23 March 2015

Own The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies on DVD + Blu-Ray Tomorrow! (Review)

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (Review)
by Britta Siemen

Many years ago, I was one of those people who got really excited by the idea of Peter Jackson making another film set in Middle-earth. While The Lord of the Rings films were not perfect, they were a noble and well-executed attempt at bringing an "unfilmable" story to life on the big screen, and I enjoyed them immensely. After seeing those films, I had no doubt that he could do equal justice to The Hobbit, a considerably shorter tale. 

Unfortunately, from the very beginning, the Hobbit films have seemed more like fan fiction than a straightforward adaptation: where the Lord of the Rings films omitted some of the source material in order to tell a more concise story, the Hobbit films added new, often made up, material in order to lengthen a story that really didn't need any help. When I first saw An Unexpected Journey and The Desolation of Smaug, I couldn't resist pointing out all of the inaccuracies; but after the DVDs came out and I watched each film a second time, I found myself able to overlook some of my gripes and actually enjoy the experience. As I've said before, Peter Jackson and his team do know how to make films that are worth watching. 

Going forward, I chose not to assess The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies on its merit as an adaptation of The Hobbit. I would probably drive myself (and others) mad if I continued to nitpick all the changes, whether major or minor. Instead I opted to judge it by what it was: a movie. And since it was almost entirely devoted to the Battle of the Five Armies, I frequently found myself comparing it to the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

With The Battle of Helm's Deep, the Battle of the Pelennor Fields, and the Battle of the Morannon as prime examples of what Jackson and his crew are capable of, I was expecting to be blown away by the Battle of the Five Armies. If anyone can take a single sentence from a book ("So began a battle that none had expected; and it was called the Battle of the Five Armies, and it was very terrible" [The Hobbit, 'The Clouds Burst']) and turn it into an engaging three hour cinematic experience, Jackson's your guy. Not to mention he's had a decade to improve his craft. 

...Or so one might think. For whatever reason – be it a change in technique or mounting pressure to outdo the Lord of the Rings trilogy – Jackson seems to have forsaken his signature tools of the trade (mainly the use of miniatures and "bigatures" with some subtle CGI thrown in) in favour of appealing to Hollywood's over-reliance on video game quality special effects. The battle was intense, as you'd expect, though the scenes meant to elicit awe were strung so closely together that there was little opportunity to actually be moved by any of them. After awhile, the never-ending boss fights between Legolas and Bolg and Thorin and Azog started to drag on, as if they were being used as filler to justify the making of a third Hobbit film.

Jackson was not as generous with the aftermath as he was with the battle itself. The Dwarves had their own story cut short in order to wrap up Bilbo's, which was odd for a film that had so often overlooked its titular character. The film was plagued by too many loose ends: What became of the Arkenstone? Thranduil's jewels? Why was there no funeral for Thorin, Fíli, or Kíli? What happened to Tauriel following her loss? My guess is that some of these scenes will be released in the extended edition; but it's a shame to have to wait so long for clarification.


Despite my aforementioned complaints, there were some things that I genuinely enjoyed. I thought the White Council's attack on Dol Guldur and the expulsion of Sauron from Mirkwood was depicted beautifully and featured the perfect amount of CGI. I loved watching Elrond, Saruman, and Galadriel take on the bodiless Ringwraiths, and seeing Sauron in his new form was actually terrifying on the big screen. My only wish is that the scene had been longer. 

Additionally, I enjoyed Richard Armitage's portrayal of Thorin as he succumbed to the dragon-sickness. Whether intentional or not, his insatiable desire for the Arkenstone, coupled with his insurmountable rage when he learned that his heirloom had been withheld from him, was reminiscent of the hold the One Ring had over Gollum and Frodo, and I thought it was a clever nod to the Lord of the Rings.  

Overall, my favourite aspect was the way the ending connected the two trilogies: the transition from young Bilbo settling back in at Bag End to an aged Bilbo sixty years later at the beginning of the Lord of the Rings was a much more effective link than Thranduil telling Legolas to go look for Strider in the Wild.


Having been filmed a decade after the Lord of the Rings trilogy, the Hobbit films had the potential to be absolutely mind-blowing, and unfortunately, they did not even meet the standard initially set by Peter Jackson. And yet despite their flaws, and for not being the Hobbit films I had hoped to see, I'll admit that I really enjoyed taking one last journey into Middle-earth. The landscapes and the cinematography, combined with an unbeatable soundtrack, make the films an enjoyable experience, especially on the big screen. If you've already seen and loved the first two Hobbit films, you'll definitely love the final installment; and if you aren't much of a fan, I think the film is still worth seeing, if only for the fact that it makes you appreciate Tolkien's tale a bit more.  


Special Features

Watching the special features gave me a greater appreciation for the Hobbit films. I was particularly interested in "A Six-Part Saga", which chronicled the writing of the film and how it was intended to connect to The Lord of the Rings. Although many times it felt as though Jackson and his team were missing the bigger picture, the feature shows the amount of attention they gave to even the smallest details to help bridge the gaps between The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogies.

Another feature, "A Seventeen Year Journey," chronicled the making of the two trilogies. I especially enjoyed this one, as I can remember repeatedly watching the behind the scenes features on the Lord of the Rings DVDs with my friends. It was a beautifully nostalgic look into a trilogy nearly two decades in the making. Whether you loved or hated the films, you have to respect the amount of time and energy that was poured into these projects. 

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies arrives onto Blu-ray 3D Combo Pack, Blu-ray Combo Pack, 2-Disct DVD Special Edition and Digital HD on March 24th from Warner Bros. Home Entertainment 

Don't forget to leave a comment (or send me a Tweet at @TolkienBritta) and let me know what you thought of the film!

Courtesy of Warner Bros.; click to enlarge

3 comments:

  1. Good review Britta. I thoroughly enjoyed the Hobbit trilogy. I do still favor Lord of the Rings over the Hobbit; but this trilogy was quite enjoyable and well done also.

    I agree with some of your points about certain scenes could have been a bit longer or more detailed. It does make it difficult though on an already lengthy movie.

    I honestly believe, even with the Lord of the Rings; if they went into greater detail; you would probably end up with 5 or 6 movies for each series, and still get a killer showing.

    I am not disappointed by any means, other than the fact that this trilogy is at an end.

    I should point out that I never read any of the books; but for movies I watch that have books to them; I never base my expectations to match the books. I think it is actually not a good way to review a movie comparing it to the books.

    Sure, you can point out differences and what was left out or what not; but overall, I think people really do need to judge it for a movie and not what is on paper.

    Just like Game of Thrones TV series does not follow the books exactly. Anyways, just my 2 cents =)

    Definitely worth watching :)

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  2. I have only seen the film once, and will not see it again until the Extended Edition is released, which may well then address some of my own concerns, that said… I have no fundamental complaint with the additions that Peter Jackson made, or at least with the principle of making those additions (I could criticise certain specifics, e.g. Radagast). I viewed these films not so much as an adaptation of the story but as a retelling, which is how myths through the ages have grown and developed; but you have identified two of the major problems that I encountered with BotFA in particular: the Battle itself was sidelined in favour of gladiatorial combats involving hero characters, and the ending was too abrupt (probably a reaction to criticism of RotK and its perceived multiple endings). There was also a problem, I thought, in portraying Thorin’s affliction with Dragon sickness in quite such an exaggerated fashion, because it begs the question: how is Dáin supposed to cope?

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  3. Great review. Well thought out, well written. I agree. Although the prospect of amazing battle scenes seems exciting, they can suffer from Transformer Overkill Syndrome.. OTS (don't Google that, I just coined it. A bad habit, I'm afraid.. coining).

    While nowhere near as much of a constant barrage of endless would-be eye candy-turned-annoying-eye strain, there does tend to be an automatic response in the brain that quietly says "ok, when will this business be over? Oh, another battle scene..ok" However, I think Jackson did try to break up the action with pertinent drama here and there, which helps to remind the viewer of what's at stake, and what all the action is ostensibly for in the first place.

    In the lead up to the movie, the promotional hype all touted the final battle as more amazing and intense than anything you've seen before. Not sure if that was true or not, and there surely some emotional moments, but as far as impactful, heart-rending battles go, I may throw my hat into the corner of the recent Game of Thrones battle at the Wall scene as being the current standard bearer. Wow, now that was intense.

    But, like you, no matter how many minor complaints we can tally up, these Jackson movies are always gems, and always tickle your Tolkien bone in ways nothing but the original books could, albeit sometimes in a slightly different way.

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