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I just reviewed the theatrical version of The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies in March and didn’t see a reason to change the main body of my review. Please note the ‘edit’ added at the end of the Feature section, but, otherwise, the differences don’t begin until the Extras section



Feature


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: The Battle of the Five Armies: Extended Edition, 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.

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. 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: The Battle of the Five Armies: Extended Edition, The
Edit: Concerning the extended footage
Some of you may have heard that the extended version of The Battle of the Five Armies was branded with an R by the MPAA and, like me, you wondered what Jackson could’ve possibly done to finally earn an adults-only rating. If I’m totally honest, I probably would’ve rated all of the extended editions of the Lord of the Rings trilogy an R and maybe even the theatrical release of Return of the King as well. Not that I didn’t enjoy Jackson’s sadistic side in the context of a more adult story, but I’ve always been surprised with how much gore and mean-spirited violence the one-time Braindead director got away with. It’s extra silly in the case of The Hobbit, since Tolkien’s original book was very much meant for children.

I have to admit that, even though it hasn’t even been a full year since I saw the theatrical cut of The Battle of the Five Armies, I had a lot of trouble remembering its more intricate strokes. I had to consult the commentary track and online synopses. Still, among the more obvious additions are some charming respites to otherwise numbing action sequences. The dwarves’ battle-cart ride and Gandalf’s failed attempt at ‘magic blasting’ a troll might even be my favourite parts of the entire movie. As for the R-rating, I don’t think it was a case of one or two particularly nasty shots (the juiciest new additions occur during the battle-cart ride and includes a quadruple troll beheading). My best guess is that the sheer quantity of splattered trolls and orcs was just too much for the MPAA to abide by. In Jackson’s defense, most of it is pretty light-hearted, as far as graphic violence goes.

 Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies: Extended Edition, The

Video


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-diffused 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: The Battle of the Five Armies: Extended Edition, 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 jutt 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: The Battle of the Five Armies: Extended Edition, The

Extras


Disc One:
  • Commentary with director/producer/screenwriter Peter Jackson and co-producer/screenwriter Phillippa Boyens – I’ll be honest, I didn’t have the fortitude to rewatch The Battle of the Five Armies a third time, so I sampled this commentary, rather than sitting through the entire thing. The quality appears to be up to standards of the Lord of the Rings commentaries, despite the lack of co-writer Fran Walsh.
  • New Zealand: Home of Middle-earth, Part 3 (6:10, HD) – A brief look at the various New Zealand locations. This also appeared on the theatrical edition release.
  • Three trailers

Disc Two, The Appendices Part 11: The Gathering Storm – The Chronicles of the Hobbit – Part 3 (play all option, 4:52:50):
  • Opening/intro (3:50, HD)
  • In the Dungeon of the Necromancer (30:10, HD) – Antics on the Dol Guldur set. The stunt and body doubles are heavily featured alongside clips of Cate Blanchett and Ian McKellen cuddling, scenes of the production in the UK for Christopher Lee’s scenes, and Benedict Cumberbatch recording ‘black speech.’
  • Fire and Water (30:00, HD) – Footage from the Laketown set during Smaug’s attack. Lots of fire stunts, Luke Evans grunting, a surprise snowstorm, and behind-the-scenes with extras, including Orlando Bloom’s mum.
  • Under the Shadow of the Mountain (18:00, HD) – The trials of shooting around remote New Zealand landmarks. Stuff like moving set-pieces, cast, crew, and porta-potties.
  • In the Wake of the Dragon (27:30, HD) – Filming and set-decorating the post-Laketown attack scenes at NZ’s Lake Pukaki. The featurette begins with a roundtable script reading where the actors offer ideas before delving into the difficulties of wrangling extras and ADRing children.
  • The Gathering of the Clouds (30:10, HD) – This featurette centers on the Erebor set shoot, but, between bouts of generalized behind-the-scenes stuff (horses misbehaving, practical jokes, model building) is interesting footage of Jackson and Co. desperately trying to make sense of the extended narrative. Production began soon after Guillermo del Toro had left the project and, because it was now Peter Jackson’s film, drastic changes were made. By the time they got to the Erebor part of the story in the second movie, they were essentially out of finished script and short on time.
  • Many Partings (30:00, HD) – The celebratory and sometimes sad end of principal photography. Little did the cast & crew know that the Battle of the Five Armies was going to be extended into its own movie...
  • The Clouds Burst (29:50, HD) – More antics as the central war in the third film. This includes the San Diego Comic Con announcement that the two movie series was being stretched into a trilogy, elderly extras being cast directly from a retirement village, and a continuity error with Gandalf’s staff (the error was replaced digitally).
  • A Last Desperate Stand (30:10, HD) – The Ravenhill shoot concluded the film for Bloom, Evangeline Lily (both of whom shot a lot of stunts), and McKellen.
  • Out from the Gate (30:10, HD) – The dwarf cast returns for the war pick-ups. They go through extensive choreography/fight training (or retraining, I suppose), get shiny new armor and weapon props, and Stephen Hunter (as Bombur) gets to blow a giant horn. Martin Freeman’s goodbye is also seen here.
  • The Last Stage (34:10, HD) – The really real end of photography. Jackson basically live-blogged the entire day on his Facebook and his notes/photos are recreated, alongside Richard Armitage’s final battle sequence and another series of goodbyes.
  • Credits (4:00, HD)


 Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies: Extended Edition, The
Disc Three, The Appendices Part 12: Here at Journey's End (play all option, 5:00:10):
  • Beneath the Thunder: Forging a Battle of the Five Armies (play all option, 90:00):
    • A Master Plan, Long in the Making (30:20, HD) – Here, Jackson and company admit that they had very little idea what the combat was going to look like at the end of photography. Then the featurette (and the ones that follow) divides its time between expert testimony on Tolkien’s writing and the filmmakers’ ‘think tank’ meetings, where they all pitched ideas for battlefield gags. This section also includes detailed armor and character design information.
    • On the Front Lines of a Virtual Battlefield (30:10, HD) – Motion-capture photography sessions, digital cameras and other computer tools, sound effects recording, and editing together the disparate live-action and newly created digital footage.
    • Turning the Tide (29:50, HD) – This final piece on the CG-heavy central action sequence concerns the storytelling difficulty in making the thirteen star dwarves a powerful element on the battlefield, more motion-capture issues, the mad rush to complete the film for its premiere, and completing visual effects set-pieces for the extended edition.
  • The Peoples and Denizens of Middle-earth (play all option, 88:10) – These featurettes focus on the costume/weapon design, development, mythological basis (including Tolkien’s versions of these mythologies), casting, and ultimate on-screen realization of three of the film’s major characters, including:
    • Tauriel: Daughter of the Forest (28:00, HD)
    • Thranduil: The King of Wood and Stone (30:20, HD)
    • Dain Ironfoot: Lord of the Iron Hills (30:20, HD)
  • Realms of the Third Age: From the City of Dale to the Halls of Erebor (with Play All) (90:30) – A companion piece to the previous section, these featurettes follow the design, development, mythology, and fabrication of three of the series’ major locations.
    • Dale: The City of Men (30:20, HD)
    • Dol Guldur: The Hill of Sorcery (30:10, HD)
    • Erebor: The Lonely Mountain (30:20, HD)
  • Farewell, Friends! (33:00, HD) – A grab bag of final thoughts that contrasts the behind-the-scenes footage from the original Lord of the Rings movies with new clips of cast and crew members that worked on the entire series for more than 15 years.
  • Butt-Numb-A-Thon Greeting (11:40, HD) – Footage from the Austin-based film-fest in 2013.
  • "Rivers of Gold" music video (4:30, HD)
  • The Real Adam Brown (5:30, HD) – A jokey faux-celebrity gossip news exposé.
  • Andrew Lesnie Remembered (5:50, HD) – A farewell to the cinematographer/camera operator Andrew Lesnie, who worked on all six Lord of the Rings films
  • Credits (5:10, HD)


 Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies: Extended Edition, 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. This feeling is amplified by the extended edition releases. Despite preferring the extended editions of the previous Lord of the Rings, I had little interest in sitting through an even longer version of an already protracted movie. I’m torn on the final product here – there’s no excuse to make this mess longer, but the new footage is actually prime Peter Jackson insanity. I’m sure that the readers that already enjoyed the shorter version will be very happy. The perfect A/V quality is met with an insane number of extras. There’s ten hours of content here, not even including the new commentary track. A Hobbit fan couldn’t ask for anything more. I’m not sure what to tell parents about the R-rating other than I don’t think there’s anything here any more inappropriate for young kids than what already appeared on the PG-13 movies in the series.

 Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies: Extended Edition, The

 Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies: Extended Edition, 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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