At long last, Peter Jackson’s epic adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Hobbit” comes to its grand conclusion with “The Battle of the Five Armies,” the third part in what some have felt has been a questionable trilogy. Not the idea of making “The Hobbit” into a film in the first place, but rather whether the concept of stretching it out into three films was a wise decision or not. The first film, “An Unexpected Journey,” was a magnificent start, capturing the magic of Bilbo, Gandalf, and the dwarves starting out on their journey, while the second film, “The Desolation of Smaug,” continued to follow the book pretty well for the most part and turned out to be very good overall, despite a few problems here and there. The third film was always going to have a tough time overcoming the obvious obstacle of there not really being much left of the story other than the titular battle and wrapping up a few loose ends, but that wasn’t about to stop massive fans of the book from seeing just how Jackson and co. were going to pull off one of the grandest fights in literary history.
Picking up exactly where the previous film left off, the evil dragon Smaug (Voice of Benedict Cumberbatch) begins attacking Laketown, starting massive fires and causing the residents to flee for their lives, while all that Bilbo (Martin Freeman) and his companions can do is watch the chaos from afar. After escaping from his cell, Bard (Luke Evans), puts his own life in jeopardy to stop the creature, eventually bringing it down with the incredible shot of an arrow directly into Smaug’s one weak spot. As the people of Laketown seek shelter in the nearby city of Dale, the dwarves take up residence in the halls of Erebor, claiming the gold and fortifying the entrance under orders from Thorin (Richard Armitage) in preparation for those who might come to take it. In an effort to claim what was agreed upon, Bard, joined by an Elvish army also looking to make a claim, tries to reason with Thorin, but he has succumbed to what is known as Dragon Sickness, which won’t allow him to part with a single piece of the gold. His refusal eventually brings war to his doorstep, one that will involve men, Elves, and Dwarves, but soon the battle is joined by an army of orcs looking to kill them all, which means that the others will have to join together or face destruction.
Indeed, Jackson and his crew took a very big risk when they chose to split Tolkien’s relatively short novel into three different films, padding it out by adding in some material from the appendices found in “The Lord of the Rings,” but now, with the trilogy finally complete, we can at last judge whether it was worth it. Taking a look strictly at the additional material that’s not in the novel, we find that there wasn’t really much of a need for it, but that’s not to say that it interfered very much with the overall story arc. It was a delight to see some of the characters from “The Lord of the Rings” like Cate Blanchett’s Galadriel, Hugo Weaving’s Elrond, and Orlando Bloom’s Legolas, and it was also interesting to see some that we hadn’t seen before, such as Evangeline Lilly’s Tauriel and Sylvester McCoy’s Radagast the Brown. Some of it couldn’t help feeling like the padding that it was, but it still managed to add an extra something to the films that helped give fans of the book a little something new, instead of knowing exactly what would happen every step of the way.
There’s also the trilogy-spanning subplot of Azog the Defiler, the orc that’s been hunting our heroes the entire time, that gave Bilbo and his companions a main villain to focus on. Fans of the novel will recall that there isn’t really a central antagonist, but that didn’t stop the group from having their fair share of dangers anyway, pretty much all of which we see throughout the trilogy of films. In the book, the battle pretty much just happens, with the reader getting the end results when it’s over. This approach probably would have been a little odd for the film, so having Azog around for Thorin to fight at the end was suitably satisfying for a final fight that the viewer could get engaged in. Just like the other pieces of new material, it wasn’t really necessary, but it does help enhance it a little more than what a straight adaptation of Tolkien’s work might have been able to do.
With that out of the way, we can now take a look at the third film itself. With such a heavy weight on its shoulders, there’s no denying that it does suffer a bit from being mainly action-oriented. Whereas the first two films had been mainly character-based, “The Battle of the Five Armies” has little choice but to concentrate on the titular battle, though Jackson and co. do try their best to have at least a little character development sprinkled in there via Thorin’s sudden change to mistrust and total greed. That being said, the action here is rather well done and includes a number of thrilling sequences that bring the grand conclusion of Tolkien’s novel to life. It does start to get a little monotonous after a while, but it does remain exciting enough to help offset it from becoming an outright drag. Plus, it does hit a number of strong emotional notes, particularly at the end, that make it worthwhile.
Like with the other two films, there has been footage added into this cut, this time totaling 20 minutes. The additions to the first film had been somewhat pointless, consisting mainly of songs and other bits that didn’t really need to be there, while the second film had actually added more important pieces that helped flesh out the characters a little more. For the third film, as you probably could have guessed, the vast majority of the new footage is more of the battle, with the main addition being a thrilling scene involving some of the dwarves riding a war chariot in an attempt to get to Azog (the scene which probably led to the film’s laughable “R” rating). However, there are one or two other scenes that have been included, such as an appropriate mourning scene at the end of the film, that help add more to the plot and characters. Overall, it would appear that the second film got the best share of the new material, while films one and three just didn’t seem to have that much to add.
While “The Battle of the Five Armies” may be the weakest and most stretched-out film of the trilogy, there’s still plenty to like about it, including its exciting action sequences and getting the chance to see how this entire ordeal ends for these beloved characters, whether for good or ill. Jackson and his crew have done a remarkable job bringing “The Hobbit” to life, and even though it probably would have been better to keep it at the originally-planned two films, if only to prevent a film of primarily solid action, there has been more than enough in each film to make this epic journey one worth taking. It’s doubtful that anyone but the man behind the brilliant “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy could have done this and done it so well, and now that the entire epic is complete, we can be very glad that he took the time to visit Middle-Earth one last time.
“The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (Extended Edition)” comes to Blu-ray in a 2.4:1, 1080p High Definition transfer of mostly excellent quality. There are times when the picture seems overly-bright, particularly during some of the effects-heavy scenes, but for the most part, the picture is beautifully crisp and clear. The 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio is outstanding, giving you all of the dialogue, sound effects, and Howard Shore’s thunderous score in pristine quality. Overall, the film has been given marvelous treatment that could only be improved upon very slightly.
Filmmakers’ Commentary with Peter Jackson and Philippa Boyens: As usual, Jackson and Boyens deliver a fascinating commentary filled with information about the making of the film that’s most definitely worth listening to.
New Zealand: Home of Middle-Earth – Part 3 (6 Minutes): A featurette that takes you through several of the gorgeous filming locations for the third film. Like the other two parts, it’s not particularly informative, but it’s neat (and beautiful) to see where the film was shot.
The Appendices: Part 11 – The Gathering Storm (5 Hours): An extensive, in-depth exploration of the actual shooting of the film, covering all of the major filming locations and taking us right up to the last shots of the stars and of the trilogy itself. As with the previous corresponding parts of the appendices, we are treated to tons of behind the scenes footage and interviews that make it a must-watch for fans of the trilogy and of filmmaking in general.
The Appendices: Part 12 – Here at Journey’s End (5 Hours): An extraordinary in-depth look at the creation of the titular battle, as well as an extensive look at designing the characters of Tauriel, Thranduil, and Dain, and the cities of Dale, Dol Guldur, and Erebor. Just like all other parts of the appendices, it’s a must-watch.
Butt-Numb-A-Thon 2011 Greeting (11 Minutes): An amusing extra that follows a reporter from Ain’t It Cool News around the set as he chats with members of the cast and crew.
Rivers of Gold Music Video (4 Minutes): An easily skippable music video featuring the dwarves.
The Real Adam Brown (5 Minutes): An easily skippable gag featurette focusing on actor Adam Brown.
Andrew Lesnie Remembered (6 Minutes): A touching tribute to the recently-passed cinematographer for “The Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit” trilogies.
“The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies” may not stand up to the first two films in terms of story and characters, but it still manages to stand on its own as a thrilling, action-packed conclusion to the trilogy. As mentioned, the additional scenes don’t add very much, but as usual, and I know I’ve said this twice before, the astounding special features make this release worth the purchase alone. The ten hours of bonus content in the appendices that takes you through the complete making of the film is just as engaging, if not more so, than the film itself. Fans of the trilogy would do themselves a huge favor by picking this up on day one.
Available on Blu-ray and DVD starting tomorrow.
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