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The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies | Blu-Ray Review

Peter Jackson The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies Blu-ray Cover BoxHovering just under one billion dollars in worldwide gross, the final installment of Peter Jackson’s prequel trilogy, The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies actually has the distinction of being the lowest grossing of the three films, though it’s quite close to 2013’s second installment, The Desolation of Smaug. Though each film has a distinctive leaning, beginning with the first installment’s predilection for overabundant exposition, followed by a mid-segment of breathless promises, and finally, a CGI explosion of endless battle sequences, its apparent that Jackson’s product was stretched beyond its narrative breaking point. To compare this to the wealth of material that supported the epic scope of his earlier Lord of the Rings trilogy simply points to the ways profit based zealotry has warped the sensibilities of mainstream film production.

Those familiar with J.R.R Tolkien’s novel that preceded the opus of the Fellowship trilogy should pause momentarily to realize that these three films have moved well beyond the spirit or intentions of the source material. A narrative strained beyond the limit, even for Jackson’s taxing penchant for extended, operatic battle sequences, this final offering may deliver on the promise of its title, but beyond a bloated, mind-numbing free-for-all that feels like watching a bunch of school kids playing Dodge ball with reckless abandon, Jackson fails to instill the same sense of awe and magic evident in his first round of monolithic films over a decade ago.

With the irksome dragon Smaug dispatched early on, the cavernous mountain of jewels he’d been endlessly napping upon are seized by the dwarf king Thorin (Richard Armitrage). Rather than honor his promise to share the riches with the humans whose township was laid to waste by the dragon’s flames, Thorin decides to keep all the jewels to himself, as well as the elven heirlooms that Thranduil (Lee Pace) is eager to reclaim. It seems Smaug marinated these trinkets with his noxious attitude, which has infected the simpleminded dwarf king. As Gandalf (Ian McKellan), Galadriel (Cate Blanchett), and Saruman (Christopher Lee) face off in a windstorm of sticks and curses against the dark presence seeking to take over, Thranduil and the humans led by Bard (Luke Evans) seek to take their share of the treasures by force. Thorin’s cousin arrives with his own army, but all are intercepted by the army of Orcs that are regurgitated from the bowels of the earth to wreak havoc on all. Meanwhile, Bilbo (Martin Freeman) is caught somewhere in the middle of all this warmongering and Legolas (Orlando Bloom) and Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly) show up to voice their progressive ideas about unity.

If the abysmal first portion of this endeavor, An Unexpected Journey, felt like an excruciating fan-boy dinner party and the much improved second chapter, The Desolation of Smaug a tastier morsel of promising foreboding, the grand finale lands somewhere in the middle, as it’s difficult to ascertain the merits of a film locked almost entirely in either battle or opposing face-offs and retaliatory based conversation. One wishes that Jackson had the ability to edit himself and had eschewed the greedy profit-based filmmaking model for studio franchising. The Hobbit would have been successful as one, epic film instead of three different films all operating on extended narrative plateaus, and Jackson could have combined elements of all three and still retained his bombastic vision of Tolkien’s material.

For those not in awe of Jackson’s overdone battle sequences, where it seems the goal was only to have something swirling about on screen no matter what the narrative cost, The Battle of Five Armies is merely the inevitable end to a series of films that the filmmaker can finally lay to rest so that he may hopefully pursue material that will continue to challenge. Yes, there are first rate special effects to be experienced throughout this final film, but they’ve paled in comparison to their own feats, and there’s still a nagging sense of watching endlessly manipulated imagery that tends to make attention wane. CGI is a bane to many an auteur’s visual acuity, and Jackson’s films, like later Tim Burton, are on autopilot. Cheap humor and broad characterizations are flung into the mix, with much of the usual overly dramatic language unable to disappear behind the nifty visuals as easily as when this all seemed first rate.

Since it’s the last part of the prequel leading up to a tale fans are already familiar with, there’s little by way of surprise—we already know the extent of everyone’s powers. Blanchett’s Galadriel gets another green tinted freak out session that’s similar to one we see in Fellowship, and McKellan’s Gandalf is a constant, steadfast strength. Richard Armitage’s Thorin is the only character that undergoes any kind of transformation, and Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens’ screenplay is apparently satisfied with showing base human emotions in a series of extremes. Those notoriously bitchy elves are ever haughty here, but the forbidden love that blooms between Evangeline Lilly’s elf and Aidan Turner’s dwarf ends in a laughable exchange. “If this is love, take it from me,” she sobs. “Why does it have to hurt so?” To which Lee Pace’s Thrandruil replies, “Because it was real.” Interesting, considering nothing else in this bloated triptych seems satisfied with anything as monumentally banal as reality.

Disc Review:

It’s no surprise that Warner Bros. has packaged their Blu-ray transfer in similar fashion to the other previous releases—expect an eventual box-set of all three and probably a fancy edition of all six Jackson titles as times goes on. For now, Armies looks and sounds great for what it is, a bombastic fantasy action flick, in high def, 2.4:1 aspect ratio. A DVD and Blu-ray disc are included, plus a third disc loaded with special features for those hardcore aficionados.

Recruiting the Five Armies:
An eleven minute segment documents how perfomers were recruited to play the various faction of armies (including Dwarves, Men, Elves, and Orcs).

Completing Middle Earth:
Two separate segments delve into aspects of the making of these films, including a ten minute segment devoted to how narrative threads and connections were used to make a cohesive narrative out of the three prequel films. The second segment here, about nine minutes, features footage dating back to 1999 when Jackson and his crew were bringing together the special effects needed to make the films.

The Last Goodbye – Behind the Scenes Featurette:
An eleven minute feature looks at the writing and recording of the final credit song, “The Last Goodbye,” performed by Billy Boyd. This is followed by the actual music video for the film.

New Zealand: Home of Middle Earth – Part 3:
A six minute feature has commentary from cast and crew concerning the filming location of New Zealand, described as ‘God’s Country’ by Blanchett.

Final Thoughts:

Completists will no doubt feel compelled to see this arduous journey to its final frames, but alas, watching (or rewatching) The Battle of the Five Armies proves that more efficient storytelling is more provocative than spectacularly endless special effects.

Film: ★★½/☆☆☆☆☆
Disc: ★★★/☆☆☆☆☆

Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is IONCINEMA.com's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), FIPRESCI, the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2023: The Beast (Bonello) Poor Things (Lanthimos), Master Gardener (Schrader). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

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