Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, Ken Stott, Graham McTavish, William Kircher, James Nesbitt, Stephen Hunter, Dean O'Gorman
Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson, Guillermo del Toro
Witness the defining chapter of the Middle-Earth saga.
Bilbo and Company are forced to engage in a war against an array of combatants and keep the Lonely Mountain from falling into the hands of a rising darkness.
$54,724,334 on 3,875 Screens.
Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1
English DTS-HD MA 7.1
French Dolby Digital 5.1
Latin Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1
Portuguese Dolby Digital 5.1
Runtime: 144 min.
Release Date: 3/24/2015
• “New Zealand: Home of Middle-Earth – Part 3” Featurette
• “Recruiting the Five Armies” Featurette
• “Completing Middle-Earth” Featurettes
• “The Last Goodbye” Featurette and Music Video
• DVD Copy
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The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies [Blu-Ray] (2013)
Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (March 15, 2014)
With 2014’s The Battle of the Five Armies, the Hobbit trilogy comes to an end. Note that if you haven’t seen the first two chapters – 2012’s An Unexpected Journey and 2013’s The Desolation of Smaug - this discussion will include potential spoilers. That said, if you’re reading this review, it seems unlikely it stands as your introduction to the series.
Armies picks up right where the last film concluded, as the dragon Smaug (voiced by Benedict Cumnberbatch) lays waste to the village of Lake-town. Local bowman Bard (Luke Evans) manages to kill Smaug with a special black arrow, and this accomplishment elevates him to hero/leader of Lake-town.
In the meantime, dwarf chief Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) goes a little loopy due to his lust for all the gold and treasure he now appears to have liberated from Smaug. However, others entertain designs on the loot as well, which brings the residents of Lake-town and bands of elves to the Lonely Mountain.
In the midst of this internecine competition, another threat emerges. Sent by the forces of evil, orcs come to the mountain so they can occupy that strategic location. This leads to the massive battle implied by the film’s title.
If you look over my synopsis, you may notice an omission that could seem curious: I never mention Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), the titular hobbit. There’s a good reason for that, as poor old Bilbo often gets lost in the shuffle during Armies.
Actually, that’s not new to the trilogy’s final chapter. As the series progressed, it focused less and less on Bilbo. He played a huge role in Journey, a moderate role in Desolation, and… well, let’s call it a more moderate role in Armies. While I don’t think Bilbo becomes a true afterthought in this film, he doesn’t have nearly as much to do as one might expect given his ostensible job as lead protagonist.
That seems like a shame. After all, the story feels like it should proceed from Bilbo’s point of view, so his diminishment becomes a problem. In addition, I simply miss seeing Freeman; he does such a delightful job as Bilbo that his lack of screen time becomes a disappointment.
Much of this stems from co-writer/director Peter Jackson’s grand vision for the Hobbit trilogy. As most fans know, Hobbit is a short book, one that probably could’ve been adapted in one movie. To pad the series to three films, Jackson took from other Tolkien efforts and worked hard to make the Hobbit flicks part of a sweeping epic akin to his Lord of the Rings franchise.
While I enjoy Armies and its predecessors, I’m not sure that Jackson really succeeds. To be sure, Armies and the other two movies deliver exciting entertainment, but there just seems to be something missing, a certain depth and dimensionality Jackson brought to the Rings films.
I think part of the issue comes from Jackson’s over-reach. Rather than simply create a fun little adventure, he felt he needed to make something bigger and grander – and in an odd twist, Hobbit becomes Jackson’s version of the Star Wars “Prequel Trilogy”.
Jackson's Hobbit series clearly invites comparisons to Star Wars Episodes 1-3 because that's the kind of path he took. I've still not read Tolkien’s Hobbit novel, so I don't know exactly how much the movies alter. I'm guessing "a lot" and I'm betting the ample amounts of Lord of the Rings foreshadowing in the Hobbit movies can’t be found in the original text.
I think some of the foreshadowing becomes fun, but Jackson seems to want so badly to make a six-movie series that I think he occasionally forgets to focus on the here and now. Jackson strives so hard to link the Hobbit and Rings trilogies that the former suffers – as was the case with George Lucas’s prequels. Couldn’t Hobbit just stand on its own without all those self-conscious allusions to the other films?
Eventually I plan to watch the six movies in “story order”, and I’ll be curious to see how the narrative plays. In the case of the Star Wars movies, “story order” doesn’t work very well. Though Lucas may disagree, the prequels play heavily on the audience’s existing understanding of the Star Wars universe he established before 1999. I suspect a fan totally new to the franchise would feel alienated if he/she actually launched with Phantom Menace and went from there.
Though probably not as problematic, I get the impression the same would occur to a viewer new to Tolkien who went into Unexpected Journey before any of the Rings movies. As much as Jackson wants us to see all six of his films as one long saga – one with Journey as the start – I doubt they’ll play that way in a satisfying fashion. The Hobbit movies simply rely on our foreknowledge of Rings too much for that approach to succeed.
Hmm… for someone who says he enjoys the Hobbit flicks, I seem to complain a lot about them. I don’t want to lose sight of the series’ positives, as even with the problems attached to Armies, it does entertain. In particular, it delivers a good action punch, as the titular battle occupies much of the movie’s running time.
One certainly can’t accuse Jackson of false advertising, as much of Armies revolves around combat. Once Bard disposes of Smaug, we get a brief respite – and some exposition – before the various parties clash.
Those scenes offer the best parts of Armies. Jackson always knew his way around an action sequence, and he manages the massive scale of these fights well. We get plenty of excitement as the war unfolds.
Even though the battle fills so much screen time, Jackson largely avoids tedium. I worried that the constant conflict would get repetitive and tiresome after a while, but it doesn’t. Jackson manages to infuse the fights with enough creativity to keep them fresh as they develop.
Beyond exciting action scenes, does Armies have much to offer? Not really. The battles remain enjoyable enough to redeem the movie and make it something I like, but the story’s absence of real emotional depth means it never approaches the heights of the Rings series.
Those films succeeded because Jackson managed to combine the magic and majesty of the fantasy material with compelling characters and drama. That side of things escapes him in the Hobbit movies, though, as he seems so preoccupied with the massive scope that he forgets to give us personalities about whom we care.
This means that when different characters perish, we may not really feel too upset. Other than Bilbo, many of the folks in Armies seem either interchangeable – all those dwarves! – or forgettable. Bilbo matters to us, but we never fear for him, as we know he comes out of the saga unharmed. All the rest end up as borderline non-entities; even the roles Jackson actually attempts to develop fail to stick with the viewer in a notable manner.
Again, I don’t mean this as a total slam on Armies. As a big adventure flick, it entertains and thrills.
However, given the standards set by Lord of the Rings, it lacks the emotional depth and impact the viewer probably desires, and Armies stands as the biggest offender in that regard, especially due to the way it often ignores its lead. Just when it should bring Bilbo to the fore, it decides to become about everything but Bilbo.
All of this leaves Armies as something of a “tastes great/less filling” production. I enjoy it and think it offers a good adventure, but I can’t help but think it could – and should – have been more than that. It finishes the Hobbit trilogy in an exciting manner but not one that makes it truly satisfying.
The Blu-ray Grades: Picture A+/ Audio A/ Bonus C-
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.40:1 on this Blu-Ray Disc. Since the first two films looked amazing, should we expect Armies to differ? Nope – this was another exceptional presentation.
At all times, sharpness appeared excellent. Virtually no instances of softness occurred, as even the widest shots came across as precise and distinctive. Neither jagged edges nor moiré effects materialized, and I saw no edge haloes. Print flaws didn’t mar the image in any way.
As was the case with the other movies, Armies opted for a highly stylized palette that varied somewhat dependent on setting. Much of the film featured a desaturated feel with a mild to moderate teal tint, though. Within the parameters of these choices, the colors seemed satisfying. Blacks were dark and deep, while low-light shots seemed smooth and clear. Everything about this image fired on all cylinders
In addition, the movie’s DTS-HD MA 7.1 soundtrack worked well. Of the three Hobbit films, Armies boasted the most action, and that allowed the mix to come to life on a near-constant basis. From Smaug’s opening attack on Lake-town through the titular battle, the audio showed a broad sense of place and used the channels to excellent advantage.
This meant a great deal of material around the room. Smaug flew from speaker to speaker in a smooth, logical manner, and the sounds of battle managed to put us in the action to a terrific degree. Everything meshed in a lively way to form a highly satisfying soundscape.
As expected, audio quality also pleased. Music was bold and bright, while speech seemed concise and natural. Effects boasted strong range and impact, as they showed tight highs and deep lows. The soundtrack complemented the visuals to create an effective presentation.
As was the case with the three Lord of the Rings films and the first two Hobbit flicks, we’ll get an extended cut of Armies with copious extras later in 2015. While we get some bonus materials here, we find a limited set.
When we shift to supplements, a featurette called New Zealand: Home of Middle-earth - Part 3 runs six minutes, seven seconds and provides notes from 2nd unit director Andy Serkis, co-writer/director Peter Jackson, supervising art director Simon Bright, co-writer Philippa Boyens, and actors Lee Pace, Cate Blanchett, Mark Hadlow, Orlando Bloom, Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman, Graham McTavish, Richard Armitage, Luke Evans, Evangeline Lilly, Dean O’Gorman, Billy Connolly, Jed Brophy and Adam Brown. Like “Part 1” and “Part 2”, the program gives us some info about the sets and locations used for the film. Also like its predecessors, this comes across like a promo from the New Zealand Board of Tourism, but it still manifests a few good nuggets.
On a separate disc, we find a program called Recruiting the Five Armies. It runs 11 minutes, 39 seconds and presents comments from Evans, Lilly, Bloom, 2nd second Ads Bruno Du Bois and Danielle Baker, casting assistant Nicola Benton, prosthetic supervisor Tami Lane, NZ casting director Miranda Rivers, movement choreographer Terry Notary, off set armour and weapons Kimberly Sowter, and extra Dra McKay. The show looks at elements related to scenes with large crowds/many combatants, so it mainly deals with factors related to the use of extras. “Recruiting” gives us a smattering of decent details but lacks a lot of substance.
Under Completing Middle-Earth, we find two pieces: “A Six-Part Saga” (9:54) and “A Seventeen-Year Journey” (8:59). Across these, we hear from Jackson, Boyens, Serkis, Bloom, Blanchett, Evans, Pace, Taylor, Armitage, O’Gorman, Freeman, Brophy, McKellen, Weta Workshop concept artists Paul Tobin and Daniel Falconer, Weta Workshop creative director Richard Taylor, producer Barrie M. Osborne, director of photography Andrew Lesnie, producer/1st AD CaroLynne Cunningham, and actors Elijah Wood, Viggo Mortensen, Dominic Monaghan, Christopher Lee, and Stephen Hunter.
“Saga” looks at the ways the stories of Hobbit and Lord of the Rings mesh, while “Journey” examines the long production of all six movies. “Saga” gives us a passable overview of themes/connections, but “Journey” feels fluffy and self-congratulatory much of the time.
The Last Goodbye also presents two components. A “Behind the Scenes Featurette” (11:18) offers info from Jackson, Boyens, music recordist/mixer Peter Cobbin, re-recording mixer Michael Hedges, conceptual designers Alan Lee and John Howe, music editor Stephen Gallagher, songwriter/singer Billy Boyd, and arranger/orchestrator Victoria Kelly. “Goodbye” discusses elements related to the song that plays over the movie’s end credits. It becomes a pretty good exploration of these issues.
We also see a music video for “The Last Goodbye”. It runs four minutes, 21 seconds as it mixes footage of Boyd in the studio, movie clips and shots from film sets. It becomes a mediocre clip.
Finally, we get various trailers. We find “Trailer #2” for Armies as well as a promo for the Desolation of Smaug Extended Edition of Smaug.
In addition, the set provides a DVD copy of Desolation. This provides the movie and the “Home of Middle-earth” featurette but none of the other extras.
Does The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies finish the trilogy in a satisfying fashion? Yes and no – while it comes with plenty of excitement, it lacks the emotional depth/impact that it needs. The Blu-ray delivers exceptional picture and audio but fails to present substantial supplements. I enjoy Armies but it doesn’t deliver the kind of rousing, rich finale fans might hope to find.
Viewer Film Ratings: 3.8421 Stars
| Number of Votes: 19