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The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies is not a movie. It’s an episode; more so than any other place-holding sequel (or bisected Hunger Games instalment) to come out this year. Except, to call it an episode is an insult to soap operas and telenovelas. They understand the entire raison d’être of episodic storytelling is to keep viewers hooked with the promise that all those cliffhangers will actually accumulate to a worthwhile pay-off. Peter Jackson’s final Hobbit, just, doesn’t. So, let’s not call it an episode. Let’s call it the ‘seafood extender’ of sequels. It takes up room on the plate, but there’s no meat here.

TBOTFA is supposedly the shortest of all the Lord of the Rings films, though you wouldn’t know it from watching. (Considering it’s based on a handful of paragraphs from J.R.R. Tolkien’s beloved novel, relatively speaking, it’s even more bloated and distended than the previous entries.) We open where predecessor The Desolation of Smaug closed: with gold-hoarding dragon Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch, in voice only) about to desolate a nearby town for reasons I no longer recall nor feel moved to Google. Disappointingly, Jackson and his fellow screenwriters Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens and Guillermo del Toro dispatch Smaug in the opening ten minutes, focusing the remaining minutes on pigheaded dwarf Thorin (Richard Armitage) and smug elf king Thranduil (Lee Pace) squabbling over Smaug’s remaining riches. A stand-off occurs, between Thorin’s miniature battalion and Thranduil’s hair-extension army. Then some Orcs turn up and make it a whole thing. (Set before the events of The Fellowship of the Ring, we’re constantly reminded that a great evil is coming, heralded by these uggos. No duh.)

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The saving grace of Jackson’s lesser Lord of the Rings trilogy has been Martin Freeman, who imbues the role of hobbit Bilbo Baggins, unlikely adventurer and even unlikelier dwarf companion, with great humour and heart. In this, he’s set decoration, either knocked unconscious, or invisible, or, amusingly, asking wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellan) where a good place to stand during the big fight may be. When Freeman’s on screen, you might be fooled into thinking the picture works. Then, Jackson cuts back to the ceaseless battle of those damn five armies, and the CGI recommences its fight against more CGI. Prior to release, Jackson breathlessly spruiked the closing 45-minute battle sequence, attempting to make amends for the first flick’s seemingly 900-minute dinner party set piece. Yet, it wasn’t more action we were after; it was a simple reason, any reason, for The Hobbit to exist on celluloid at all, let alone in three parts. (The makers would argue each Hobbit‘s billion-dollar gross is reason enough.) Be it thirteen dwarves washing dishes or a thousand dwarves going blade to blade in battle, the result remains the same: a persistent feeling that this doesn’t matter.

In the end, all the story-propelling McGuffins and tchotchkes we’ve been told were important for three whole movies are forgotten about, and we realise Peter Jackson has taken up nine of our hours so that he may tinker with his most hubristic folly: high frame rate. I hate to be like the critic who balked at the prospect of Greta Garbo graduating to the talkies, but shooting in HFR (where twice the number of images per second are projected, making all the action seem super speedy) has been a mistake. The human brain rejects the hyper-realness of it all, making the sets and prosthetics cross the Rubicon of believability. And in the Hobbit series, we needed all the help we could get.