fitting, since Bilbo's story is both hopeful and bittersweet.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how The Hobbit compares to The Lord of the Rings. How are the stories similar (a hobbit continues on a dangerous quest, deals with the precious ring), and how are they different? Which adventure do you prefer, and why?
Why do you think the filmmakers decided to insert romance into the story? Does it work? What purpose do you think it's intended to serve?
For those who are fans of the book: Do you think an adaptation needs to be 100 percent faithful to its source material? What do you think of Jackson's changes to Tolkien's novel?
- In theaters: December 17, 2014
- On DVD or streaming: March 24, 2015
- Cast: Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage
- Director: Peter Jackson
- Studio: Warner Bros.
- Genre: Fantasy
- Topics: Magic and fantasy, Adventures, Book characters
- Character strengths: Courage, Curiosity, Perseverance, Teamwork
- Run time: 144 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: extended sequences of intense fantasy action violence, and frightening images
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.