Aug/2017

Hi everyone, Bryan Here…

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THE FILM

We are at the end of this ‘Hobbit‘ trilogy with ‘The Battle of the Five Armies‘. The last three years seem to have gone by fairly fast. It seems like yesterday when I was writing about Warner Bros. heading back to Middle Earth with the ‘Hobbit‘. I was super stoked about it, because I was such a huge fan of the ‘Lord of the Rings‘ trilogy. I think I saw each of those films five times in the theater, owned each version that came out on DVD and Blu-ray, and went back to see them when they were re-released. I just can’t get enough of the ‘LOTR‘ films. But shortly after the announcement that we were receiving a ‘Hobbit‘ film, things started going downhill.

At first, Guillermo Del Toro (‘Pan’s Labyrinth‘, ‘HellBoy‘) was going to direct, but the studio was too scared to have him take the helm, which basically forced Peter Jackson to come back to the director’s chair, although he only wanted to serve as producer. Then came the news that the studio wanted to make ‘The Hobbit‘ into three movies for financial reasons. Now, ‘The Hobbit‘, written byJ.R.R Tolkien is only 320 pages long. The ‘LOTR‘ books were well over 1200 pages long combined. You can do the math yourself, but taking a small 320 page book and splitting it into three long movies is very difficult to get right. Well the end result was less than stellar. There was way too much filler, slow pacing, and everything just kind of fizzles out. With ‘Lord of the Rings‘, Jackson and his crew took their time and made three incredible films. They were milestones in the filmmaking world that paved the way for many other filmmakers over the last decade and a half. And even ‘Return of the King‘, the topper to the ‘LOTR‘ trilogy was such an epic and beautiful film that it won 11 Oscars.

I am still to this day thrilled, watching ‘Return of the King‘. It’s emotional drama still makes me tear up and the battles are still incredible, along with it’s several endings, which are all necessary and beautiful. You really connected to each of those characters in ‘LOTR‘ and even felt that you went on that long and dangerous journey with them. With these ‘Hobbit‘ films, that is definitely not the case. With the first ‘Hobbit’ movie, it took literally 45 minutes to get out of a young Bilbo’s house and start this journey. And even after that, it took another hour to have even a little bit energy. The second film was a bit better, spent some more time with each character and has some fun adventurous action. And most importantly, it finally told us where the story was headed, which was to see the big evil dragon Smaug (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch).

Part two literally left us hanging on a cliff with Bilbo watching Smaug head to the lake town to destroy it. So what would seem like one of the big climactic scenes of the book, being Smaug destroying the town and then meeting his own fate, happens before the title “The Battle of the Five Armies” appears on screen. And that is a big problem with splitting this book into three long movies. Smaug was one of the coolest and greatest characters in ‘The Hobbit‘ and he didn’t get a chance to shine, at least in this third film. Where ‘Return of the King‘ had tons of depth, meaning, and intense action scenes, ‘Battle of the Five Armies‘ did not.

Instead, this third and final film is basically just one long action film, void of any real character development or payoff. Since Smaug is no longer a living dragon, the dwarves can claim their throne of treasures once again. But this also entices a big powerful orc army to travel to their kingdom to destroy it and use its riches to conquer and kill Middle Earth. So from one fight to the next, we get a straight up action movie. And while we still have these epic large battles where ten-thousand people fight another ten-thousand people, Jackson made the main characters have more intimate fight sequences, which was nice, but again redundant. No character has a transformation in this film. In the ‘LOTR‘ movies, each character went through a rough transformation.

They were not the same people at the beginning of the film as they were at the end. But in these ‘Hobbit‘ films, particularly this final third one, not one person has changed or gone through some difficult transformation. The only character to have a glimpse of change is Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage), who is blinded by the cursed gold in his kingdom, therefore he comes across as a dick. But of course, he has a change of heart, throws off his crown, and becomes the good guy again. And that is the extent of the character development in ‘The Hobbit‘. Jackson does manage to hint his ‘LOTR‘ trilogy, but it is done in a very small way, which comes across very cheesy, as if Jackson was giving us a big wink several times in a row. And now let us discuss Legolas. You know the blonde elf who is a jedi ninja with his swords and bow and arrow.

It seems like the studio and Jackson wanted to film a lot of scenes with him trying to have those big cool moments like he did in the ‘LOTR‘ films. But rather than having one of those big moments per film, Jackson added about a dozen of those moments within the span of a half an hour in this ‘Hobbit‘ movie. It completely took the awe and coolness out of each of those moments. Not too mention they were mostly laughable and the CG wasn’t perfect. All that being said, the movie as a whole, looks beautiful and was filmed perfectly. The landscapes and epic battle scene shots look very nice. But the performances are solid other than Gandalf (Ian McKellen) and Bilbo (Martin Freeman).

It seems like everyone else was tired of making the film by then. It’s quite a sad story when I’m not all up in arms and joy about a movie that involves Middle Earth. But the fact remains is that the studio was so greedy that they ended up having a poor film trilogy in order to make more money. And who suffers? We the fans and audience do. What could have been another epic and beautiful film, turned out to be a shitty product of the studio execs, who were hell bent on only taking your green folding money, rather than making something worth while.

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THE VIDEO/AUDIO

‘The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies’ comes with an impressive 1080p HD transfer and is presented in 2.40:1 aspect ratio. The 3D combo pack comes with both 3D and 2D versions of the film, which both of them look amazing. But the real winner here is the 3D version, which I thought I’d never say. The amount of depth and detail here is incredible and perfectly coincides with Peter Jackson’s previous ‘Hobbit’ films. The detail is extremely sharp and vivid at all times with very well defined closeups that reveal every scale on Smaug, each individual hair on the dwarf’s beards, every bead of sweat, perfect makeup effect, and bloody wound with great clarity. Wider shots do the same and not once did the image go soft or flat. Each background item, set piece or blade of grass shows up here. Colors pop off screen as well. When not in the sun or in the middle of a dragon attack, the color palette is rather dull with more grays, blues, and dark greens than anything. However, when we are in the sun, there are much more warmer and natural tones to the film, but both palettes look great throughout and are perfectly balanced and saturated. The 3D looks mighty impressive and might be one of the better 3D experiences you’ll have, so I highly suggest you choose that option. The 3D allows you to notice and see things clearly that you wouldn’t be able to before, such as dead bodies in the background, more orcs who are bloodthirsty man flesh, and detailed set pieces. There was some very minor sequences with crush as well as a few digital color grading issues, but it’s nothing that will hinder your viewing experience. Black levels are deep and inky always, and the skin tones are natural and smooth. There were also not instances of any compression issues such as banding, aliasing, or artifacts that showed up, leaving this video presentation highly recommended!

This release comes with a badass lossless DTS-HD 7.1 audio mix and sounds awesome. Your speaker system will get a great workout with this audio track. Every sound is perfectly layered, well balanced, robust, and loud. The dragon’s fire-breathing roar is ferocious, the growls of the orcs are fierce, and the arrows flying through the air are swift and smooth. Every sword clank, punch, kick, and fantasy animal noise sounds amazing. The directionality here is flawless and the sound effects are all full and energetic, all of which pack a powerful punch. The rear speakers are always flowing with sound and noises, which fully immerses you in Middle Earth. Dialogue is always crystal clear and easy to follow, and free of any pops, cracks, and hissing. The bass has a very healthy rumble to it and will rattle your bones during the heavier action scenes. The score always adds to each emotion and suspenseful moment in the film. The LFE is perfect and the dynamic range is extremely wide, leaving this one of the better audio tracks of the year so far.

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THE EXTRAS

New Zealand: Home of Middle Earth Part 3 (HD, 6 Mins.) – In an ongoing series on the previous two Blu-ray releases, this third and final extra covers the actual locations in New Zealand that were used to film the wars.

Recruiting The Five Armies (HD, 12 Mins.) – This is an awesome extra where we see all the extras for the battle scenes suite up in the cool armor and costumes, rehearse their battle moves, and eat lunch. We even see some of the stunts. Great watch here.

Completing Middle Earth: A Six Part Saga (HD, 10  Mins.) – Peter Jackson discusses the key ingredient to completing this trilogy as well as the piece that tied this and ‘The Lord of the Rings’ together.

Completing Middle Earth: A Seventeen Year Journey (HD, 9 Mins.) – Here we have Peter Jackson and his talented filmmakers and co-workers talk about spending almost two decades making Tolkien inspired films.

The Last Goodbye: Behind the Scenes (HD, 11 Mins.) – Peter Jackson, Philippa Boyens, and a few others discuss the end credit song by Billy Boyd.

Music Video (HD, 4 Mins.) – ‘The Last Goodbye’ music video with Billy Boyd.

Trailers (HD, 4 Mins.) – A couple of trailers for the film.

 

THE ULTIMATE WORD

‘The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies’ might not be the best film, nor does it even compare the greatness of the original ‘Lord of the Rings’ trilogy, but it has a few moments to love, and is the key link between this trilogy and the latter. I however wish this could have had the impact the ‘Lord of the Rings’ had on me. But one thing is for sure, the video and audio presentations are both demo worthy and the extras are all worth watching. I do have a feeling though that in the next year or two, Jackson and company will release extended  limited edition versions of these films separately and in a giftset, so don’t don’t expect for this to be the last time you see these on home video. That being said, this release comes highly recommended, despite my thoughts on the film itself.

– Bryan Kluger

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