Tuesday, March 31, 2015

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies Blu-ray Review

Reviewed by Sean Ferguson
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies brings to an epic conclusion the adventure of Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) and the Company of Dwarves. 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.
Film (4 1/2 out of 5 stars)
Picking up where The Desolation of Smaug left off, The Battle of the Five Armies starts off with a bang, with the evil dragon Smaug immolating Laketown and its inhabitants. Having awoken and released Smaug, the company of dwarves led by Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) have regained their ancestral home of Erebor, but at a high cost. As they guiltily watch Smaug destroy Laketown, all but Thorin feel responsible. The vast amount of gold and the missing Arkenstone are all that Thorin is concerned about, thanks to the dragon sickness that's seeped into the gold. Thorin's behavior and personality have begun to change for the worse, a fact that all of the party notices with regret, but only Bilbo (Martin Freeman) feels alarmed and uneasy about what it portends.

Meanwhile in Dol Goldur, after investigating the rumors of a necromancer, Gandalf is being held captive and tormented by his minions. Now that the necromancer has been revealed to be Sauron, the stakes are even higher which means that we will finally get to see Elrond (Hugo Weaving), Galadriel (Cate Blanchett), and Saruman (Christopher Lee) in their prime take a stand against Sauron and his recently resurrected Nazgul. That fight explains a lot for the future films, as we see why Sauron no longer has a physical presence in the original trilogy along with the toll that battle that takes on Galadriel. It's also interesting to see why they didn't press their advantage to go after Sauron in his weakened state and how Saruman decided that they should leave Sauron for him to take care of. We all know how that turned out later.

No homeless, the survivors of the Laketown massacre look to Bard (Luke Evans) for leadership, a task that he reluctantly accepts. The only relatively safe haven nearby is Erebor, so the survivors make the trek to the mountain fortress in hopes that the dwarves will honor the bargain they made in the previous movie which gave them supplies and weapons to retake their home in exchange for the promise of some of the fabled gold within the mountain. They are met by the King of the Woodland Elves Thranduil (Lee Pace) and his army, who is also there to collect on a debt that he feels Thorin owes him. In an attempt to prevent a war, Bard tries to talk sense into Thorin and to remind him of his promise, but Thorin is too far gone thanks the the dragon sickness to care about anything other than the Arkenstone and the gold. With Azog and his orcs marching to Erebor, to challenge the men of Laketown, the elves, and the dwarven reinforcements, the victor will win the fortress and the gold as well as hold the most strategic locations for the upcoming fight in The Lord of the Rings.

The Battle of the Five Armies is a lot of fun and it successfully brings the second trilogy to a satisfying close, but I would have preferred that Peter Jackson followed his earlier plan of making two Hobbit movies and then a "bridge"movie that would have tied the two trilogies together with a telling of what happened between them. This movie actually feels a lot like The Return of the King, with a final battle, but it just doesn't have the same heart or noble self-sacrifice of the final chapter of the first trilogy. For one reason, there's too many characters in The Hobbit movies, with the dwarves being fairly interchangeable for the most part. I could probably only name about half of them by sight at this point. Another issue is the fact that this group isn't doing any of this to save the world as they know it like Frodo and his Fellowship did, they are just doing it to get the gold and Erebor back. Sure, at the end they do the right thing, but up until then, this plays more like a Dungeons and Dragons adventure than a heroic cause.

Despite that, I've loved all of these films and this one is no different as there's plenty of fantastic action and humor that you've come to expect. The performances are all great too and everyone gets their moment to shine, even the dwarves who finally get something to do in this movie. The four lead performances (Freeman, McKellan, Evans, and Armitage) are all fantastic to watch although I have to admit that I was thrilled every time one of the actors from the first trilogy appeared. While the first installment wasn't up to the usual LOTR standards, the second film and this one feel much more like the original trilogy which is a bonus in my book. I'm really looking forward to the Extended Edition of this film because not only those are always the best versions of the movies, but also because this film was the shortest of the saga, so there's probably a lot of goodies that were left out. I really wish that we had more of these films coming, but this seems to be the final one that Warners/MGM/New Line have the rights for which is too bad. I would have liked to have more of a bridge movie between the two series, but this is still a great movie and a nice way for The Hobbit movies to come to a close.
Video (5 out of 5 stars)
Much like the earlier installments, this final chapter offers some incredible video quality as this 1080p transfer looks amazing. Colors look striking, I especially like the hues present during Smaug's destruction of Laketown, and the contrast is spot on. Detail is razor sharp and there's a ton of detail on display which will help you notice little things that you probably missed in the theaters. There's no real digital defects either. This is a very impressive transfer and one that fans will be very happy to watch.
Audio (5 out of 5 stars)
Now this isn't going to come as a shock to any of you, but The Battle of the Five Armies' DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 mix is just as good as the video quality if not better. This is another home run for this series, as once again we get a reference quality mix that captures all of the dialogue perfectly along with the clamor of war. And it's those sounds of war that really come to life with this mix that is sure to get you into trouble with your wife when the walls shake with fury. The rear channel surround activity is lively and accurate with each of the directional effects and the low end output delivers exactly like it should. This is a great movie to show off you new home theater sound system the next time your friends come over as it is flawless.
Extras (3 1/2 out of 5 stars)
While we wait for the generous bounty of extras that we know will be included in the upcoming Extended Edition set, we can sit back and enjoy these appetizers.
  • New Zealand: Home of Middle-earth Part 3 - A six minute look at the many New Zealand locations used to film this last chapter of the series. 
  • Recruiting the Five Armies - Want to know what it's like to be an extra on one of these films? Then check out this twelve minute behind the scenes look at the life of an extra where we see them fight, die, and die again, and get some food. Some of them even get to be promoted to featured extras which means that they get to interact with the main cast.
  • Completing Middle-earth: A Six-Part Saga - A ten minute talk with director Peter Jackson who shares how this final film ties the two trilogies together.  
  • Completing Middle-earth: A Seventeen-Year Journey - A nine minute look at how Peter Jackson and his company have spent seventeen years bringing these movies to life. I love these kind of extras and I know that this will be covered even more extensively in the Extended Edition.  
  • The Last Goodbye: Behind the Scenes - When it came time to make a fitting song to end just just this movie but to also say goodbye to the fans, Peter Jackson, and writer/co-producer Philippa Boyens knew that it would have to be special. In an inspired movie, they brought back Billy Boyd who played Pippen in the first series to help write and sing the closing song "The Last Goodbye." We see them rehearse and how much effort went into recording the song to everyone's approval.  
  • Music Video - Here is the actual music video of "The Last Goodbye."
  • Trailers - We get two trailers - one for The Battle of the Five Armies and another for the Desolation of Smaug Extended Edition.
  • Digital Copy of the Film
  • DVD Copy of the Film
Summary (4 1/2 out of 5 stars)
The Battle of the Five Armies is a lot of fun to watch and a fitting end to The Hobbit films. While I still prefer the original Lord of the Rings movies, I still love these too (especially the second and third films). This Blu-ray offers some incredible audio and video quality that will make fans very happy, while the extras as the usual whet your appetite variety while we wait for the jam packed Extended Edition. This Blu-ray is highly recommended!

Order your copy today!

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