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

In 2001, Peter Jackson unveiled The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, the highly anticipated adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s beloved novel and the beginning of what would become one of the most popular and lauded film trilogies in history. With the sequels, “The Two Towers” and The Return of the King, the trilogy boasted 17 Academy Awards against 30 nominations and grossed more than $1.034 billion (with totals increasing each time out from $315 million to $342 million to $377 million) in America alone.

Almost a decade after the original trilogy wrapped up, a new trilogy would begin – The Hobbit. Based on a single book, the film was originally set to be directed by Guillermo Del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth, Pacific Rim), and be presented as two films. Production stalled, and eventually the reigns were handed back to Peter Jackson, who decided that the single Hobbit novel needed to be split into THREE films. It’s a daunting task to take a 300-page novel and spread it into nearly eight hours of film, but if anyone were to do it Peter Jackson would be the one.

The results have been fairly successful, but to expect The Hobbit to live up to the heights that Rings attained would be foolish. Still, it’s hard to complain about a trilogy that grossed over $815 million and scored seven total Oscar nominations. But it seems as though people got burned out, as the films were stretched pretty thin. An Unexpected Journey grossed $303 million and was up for three Oscars. The Desolation of Smaug scored another three nominations and earned deserved praise for the animation and vocal performance of Benedict Cumberbatch as the title character, but ended at $258 million. Armies finished up with one lone nomination and $254 million.

One can’t help but wonder how they films would have turned out with del Toro at the helm instead of Jackson. Obviously Jackson is a talented filmmaker and earned the undying love of the fan base for his handling of the original trilogy, but the entire Hobbit trilogy had a little too much of a “been there, done that” feeling. Admittedly, I am not a huge fan of any of the films – while I respect the artistry and the craft behind them and find them mostly entertaining, I never found many of the characters particularly interesting. Sure the battle sequences are outstanding, and Armies certainly lives up to the standards set by the past films with a lengthy, rousing battle sequence taking up most of the last third of the film. But I find it hard to invest myself in the outcomes of these battles because the characters are interchangeable dwarves and elves battling over mystical jewelry, and that’s where the entire sextet of films fails to capture my imagination.

Armies picks up where Smaug left off, as the enormous Smaug has been unleashed on the population of Lake-town, leaving Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage), and the rest of the lengthy cast of characters (such as Gandalf the Grey, Legolas, Tauriel, Bard the Bowman, and more) to deal with the consequences. Things get even murkier when Thorin and the Dwarves of Erebor recover the enormous wealth that had been previously guarded by Smaug. Thorin is struck with the dragon-sickness thanks to the cursed treasure and turns into a selfish, rotten, self-declared King. Meanwhile, the ancient dark lord Sauron has returned and sends an army of Orcs from Dol Guldur and led by Azog and a troop of orcs/goblins from Gundabad and led by Bolg to battle the Men, Elves and Dwarves, who are forced to band together to overcome evil. It all leads into the events of “Fellowship” which begins 60 years after the events of this film.

The Battle of Fives Armies, like the rest of the Hobbit series, will likely please fans of the source material or of the other films – and that is clearly a huge audience. But for those like me, who merely appreciate the films without celebrating them, Armies feels like a perfunctory exercise and the conclusion of an unnecessarily long trilogy that would have been much better served as two films – or maybe one.

Four special features are included on this Blu-ray release. They are all solid additions to the presentation. “New Zealand: Home of Middle-Earth – Part 3” acts as a tribute to the country where all six films in the Middle-Earth series were filmed. I’ve never been, but it looks pretty incredible. “Recruiting the Five Armies” talks about putting together the armies for the film’s centerpiece battle sequences. “Completing Middle-Earth” goes into detail about this entry being the last of the epic series. Finally, “The Last Goodbye” Music Video is both the music video for the song, but also a featurette on how the song was created and recorded. I appreciated these bonus features and I’m not even a huge fan of the series, so I expect these will go over even better if you’re more invested in the film.

New Line Cinema and Metro-Goldwyn Mayer Pictures present The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies. Directed by Peter Jackson. Screenplay by Fran Walsh & Philippa Boyens & Peter Jackson & Guillermo del Toro, based on the novel by J.R.R. Tolkien. Starring Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, Evangeline Lilly, Lee Pace, Luke Evans, Benedict Cumberbatch, Ken Stott, James Nesbitt, with Cate Blanchett, Ian Holm, Christopher Lee, Hugo Weaving, and Orlando Bloom. Run Time: 144 minutes. Rated PG-13. Released March 24, 2015.

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