LONDON — After a long and eventful journey, "The Hobbit" trilogy has reached its bloody climax.
Not a minute too soon for director Peter Jackson, who has been longing to unleash mayhem on Middle Earth.
"It's the first time we've got to kill dwarves," said the director, his enthusiasm for death and destruction at odds with his laid-back manner and luxurious surroundings in a London hotel suite.
"It's hard to get any emotional power in a film unless you are able to actually kill some of your main characters," he said. "We've been hampered with that in the first two 'Hobbit' movies. But at least we have a good dwarf death toll in the third one."
"The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies" wraps up the trilogy spun from J.R.R. Tolkien's slim book about home-loving hobbit Bilbo Baggins, coaxed away from his burrow to help a band of dwarves retake their mountain home from a destructive dragon.
The third film sees the dragon dispatched before a cataclysmic clash involving armies of dwarves, elves, humans, eagles and dastardly orcs.
It's a CGI extravaganza, with all the visual overkill that 3-D and 48-frames-per-second filming can provide. But Jackson says this film was the most emotionally satisfying of the three. (It's also the shortest, at a relatively brisk 144 minutes). For one thing, while the first two movies charted a journey, this one largely stays put, at the Lonely Mountain of Erebor.
"It was a joy not to have to do any big helicopter shots of people walking across New Zealand landscapes," Jackson said — although the country's tourist authorities may disagree. Tolkien tourism has become a big draw for the small nation.
"The thing that I like about this one, probably more than anything — even more than killing dwarves — is that it's got this feeling of a thriller about it," Jackson said. "I enjoyed being able to be sharper and crank the tension up and up and up and up until the battle breaks out."
His enthusiasm is shared by Martin Freeman, who plays reluctant hero Bilbo. The film brings a peril-strewn emotional climax to the hobbit's complicated friendship with dwarf leader Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage)
"I always like dark tones anyway," said Freeman, who recently took a break from playing dependable Dr. Watson in "Sherlock" to star as morally compromised insurance salesman Lester Nygaard in the TV series "Fargo."
"I like playing light and I like playing comedy, but my natural inclination is very often not toward that. ... I like stretching out. I kind of feel very fulfilled when acting not happy."
"Battle of the Five Armies" completes a Tolkien saga that includes Jackson's three "Lord of the Rings" films. The director says the darkening mood of the "Hobbit" films was a deliberate attempt to segue into the more grown-up world of "The Lord of the Rings," set decades later.
"Ultimately these movies will be judged in decades to come as a six-film series that will start with the first 'Hobbit' film and finish with (final 'Rings' movie) 'The Return of the King,'" Jackson said.
"If we'd made 'The Hobbit' first we'd probably have made it much more like a young children's story, which is how the book's written."
Jackson has spent a decade and a half in Middle Earth, and says "it certainly feels like it's time to move on to other things." He has one more bit of "Hobbit" business to complete, an extended cut of the new movie with about half an hour of extra material.
A lot has changed since he embarked on his journey. The digital technology the films rely on has become ever more sophisticated.
"When we did the first 'Lord of the Rings' movie we couldn't do CGI water and fire," Jackson said. He can now — "The Battle of the Five Armies" opens with a spectacular dragon attack on Lake-town.
And the image of the fantasy genre has been transformed. Jackson could not have imagined when he started that a show like "Game of Thrones" would receive serious cultural kudos.
"I always used to get very annoyed, because if you were a filmmaker making a fantasy film, it was like a license to be a little bit silly, a little bit lightweight and comical," Jackson said. "It was almost like you couldn't treat is with any degree of seriousness."
If his films have done anything, Jackson said, "I hope it's let people know that you don't have to treat fantasy that way. You can give it the respect that it deserves."
"The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies" opens Friday in Britain and Dec. 17 in the United States.
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