The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies Blu-ray Review
Watching the third installment of Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh’s THE HOBBIT Trilogy is confusing. It’s a beautiful spectacle, surreal and hyper-realistic in a way that actually makes it more cartoony and caricature-ish than any of his previous works (including the first two movies in the trilogy). THE HOBBIT: THE BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES is a finale, of sorts, though not just of this one over-long, expanded story arc. Instead THE HOBBIT: THE BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES serves as a book-end piece to THE LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy, and two trilogies could not have both more and less in common.
Let’s examine this. THE LORD OF THE RINGS, Jackson and Walsh’s original trilogy was based on three of the most important fantasy novels of all time. They were received with almost entirely positive reviews and the finale of that trilogy, THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE RETURN OF THE KING was one of the highest grossing, most critically acclaimed films of all time. Say what you will about THE LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy, I found the movies to be a charming and lovely translation of these beloved books. THE HOBBIT Trilogy, on the other hand, goes in an entirely different direction.
I talked about this change in direction during my review of the first movie, THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY Blu-ray (which you can find here). I enjoyed the movie, unlike many others, but I did feel that it unnecessarily expanded the universe. Two films later and we’ve seen some of the exposition pay off. The problem? None of it matters. Everyone saw THE LORD OF THE RINGS. Everyone knows that the Hobbit, Bilbo, survives his ordeal dealing with the lonely mountain – and while that was essentially ALL he survived in the books (aside from a run-in with dumb trolls and friendly but mischievous elves) – the filmmakers did not seem to think that was enough. So, THE HOBBIT: THE BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES tries to up the stakes and up the stakes and, well, it doesn’t work.
In fact, not one of THE HOBBIT films feels like it has high stakes… and because of that even when we’re interested and care for the characters, which I would argue does happen in the HOBBIT trilogy, we’re never really concerned for them. We know the majority aren’t going to die. We know the fate of the world isn’t in danger here. And, quite frankly, there are just too many of them.
This isn’t to say that Jackson and Walsh didn’t try. They added in huge scenes and fights and ideas that were just allusions and tidbits and toss away dialogue in the book There and Back Again: A Hobbit’s Tale. Tolkien himself used some of this to expand upon his world, annotating his books and sharing his notes in the years that followed, giving the world a larger history and context. But Middle Earth, in THE HOBBIT, was still a quaint place full of adventure and thrills, not the scary end-game that was to become THE LORD OF THE RINGS.
None of this matters if you can somehow enter into THE HOBBIT: THE BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES and suspend your disbelief long enough to see the incredible talents of the cast. If nothing else, Jackson and Co. know how to cast a film. But after nine plus hours and twenty or thirty major characters, how much can you really care about any of them? It helps that almost every flaw I noted in the first HOBBIT film was addressed, though I would hesitate to say they were corrected. Many of the issues were reconciled within THE HOBBIT: THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG (arguably the high point of the trilogy). But the nagging feeling that something isn’t working, that things are just too long and convoluted, pulls the audience from the story at every pause in the action.
So is THE HOBBIT: THE BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES worth watching? I daresay, despite everything else I’ve mentioned in this review, that it is in fact a very entertaining film. It just doesn’t have the emotional resonance of THE LORD OF THE RINGS and, because everyone saw those films it is all the more disappointing. Standing on its own is something Jackson never allows us to do, with constant ties back to the first trilogy. Do we get payoff in this film? Of course we do. But it feels cheaper, like the filmmakers trying to play on our emotions rather than making us really feel anything. So – can you enjoy THE HOBBIT: THE BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES? Absolutely. But it’s never going to be more than a shadow of the Middle Earth you remember.
Video: (1080p Widescreen 1.78:1) The video quality on THE HOBBIT: THE BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES is breathtaking though the CGI has become overblown to a degree that is difficult to comprehend until you see it.
Audio: (English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1) Like all of Jackson’s films, the HOBBIT: THE BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES continues the tradition of astounding scoring, sound editing, and beautiful mixing. These are the types of movies made to showcase your systems.
New Zealand: Home of Middle Earth – Part 3 (06:08) The final chapter of this special feature that spans the theatrical release of all three films of THE HOBBIT Trilogy, this one focuses on the movies as a whole with some quick moments about THE HOBBIT: THE BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES. The whole thing is good but it would be better on one disc.
Recruiting the Five Armies (11:39) This featurette focuses on the smaller roles, the extras in THE HOBBIT: THE BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES had to undergo massive amounts of makeup, weaponry & fight choreography. It looks like the extras had a great time making the movie.
Completing Middle-Earth: Presented in two parts, A Six Part Saga (09:54) and A Seventeen-Year Journey (08:59), this is a wonderful look at the connecting points from THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY all the way through THE LORD OF THE RINGS Trilogy. This feature actually made me want to watch all the movies again, even THE HOBBIT: THE BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES.
The Last Goodbye (15:40) This feature focuses on the final song, written by Billy Boyd, for THE HOBBIT: THE BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES. It is broken into two parts, Behind the Scenes Featurette (11:18) and the Music Video (04:21).
THE HOBBIT: THE BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES also features Theatrical Trailer #2 and the Extended Edition Trailer for THE HOBBIT: THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG (01:34) as well as coming with an UltraViolet DigitalHD Digital Copy of the film.