Friday, November 20, 2015

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies Extended Edition 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 (5 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 extra thirty minutes adds a lot to the movie especially the added scenes at the beginning and end of the film. Just be aware that this new extended cut is now rated "R" so take that into consideration before letting your children watch it. In any case, the performances are all great 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've always liked the extended editions of all of the Lord of the Rings films as they are unequivocally the best versions of the movies and this one continues that tradition. 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 (2.40:1) 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 (5 out of 5 stars)
This is what we've been waiting for and reason enough to buy this extended edition alone. Once again Peter Jackson and company have outdone themselves with these extras. There's over nine hours of high definition goodness here! 
  • Audio Commentary - Director Peter Jackson and co-writer Philippa Boyens provide an interesting conversation that goes over the making of the film and the many challenges they faced before, during, and after filming.
  • New Zealand: Home to Middle-Earth Part 3 - The third and last look a the locations in New Zealand that were used for the film.   
  • The Appendices Part 11: The Gathering Storm - This is it. The extra that I've been waiting for since the last extended edition. This is the real meat of this set's special features and it's spread across two discs, with five hours of content on each. Check out this awesome list of extras:
    • Opening - A welcome and a quick overview of the extras you are about to see.
    • In the Dungeons of the Necromancer - Behind the scenes look of the filming at Dol Galdur with Ian McKellen and Cate Blanchett. We also see a very realistic dummy of McKellan. Benedict Cumberbatch shows us how Black Speech is done while producer Zane Weiner spins his "Wacky Wheel of Wonders" to reward the cast and crew.
    • Fire and Water - We see Luke Evans get tested by Peter Jackson for his first day of filming on the Lake-town rooftops. We see how Weta Workshop and John Howe created the black arrow that killed Smaug and the many variations that preceded it.
    • Under the Shadow of the Mountain - To capture the majesty of Erebor, the cast and crew have to take a helicopter ride to the South Island's Rock and Pillar Range. Thanks to the fog that rolls in, some of the crew are left behind because it's too dangerous to pick them up.
    • In the Wake of the Dragon - We see the extras get a little to into their roles as they rough up  Ryan Gage who also has to deal with a wardrobe malfunction. Luke Evans earns the first Victoria's Cross for maintaining his continuity even though Peter Jackson thinks its overrated.
    • The Gathering of the Clouds - The Dwarven actors play a joke on William Kircher while Lee Pace's horse keeps ruining take after take. Jackson comes up with a new direction while the everyone starts to feel the pressure.
    • Many Partings - Martin Freeman's farewell leaves the Dwarf actors very sad while the filming of the funeral scene is surprisingly fun. Jackson gives out a special gift, and principle photography finally wraps after 266 days of filming. 
    • The Clouds Burst - The 2013 pick-ups start up and we see the behind the scenes look of  Luke Evans, Evangeline Lilly and Orlando Bloom get into character. We also see a fire interrupt shooting.
    • A Last Desperate Stand - We see Orlando Bloom's last shot for the film, Evangeline Lilly thanks  all of her team, Richard Armitage gets to film the scene he's been waiting for, and Ian McKellen gives his last performance as Gandalf. 
    • Out from the Gate - The Dwarf actors are given real armor for their final charge out of Erebor, and Martin Freeman says his farewells to Middle-earth. 
    • The Last Stage - On the final day of pick-ups in 2013, we see Peter Jackson on Facebook, Richard Armitage doing some fighting on a moving platform, and the Main and Splinter Units try to see who can finish first, and a moving wrap ceremony. 
  • The Appendices Part 12: Here at Journey's End - This is the next part of the extras on the second disc.
    • Beneath the Thunder: Forging a Battle of the Five Armies - This is a comprehensive look at the final battle was conceived and filmed using every filmmaking trick in the book. To explain that, this featurette includes three separate segments called "A Master Plan: Long in the Making," "On the Front Lines of a Virtual Battlefield,"and "Turning the Tide."
    • The People and Denizens of Middle-earth - This almost an hour and a half featurette is devoted to the three main woodland elves and one dwarf: "Tauriel: Daughter of the Forest," "Thranduil: The King of Wood and Stone," and "Dain Ironfoot: Lord of the Iron Hills.
    • Realms of the Third Age: From the City of Dale to the Halls of Erebor - A look at how three Middle-earth  locations came to life through practical and digital talents. Those locations include "Dale: The City of Men," "Dol Guldur: The Hill of Sorcery," and "Erebor: The Lonely Mountain."
  • Farewell, Friends! - At last we all have to finally say goodbye to each other and to Middle-earth itself. This thirty minute goodbye will probably require you have some Kleenex at hand.
  • Butt-Numb-a-Thon 2011 Greeting - This is a birthday video for Ain't It Cool News's founder Harry Knowles starring Peter Jackson, Ian McKellen and Ain't It Cool News' Eric "Quint" Vespe that was shown at the annual Butt-Numb-a-Thon film festival held in Austin, Texas. 
  • The Real Adam Brown - An "expose" of  Adam Brown who stars as Ori in the films.
  • Music Video -"Rivers of Gold," by Jed "Nori" Brophy.
  • Andrew Lesnie Remembered - A moving tribute to the late cinematographer extraordinaire Andrew Lesnie.  
  • Digital Copy of the Film
Summary (5 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 prequels too (especially the second and third films). This Blu-ray set offers some incredible audio and video quality that will make fans very happy, while the extras proved in this Extended Edition are absolutely superb. This Extended Edition Blu-ray set is highly recommended!

Order your copy today!

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