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The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies Blu-ray 3D Combo Pack Review

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (2014) movie poster The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

Theatrical Release: December 13, 2013 / Running Time: 144 Minutes / Rating: PG-13

Director: Peter Jackson / Writers: J.R.R. Tolkien (novel); Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson, Guillermo del Toro (screenplay)

Cast: Ian McKellen (Gandalf), Martin Freeman (Bilbo Baggins), Richard Armitage (Thorin), Evangeline Lilly (Tauriel), Luke Evans (Bard), Lee Pace (Thranduil), Benedict Cumberlatch (Smaug, Necromancer), Ken Stott (Balin), Aidan Turner (Kili), Dean O'Gorman (Fili), Billy Connolly (Dain), Graham McTavish (Dwalin), James Nesbitt (Bofur), Stephen Fry (Master of Laketown), Ryan Gage (Alfrid), Cate Blanchett (Galadriel), Ian Holm (Old Bilbo Baggins), Christopher Lee (Saruman), Hugo Weaving (Elrond), Orlando Bloom (Legolas), Mikael Persbrandt (Beorn), Sylvester McCoy (Radagast), Peter Hambleton (Gloin), John Callen (Oin), Mark Hadlow (Dori), Jed Brophy (Nori), William Kircher (Bifur), Stephen Hunter (Bombur), Adam Brown (Ori), John Bell (Bain), Manu Bennett (Azog), John Tui (Bolg)

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It's often said that history repeats itself. That saying sure seemed to be in mind when Peter Jackson and New Line Cinema reteamed to bring another J.R.R. Tolkien fantasy to the big screen in a trilogy released in three successive Decembers.
Like it or not, Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy was historic cinema, capturing the public's hearts and imaginations in a way that very few films do. The closest thing to a precursor was probably the original Star Wars trilogy. That was original science fiction and Lord of the Rings was adapted fantasy, but the series have much in common between them, including large canvases, rich universes full of interestingly named characters, big budgets, state-of-the-art visuals, and blockbuster returns.

The expectation was for Jackson and company to recreate the magic of Rings with practically bottomless budgets, choice release dates, huge crews, first-rate effects and the breathtaking sights of Jackson's native New Zealand. But the differences were many, most fundamental among them that whereas Rings turned three 400-700 page novels into three epic films, The Hobbit trilogy would get three epic films out of a single 300-page children's novel. As excited as many were to return to Middle-earth with Jackson at the helm, this may not have been what they had in mind.

Broody dwarf king Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) is more interested in obtaining the Arkenstone than keeping peace or his word in "The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies."

Though similar at a glance, the receptions of the two trilogies ended up being quite different. While Rings started strong and only got bigger, The Hobbit did not perform as well domestically (despite a decade of inflation and the premium prices of IMAX, 3D, and High Frame Rate tickets), with each sequel earning less than its predecessor.
Where the Rings movies got good reviews that grew even more favorable as the series progressed, Hobbit began with mediocre marks from critics that got worse on the finale. The Rings films competed for major Oscars and ultimately received their due on the final chapter, Return of the King, which won all eleven Academy Awards (tying an all-time record) for which it was nominated including Best Picture. By contrast, the first two Hobbit movies each drew three minor technical nominations (losing them all) and the final installment ended up with just a single nod (for Sound Editing), which it too lost.

Now with all said and done, The Hobbit trilogy kind of resembles George Lucas' Star Wars prequels, an attempt to return to a well of riches to significantly diminished admiration. Jackson didn't wait as long as Lucas and his adaptations (on which he shares screenplay credit with three others) can't warrant the same story-fixated criticisms as Lucas' inventions. But there is a similar feeling that moving on wouldn't have been the worst move career-wise. Lucas has shown very little interest in filmmaking outside his two big celebrated franchises, which will now continue without him, as he enjoys semi-retirement. It will be interesting to see where Jackson goes next, as he hasn't done much outside of Middle-earth since he began this journey back in the late 1990s.

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies draws Jackson's second Tolkien trilogy to a close with kind of a whimper. The film opens in the midst of action with nothing to jog your memory. His fishing town under fiery siege by the dragon Smaug (voiced again by Benedict Cumberbatch), Bard (Luke Evans) uses his wits to fashion an escape from incarceration. For his subsequent heroic actions, Bard is celebrated as a dragonslayer by his grateful townspeople, who go so far as to proclaim him king. Though he resists that title, his instincts to lead still emerge.

Bard tries to act as pacifist as tensions between dwarves and elves come to a boil. The pointy-eared elves (led by Lee Pace and including a CG-scrubbed Orlando Bloom) are ready to wage war on the dwarves over jewels they have claimed. The dwarves' hunky king, Thorin (Richard Armitage), has changed. The newly crowned ruler has grown even broodier. Consumed with finding the Arkenstone and no longer good to his word, Thorin opts to enter war rather than share spoils with townspeople and elves. Not even that Arkenstone, presented to the elves by the titular hobbit, master burglar Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), can smooth things over and prevent the subtitular conflict.

Five armies, you say? The number includes the wretched Orcs, who journey to Gundaband to rumble.

For those of you who didn't get your fill of Orc battle scenes from "The Lord of the Rings", here is Legolas (Orlando Bloom) stabbing one of the beasts in icy combat.

A notch below An Unexpected Journey and two beneath The Desolation of Smaug, Battle is a bit of a letdown, even recognizing that expectations have been lowered. It occasionally feels more like a drawn-out miniseries than one of the most expensive motion pictures ever made. The effects are usually pretty stellar. The New Zealand locations remain rather alluring. Those looking for more than aesthetic delights, however, will be disappointed.

There never seem to be any real stakes: good battles evil with no actual consequence. It's the biggest thing that kept me from fully sharing the affinity for the Lord of the Rings trilogy that everyone else seems to hold. Here, the problem seems to have gotten even worse. The more that is thrown at you, the less impact it has. Hobbit never reaches Transformers levels of noise you can guiltlessly dismiss in full, but it's never as engaging as it wants to be. It is difficult to take all this lore and so many different kinds of characters as seriously as intended at such length. It's tiresome and hollow, especially since one presumes that Jackson and his three co-writers are making up a lot of this as they go, a necessity of expanding Tolkien's simple text to three full-length features. As always, the words "moderation" and "restraint" are not in Jackson's vocabulary. It's surprising that the long end credits begin not long after the two-hour mark (this one is significantly shorter than its two predecessors), but this is another long goodbye, showing no aversion to laying on yet another epilogue.

You wouldn't like Galadriel (Cate Blanchett) when she's angry. Green Galadriel smash!

The shortcomings of Jackson's Hobbit films manifest in the fact that it is tough to feel anything towards any of these characters, no matter how much time we've spent with them and no matter how much they've endured. Live, die, be presumed dead and have their belongings put up for auction: what's the difference? If you can ask that question and mean it, then clearly Jackson et al. have not succeeded as they set out to.

The rare blockbuster to gross nearly $1 billion globally to collective apathy, Battle of the Five Armies extends the Warner trend of a Christmastime theatrical release followed by a pre-Easter home video debut. It is available as a two-disc Special Edition DVD, a three-disc Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD combo pack, and, the subject of this review, a 5-disc Blu-ray 3D + Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD set (the Blu-ray 3D presentation divides the film into two discs and a platter of bonus features adds to the count). Of course, you can expect even more when Warner treats the film to an Extended Edition release, which will probably be shortly before Thanksgiving or Christmas if the studio sticks to the playbook.

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies Blu-ray 3D + Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD combo pack cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray 3D, Blu-ray & DVD Details

2.40:1 Widescreen (DVD Anamorphic)
Blu-ray: 7.1 DTS-HD MA (English), Dolby Digital 5.1 (French, Spanish, Portuguese)
DVD: Dolby Digital 5.1 (English, French, Spanish)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, French, Spanish; BD-only: Portuguese
Not Closed Captioned; Extras Subtitled
Release Date: March 24, 2015
Suggested Retail Price: $44.95
Five single-sided discs (2 BD-50s, 2 BD-25s & 1 DVD-9)
Blue Keepcase in Lenticular Cardboard Slipcover
Also available as Blu-ray Combo ($35.99 SRP), Two-Disc Special Edition DVD ($28.98 SRP), and on Amazon Instant Video

VIDEO and AUDIO

You know a Peter Jackson Middle-earth film will be no slouch on a technical level. Battle of the Five Armies upholds the tradition of sharp-looking 21st century cinema adapted from Tolkien. The 2.40:1 visuals are a feast in high definition, whether you're watching in 2D or in the aggressive and extensive 3D presentation (which does require switching discs an hour and twenty minutes into the movie).

The 7.1 DTS-HD master audio soundtrack is immersive from the get-go. Dynamic effects and score engulf tastefully throughout, without drowning out dialogue or making you tinker with your volume settings. Orc and Elvish dialogue is rightly presented with burned-in subtitles, which is translated into a foreign language if you're watching in one.

Director Peter Jackson is still proud to call his native New Zealand the scenic home of Middle-earth." "A Seventeen-Year Journey" lives up to its title with extensive looks at the making of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, like this Andy Serkis-Gollum comparison.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

The only thing that shares the disc with the movie is "New Zealand: Home of Middle-earth - Part 3" (6:07), which extends a tourism-friendly series.
Once again, the cast and crew speak highly of the scenic filming locations, of which Peter Jackson briefly gives us a tour.

The remaining extras are relegated to the bonus Blu-ray disc.

They begin with "Recruiting the Five Armies" (11:39), a featurette about the extras who are made up and costumed to play the Orcs, Elves, and Lake-town people in battle, dead and alive. It's a fun, focused, and somewhat unusual piece.

Also kind of unconventional is Completing Middle-earth, comprised of "A Six-Part Saga" (9:54) and "A Seventeen-Year Journey" (8:59). Both consider Battle as the end not just of The Hobbit trilogy but the film saga that began with Lord of the Rings, a series liberally excerpted here in both clips and behind-the-scenes.

Undoubtedly, more standard making-of material and audio commentaries are being saved for the inevitable Extended Edition and complete trilogy collection.

Billy Boyd (Peregrin Took in the LOTR movies) performs "The Last Goodbye" in a music video featuring clips from all six Middle-earth productions. Dwarves assemble on the DVD's animated main menu.

For "The Last Goodbye", the trilogy-closing song performed by Scottish actor Billy Boyd (Peregrin Took in Lord of the Rings), we get a behind-the-scenes featurette (11:18) which answers the questions you may have about
Hobbitshop.com
what was conceived as the musical culmination of two film franchises. We also get a tasteful music video (4:21) which nicely features further clips and behind-the-scenes footage from all six Middle-earth productions in addition to views of Boyd performing in the studio.

Audio from the wrap party plays over bonus features credits (1:31), which plays at the end of Completing Middle-earth when using the "Play All" feature.

Finally, under Trailers, we get "Trailer #2" (2:33) for Battle of the Five Armies (why only that one, I have no idea) plus a promo for Desolation of Smaug's Extended Edition Blu-ray (1:34).

The DVD, surely the first of the Two-Disc Special Edition sold on that format, only includes the same New Zealand short as on the Blu-ray and Blu-ray 3D's movie discs.

The discs uncharacteristically forgo playing promotional trailers at insertion. After the movie concludes, the DVD plays an anti-tobacco spot.

The movie discs' animated menu screens offer a scored montage of clips that eventually goes silent. The bonus Blu-ray's menu simply lists extras against a green marble backdrop. The Blu-rays kindly give you the option to resume unfinished playback.

The five discs, each given a plain black label with minimal embellishment, share a thick keepcase with your Digital HD UltraViolet code insert and some Hobbit ads. The case is topped by a slipcover which applies a 3D lenticular face to the same front cover art image below.

Spoiler alert: Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) survives his journey and writes about it.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Peter Jackson's Hobbit trilogy does not give you a whole lot to think about, feel, or chew upon. There isn't the history or cultural event status one felt on Jackson's Lord of the Rings adaptations. There isn't the excitement one finds in similarly costly Marvel superhero movies or the comparable Harry Potter franchise. This series exists but it's much too easy to pretend it doesn't. Where is the impact? The passion? The fan fervor? There is so little to show for all the work and expense that went into these three films, which feel like going through the motions to manufacture another Rings trilogy.

These three Hobbit movies could likely be condensed to a single feature film at benefit to audiences' time and money and no creative detriment. This actually might be a worthy endeavor for Jackson once he's done releasing the Extended Editions. Then again, I maintain a tauter edit of his King Kong would be another undertaking of value.

By now you should know very well what to expect from this initial home video release of Battle: first-rate picture and sound plus a few good extras with much more yet to come. If you've been satisfied with the initial theatrical cut release of the first two films, then you might as well complete the set. If you've missed one or have been holding off in full, you're sure to find a complete trilogy collection coming in the near-future.

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Related Reviews:
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
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Luke Evans: The Great Train Robbery | Richard Armitage: Into the Storm | Martin Freeman: The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

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Reviewed March 26, 2015.



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