Adaptation Adventure

'The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies' Blu-ray Review: Orc-sized action, Hobbit-sized story

May 12, 2015Ben MK

"Remember everything that happened: the good, the bad, those who survived... and those that did not."

Feature Rating:  

When director Peter Jackson set out to adapt author J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy in the late nineties, it seemed like an almost impossible task. With its sprawling narrative and menagerie of creatures, Tolkien's beloved fantasy series had long been considered unfilmable. Yet Jackson and his filmmaking team were able to defy the odds and successfully transform Tolkien's literary vision into cinematic reality.

Fast forward a decade or so, and Jackson found himself about to embark on another massive undertaking, when he decided to bring Tolkien's LOTR prequel, "The Hobbit," to cinema screens. This time, however, there was no doubt about whether he and co-writers Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens and Guillermo del Toro were up to the task. No, the real question was whether the story of "The Hobbit" — which spanned only one book, as opposed to "The Lord of the Rings"' three — warranted a multi-film adaptation at all. And it's a question that's finally answered with film three in The Hobbit trilogy, The Battle of the Five Armies.

As one might expect, this final instalment of the story picks up where 2013's The Desolation of Smaug left off, with Lake-town about to be engulfed in the fiery wrath of the dragon Smaug (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch). However, as the movie's title suggests, the winged serpent isn't the main focus of the narrative, which instead has to do with seemingly every armed inhabitant of Middle-earth converging upon the gates of Mount Erebor, where an obsessed-to-the-point-of-madness Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage, having his Gollum moment) has Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) and his band of Dwarves holed up and searching for his birthright, the Arkenstone.

Thorin's actions draw the ire of Men and Elves alike, including Luke Evans' Bard the Bowman and Lee Pace's Thranduil. But it's not long before the Orcs, led by the vicious Bolg (John Tui), join the party. What ensues is one long battle between Men, Elves, Orcs and Dwarves that comprises the vast majority of the film, which means plenty of action — though not without a price. It all comes at the expense of the storytelling, making the result a lackluster — yet visually-thrilling — conclusion to what started out so promisingly with 2012's An Unexpected Journey. For though Jackson and company do find ways to incorporate familiar characters such as Orlando Bloom's Legolas, Hugo Weaving's Elrond and Cate Blanchett's Galadriel into the plot, the result falls noticeably short — quality-wise — of The Lord of the Rings, especially when compared against its concluding chapter, The Return of the King.

Audio/Visual Rating:  

At least there's one area where The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies doesn't disappoint, and that its audiovisual presentation. As with the previous two entries, the film arrives on Blu-ray with thoroughly impressive visuals, brimming with exquisite detail, richly saturated colors, deep blacks and excellent contrast levels. Whether the characters are walking among the rolling green hills of the Shire or scaling an icy mountaintop at Ravenhill, the hi-def image is crisp, clear and vibrant, making it easy for viewers to appreciate all the work the talented artists at Weta Workshop put into bringing the world of Middle-earth to life one last time. Likewise, the movie's DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 soundtrack is just as enthralling, surrounding viewers with the sounds of battle — everything from Orcs growling to swords clanging — not to mention composer Howard Shore's omnipresent, sweeping score.

Extras Rating:  

Viewers looking for a more encyclopedic assortment of extras will have to wait for the inevitable Extended Edition of the movie. In the meantime, Warner Bros.’ three-disc combo release includes a DVD and an UltraViolet digital copy, with the following Blu-ray special features (most of which can be found on their very own Blu-ray disc):

  • New Zealand: Home of Middle-earth - Part 3 (6:07) - Director Peter Jackson, Writer/Co-Producer Philippa Boyens and the cast rave about the picturesque New Zealand locales that stand in for key locations of Middle-earth, including Lake Pukaki and Mount Crawford. This is the only special feature to be found on the same Blu-ray disc as the movie.
  • Recruiting the Five Armies (11:39) - A look at a day in the life of the extras who play Dwarves, Elves, Men and Orcs, from pre-dawn make-up sessions to the last shot of the day.
  • Completing Middle-earth: A Six-Part Saga (9:54) - A featurette that shows how the events of The Hobbit trilogy tie into the events of The Lord of the Rings trilogy.
  • Completing Middle-earth: A Seventeen-Year Journey (8:59) - A look back at the production of The Lord of the Rings trilogy, followed by a look at the production of The Hobbit trilogy, especially its final instalment.
  • The Last Goodbye: Behind-the-Scenes Featurette (11:18) - Some insight into the origins of the film's end credits song, as well as a peek inside the recording studio with Billy Boyd.
  • The Last Goodbye: Music Video (4:21) - The music video for "The Last Goodbye," performed by Billy Boyd.
  • Trailers (4:07) - Trailers for the The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies and for the Extended Edition of The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug.

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies is available from Warner Bros. Home Entertainment as of March 24th, 2015. The Blu-ray features DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 English audio, as well as Spanish and French Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks. Subtitles are presented in English SDH, Spanish and French. The film's runtime is 2 Hrs. 24 Mins.

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