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The Dwarves of Erebor have reclaimed the vast wealth of their homeland, but now must face the consequences of having unleashed the terrifying dragon, Smaug, upon the defenseless men, women and children of Lake Town. As he succumbs to dragon-sickness, the King Under the Mountain, Thorin Oakenshield, sacrifices friendship and honor in search for the legendary Arkenstone. Unable to help Thorin see reason, Bilbo is driven to make a desperate and dangerous choice, not knowing that even greater perils lie ahead. An ancient enemy has returned to Middle-earth. Sauron, the Dark Lord, has sent forth legions of Orcs in a stealth attack upon the Lonely Mountain. As darkness converges on their escalating conflict, the races of Dwarves, Elves and Men must decide –unite or be destroyed. Bilbo finds himself fighting for his life and the lives of his friends as five great armies go to war. (From WB’s original synopsis)

 Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies, The
The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies caps off the third entry in an exceedingly overlong adaptation of a reasonably short book. I feel like almost everything I’ve said in relation to the second film, The Desolation of Smaug, applies to this entire trilogy, so I welcome readers to check that out here, assuming they actually care about my opinion on the films themselves. I kind of get the feeling that these movies have such built-in fan bases that most folks have decided to either love or hate them before they were even released (something I’m probably guilty of this as well).

This third film is ultimately the worst in an already problematic series. Unlike An Unexpected Journey and The Desolation of Smaug, which were overplotted and jam-packed with excess junk from the various Lord of the Rings appendices (as well as non-canon stuff thought up by Peter Jackson and his co-writers Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, and, reportedly to a lesser extent, Guillermo del Toro), The Battle of the Five Armies doesn’t have enough plot to sustain an extended, 144-minute runtime (I can’t imagine watching the 174-minute extended edition…). After completing the climax of the previous film (I have no idea why they didn’t kill Smaug in the last one) and tying up wasteful subplots (like Kili’s crush on Tauriel and the screwy politics of Laketown), the first half of the movie is spent setting up the sides of a five-way battle between greedy, unlikable characters. It’s a slog and a waste of great actors. In a strange twist, however, the only respite is the ‘connective tissue’ to the Lord of the Rings, which was the thing I originally disliked the most about the first film. No matter how superfluous the rise of Sauron is to this story, it’s difficult to not be roused by wizards and elves fighting ghosts. I also reluctantly appreciate that Gandalf has a reason to keep disappearing from the action. Of course, the plot wouldn’t have been adversely affected, had these brief scenes been cut.

 Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies, The
Jackson attempts to pay off the slog with a whole lot of action and there’s no understating the scope and scale of his battle scenes. They may even be the largest terrestrial battles ever committed to screen (the damage done isn’t galactic as it has been in Man of Steel or the various Transformers movies). But it doesn’t matter, because they are so numbing. I struggled at first to understand why I was getting so little out of these skirmishes while still enjoying similarly gigantic, climatic clashes in The Two Towers and Return of the King – as well as the heavy-handed political allegories. The obvious answer is that such things are no longer exceptional. We now see impossibly epic CG action scenes every summer. But I think the bigger problem is the stakes of this particular battle. In Lord of the Rings, it was a rabble-rousing underdog good-guys against impossible odds and unimaginable evil. If they lost, it would effectively be the end of the world. In this film, there’s really no one worth rooting for, nor is there any indication that the Lonely Mountain will have any significant purpose beyond its treasures. There are plenty of cool and amusing images (I love the troll that knocks himself out head-butting the wall down and thought that Thorin’s battle with Azog was genuinely great), but there are no emotional correlations or convincing stakes to back them up.

 Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies, The

Video


Again, most of what I said in my Desolation of Smaug review still applies here, so I’m going to repeat a lot of the basic information. The Hobbit films probably won’t be as enduring as the Lord of the Rings trilogy, but have earned their place in history for their technological advancements. Like the other two films, Battle of the Five Armies was shot in 5K (not 2K or 4K, but 5K) and 3D using Red Epic cameras. It was also shot 48 fps instead of the usual 24, ensuring that the theatrical clarity was more extreme than any other major release ever. Personally, I hated the look of the high frame rate, but that’s neither here nor there, since it doesn’t seem that current Blu-ray technology can support HFR. This 1080p, 2.40:1 2D Blu-ray is limited only by the film’s occasionally unattractive digital photography.

Colour grading has been an important part of Jackson’s Middle Earth since the original series. Though An Unexpected Journey had a handful of naturalistic sequences, the second two entries have been overwhelmed by aggressive hue changes. Some scenes are monotone blue or green, while others are a duotone orange and green/blue. Too few scenes include enough actual colour to be considered eclectic (as characters return home, natural hues do return and look very nice). I am confused by the purpose of digitally augmenting the footage so severely while aiming for a realer-than-real cinematic experience and shooting on the most beautiful locations in the world. But the uncanny, cartoonish colours and super-plush gradations certainly look crystalline and are blended smoothly without overwhelming the more important differentiations. There are not any major compression artefacts, not even banding or posterization effects in the dreamy, hyper-defused highlights. The high rate of detail is normally a good thing, especially during those dark and spooky shots, where dimension and background texture would’ve entirely disappeared in blackness, but some of the crisper details and edges look a bit over-sharpened to my eye. I believe this is due to the limitations of the 1080p format, not issues with disc compression.

 Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies, The

Audio


The Lord of the Rings films are sound system demo-worthy, especially on their Blu-ray re-release, so it is no surprise that the Hobbit movies are even richer aural experiences. This DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 soundtrack is A+ stuff. Once again, every little audio element is amplified, so that even the most simple effects blast at high volume whenever Jackson wants maximum impact. The mix is brimming with aggressive, boisterous, and directionally-enhanced moments, specifically the action sequences, though softer moments are not without their multi-channel augmentations. The normally centralized dialogue is treated just as aggressively where it counts. The humans, dwarves, hobbits, wizards, et cetera speak clearly and blend quite naturally with their surroundings, while the more fantastical critters are given a full-channel treatment. Benedict Cumberbatch’s grumbling, deep-chested Smaug and Cate Blanchett’s badass ‘green spell’ voice, throb the LFE and jut smoothly throughout the speakers. Highlights are most reserved to the massive battle scenes (the ice fight is spectacular), but I was even more partial to the magical battles the wizards and elves engage in. Howard Shore’s score is an almost constant aural element that helps tie Jackson and Olssen’s occasionally excessive editing together. On the track, it has all the necessary warmth and pulse of Shore’s original Lord of the Rings compositions without a few of the original memorable and rousing melodies.

 Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies, The

Extras


  • New Zealand: Home of Middle-earth, Part 3 (6:10, HD, Disc One) – Another brief look at the various New Zealand locations.
  • Recruiting the Five Armies (11:40, HD) – A day in the life of some of the extras on-set.
  • Completing Middle-earth:
      A Six-Part Saga (9:50, HD) – Concerning the ways in which the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings movies connect.
    • A Seventeen Year Journey (9:00, HD) – A look back at the productions of both Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit.
  • The Last Goodbye: Behind the Scenes (11:20, HD) – Concerning the recording of the final credits and song, which was ultimately sung by Billy Boyd.
  • The Last Goodbye Music Video (4:20, HD)
  • Trailer and trailer for Desolation of Smaug extended edition.


 Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies, The

Overall


I remember that a vocal minority of critics really hated The Lord of the Rings for its excessive lengths and dependence on computer-generated special effects. At the time, I dismissed these critics as cranky elders that were railing against something new that they didn’t understand. Battle of the Five Armies features more action, more wacky set-pieces, more convincing CG effects, and more creatures than Return of the King, but it all felt so fleeting and trifling that I fear I’ve become the grumpy old guy in this scenario. I’m sure that plenty of readers are still excited by the new series, and I am happy to report that they should all be satisfied by the basically perfect A/V quality on this Blu-ray release. Though, I also suspect that many fans will prefer to wait for the upcoming extended edition, which will most likely feature more comprehensive extra features.

 Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies, The

 Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies, The

* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.


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