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  • WARNER BROS.
    Martin Freeman stars as hobbit Bilbo Baggins in “The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies.”
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Peter Jackson’s "Just Give the People What They Want," aka "The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies," sends this not-really-a-trilogy off in style. That means stuffing in everything the fans want, or that Jackson thinks the fans want, out of these films made from the novel that came before "The Lord of the Rings."

So "Battle" is bookended by two epic fights — the duel to the death with the dragon Smaug, and the "Five Armies" finale, with its pikes and pickaxes, fluttering flags and phalanxes.

There is death and destruction, forbidden love and treasure, honor and slaughter.

And Jackson, who has messed with this adaptation even more than he did "Lord of the Rings," hedges his bets. His invented love story between the elven Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly) and the dwarf Kili (Aidan Turner) still doesn’t work. So he brings in Cate Blanchett, Hugo Weaving, Orlando Bloom and Christopher Lee, reprising their characters from "Rings" as a way to anticipate the Middle Earth epic that followed this one.

We get sentimental moments with most characters, curtain calls to engender warm memories from the faithful.

And we’re treated to a trio of stunning special effects set pieces. The first is Smaug’s fire-breathing assault on Lake-town, torched to the waterline before the hero Bard (Luke Evans) can fell the beast. Then, there’s a struggle to save the ever-imprisoned Gandalf (Ian McKellen), one that involves a battle with the ghosts of warriors past. Blanchett, as the Elf Queen Galadriel, has an eye-popping moment there.

‘THE HOBBIT: THE BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES’
Rated: PG-13
** 1/2
Opens Wednesday

And finally there’s a sword fight on the ice, a grim and drawn-out clash between monstrous orc and the Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage), the greedy and increasingly paranoid King under the Lonely Mountain. For Thorin, it isn’t enough that his rule is ensured when the humans slay the dragon who stood between Thorin and his band of dwarves and their burglar, the hobbit Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), and the dwarves’ treasure-stuffed ancestral home.

The "Battle" of the story’s title is joined when Thorin proves too small to keep his bargain with the full-size men of Lake-town, when the elves led by Thranduil (Lee Pace) come to collect another debt and the grotesque orcs converge on the ruins of the former stronghold to catch all their enemies in one place and wipe them out.

Gandalf is full of warnings about "if that fell kingdom should rise again," and builds an impromptu alliance.

"Summon our friends, bird and beast!"

And Bilbo, the little furry-footed man with the secret magic ring, tries to make peace and save the day with a little hobbit ingenuity and negotiating.

"Five Armies" is funnier than the other Hobbit movies with zingers from the cowardly ruler of Lake-town (Stephen Fry) and his more-cowardly aide (Ryan Gage).

Jackson’s camera, which is all digital crane shots covering a sea of digital soldiers in hand-to-hand combat, moves in for close-ups for the deaths here. Not that this adds impact. A lot of the digital riding stock — rams, elk, trolls — have the jerky movement of critters from the stop-motion animated "Jason and the Argonauts" 50 years ago.

"The Hobbit" has never overcome the handicaps of its plot and casting. Jackson made some of the dwarves characters Snow White would adore, and none of them popped off the screen the way the players did in "Lord of the Rings." The one classic hero here is Bard, the dragon slayer, and he has too little to do.

It’s the best film of this trilogy, but truthfully, none of the "Hobbit" thirds has been any better than middling "Hunger Games" or "Harry Potter" installments. Considering the vaunted reputation J.R.R. Tolkien enjoys, this overdone "There and Back Again" never quite got us there.

Review by Roger Moore, Tribune News Service

CAST OF CHARACTERS FOR ‘THE HOBBIT: THE BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES’

Any film that calls itself "The Battle of Five Armies" lets you know there are going to be a lot of characters. It’s been a year since the last adventures of Bilbo Baggins and the rest of the cast of characters. Here’s a quick reminder of some of the major players:

» Alfrid (Ryan Gage): Chief henchman to the Master of Lake-town.

» Azog (Manu Bennett): Orc leader who pursues Thorin and the Company of Dwarves.

» Bain (John Bell): Son of Bard the Bowman.

» Balin (Ken Stott): Dwarf leader who joins the Company of Dwarves.

» Bard the Bowman (Luke Evans): Enlists every man in Dale to take up weapons against the orc horde tearing through the city.

» Bifur (William Kircher): Part of the Company of Dwarves.

» Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman): Hobbit, who has traveled with the Company of Dwarves because of his thievery skills, now looks to help broker peace.

» Bofur (James Nesbitt): Part of the Company of Dwarves.

» Bolg (John Tui): Orc warlord who’s the son of Azog.

» Bombur (Stephen Hunter): Part of the Company of Dwarves.

» Dain (Billy Connolly): Ironfoot and his dwarf army collide with the elven forces.

» Dori (Mark Hadlow): Flute playing part of the Company of Dwarves.

» Dwalin (Graham McTavish): Company of Dwarves member who was a dwarf of the House of Durlin.

» Elrond (Hugo Weaving): Mighty elven king who’s the Lord of Rivendell.

» Fili (Dean O’Gorman): One of the youngest members of the Company of Dwarves.

» Galadriel (Cate Blanchett): Gandalf’s ageless friend and powerful ally in the White Council.

» Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellen): After managing to escape near death, Gandalf hopes to rally the armies of elves, dwarves and men to stand together.

» Gloin (Peter Hambleton): One of the Company of Dwarves.

» Kili (Aidan Turner): Member of the Company of Dwarves who has feelings for Tauriel.

» Legolas (Orlando Bloom): Thranduil’s only son, who is a master archer.

» Nori (Jed Brophy): Part of the Company of Dwarves.

» Oin (John Callen): Part of the Company of Dwarves.

» Ori (Adam Brown): One of the loyal Company of Dwarves.

» Radagast (Sylvester McCoy): Wizard who helps Gandalf.

» Saruman (Christopher Lee): Powerful wizard who goes on a darker journey in the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy.

» Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch): Fire-breathing dragon that attacks Lake-town.

» Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly): Captain of the Elven Guard banished for the rebellious act of helping the Company of Dwarves.

» Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage): He is ready to sacrifice friendship and honor in his search for the legendary Arkenstone.

» Thranduil (Lee Pace): Leader of the elves who in Erebor finds himself in a face-to-face with a very changed Thorin.

The Fresno (Calif.) Bee

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