Release Date(s)2014 (March 24, 2015)
Studio(s)New Line/MGM/Wingnut Films (Warner Bros.)
- Film/Program Grade: B+
- Video Grade: A+
- Audio Grade: A+
- Extras Grade: C+
Having awoken the dragon Smaug from his long slumber in the bowels of Erebor, the company of Thorin Oakenshield must now deal with the aftermath. Smuag has chosen to unleash his wrath upon the lowly residents of Laketown, sending them running to the Dwarves for help. Obsessed with finding the Arkenstone, however, Thorin offers no aid, having fallen prey to the same greed that possessed his grandfather before him. Meanwhile, the dark lord Sauron had launched his plan to take The Lonely Mountain for himself, sending the Orc armies of Angmar to do his bidding. Now that the Dwarves have breached and reclaimed the Mountain, other forces would have it too, including the Thorin’s cousin Dáin of the Iron Hills and Thranduil of the Woodland Realm. So as the armies of Orcs, Dwarves, and Elves converge upon the Gates of Erebor, Bilbo must find a way to make Thorin see reason before all is lost.
With a running time of just 144 minutes, this final installment of Peter Jackson’s Hobbit trilogy is – somewhat surprisingly – the shortest of the three (in fact, it’s actually the shortest of all six Middle-Earth films). Rather than wasting time with prologues, flashbacks and other set-ups, you’re simply thrust right into the heat of the action. Fell things are hitting the fan, so to speak, and they do not stop for nearly the entire length of the film. All of the trilogy’s various storylines finally converge, most of the key character arcs pay off nicely and – for the first time in this trilogy – there are real consequences. What I find most appealing about this film is that it’s not simply a conclusion to The Hobbit story, but also a genuine bridge to The Lord of the Rings. The character of Bilbo benefits most strongly from this. In Fellowship of the Ring, old Bilbo (played by Ian Holm) seems a bit like the walking wounded. By the time Battle of the Five Armies concludes, you know at last why that is and exactly what price he’s paid for his choices. Once again, Martin Freeman shines in the role, delivering an understated but poignant performance that really connected me more deeply with the character. You feel Bilbo’s pain here, something that can only serve to enhance future viewings of the Rings films.
To be fair, the requisite battles herein, involving vast armies of CG characters, seem rather paint by numbers at this point. And it’s certainly true that these Hobbit films just aren’t as compelling as the Rings series. Stretched into three parts, the story is a bit “like butter scraped over too much bread” as Bilbo says in Fellowship. But Jackson and company do take care to keep their focus on the characters and that, combined with the shortened run time, helps Battle of the Five Armies to become the best entry in the Hobbit trilogy. It’s a satisfying final chapter, I think, that ends… well, exactly where it must.
Warner’s Blu-ray delivers audio-visual quality that’s right in line with the previous theatrical Blu-ray releases, which is to say that it’s near reference level. The film is presented on Disc One in 1080p high-definition in its proper 2.40:1 theatrical aspect ratio. The video clarity is tremendous, with rich color, deep blacks, and abundant detail. Jackson has recently said that he’s learned various tricks (over the course of making these films) to render more film-like texturing out of the raw 4K High-Frame Rate 3D image capture, and Battle of the Five Armies definitely benefits from this. It looks simply fantastic on Blu-ray. Audio options are once more available in English 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, as well as French, Spanish and Portuguese Dolby Digital 5.1 (with optional subtitles in English SDH, French, Spanish, and Portuguese). The soundstage is big, wide and immersive, with abundant low end reinforcement, precise imaging, and smooth use of the surround and surround back channels. The dialogue is ever clear and Howard Shore’s score shines through nicely in the mix.
The special features are about what you’ve come to expect from these theatrical editions. You get 58 minutes worth of material, starting with New Zealand: Home of Middle-Earth – Part 3 (6:07) on Disc One. To this, Disc Two adds the Recruiting the Five Armies (11:39) featurette, the 2-part Completing Middle-Earth, which includes A Six-Part Saga (9:54) and A Seventeen-Year Journey (8:59). The 2-part The Last Goodbye adds the Music Video (4:21) and a Behind-the-Scenes Featurette (11:18) on its making. Finally, there are Credits (1:31), Trailer #2 for the film (2:33), and a promo trailer for The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug – Extended Edition (1:34). Of this, Completing Middle-Earth is by far the best of the lot, as it looks back at the many story and character connections between the two trilogies. All of the extras are in 1080p HD, usually at an aspect ratio of 1.78:1. The package also includes a DVD version of the film, and you get a paper insert with a code to access a Digital Copy version as well.
For those of you holding out for the eventual The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies – Extended Edition, Jackson has teased the fact that it should offer about 30 minutes of additional footage, including more scenes involving Beorn, among other things. If past release patterns hold true, look for it to arrive on Blu-ray in early to mid-November, just in time for the holidays.
I know there are those among you who’ve become jaded about this franchise for various reasons. If you’re not already invested in this story and these characters, nothing in this final installment is going to change your mind. Nevertheless, I’ve enjoyed these films a great deal over the last seventeen years, so I’m delighted to be able to view Peter Jackson’s (nearly) complete Middle-Earth saga on Blu-ray at last. At some point, I’m definitely looking forward to watching a marathon of all six Extended Editions, though I may wait for the inevitable Super Ultimate Middle-Earth Blu-ray Box Set to do so. Of course, the moment that comes out, we’ll probably learn that Warner has hired Jackson to produce and direct The Silmarillion as a big-screen trilogy too. In any case, whether or not we ever see Morgoth and the First Age on the big screen, Peter Jackson and company have taken us on an epic and rewarding journey. There and back again, I’ve enjoyed every minute.
- Bill Hunt