After three years, director Peter Jackson finds himself in a familiar position: at the end of release of a trilogy of film based on the work of J.R.R. Tolkien. However, while the final film in his 'Lord of the Rings' Trilogy was greeted with ecstatic acclaim, the final film in his 'Hobbit' Trilogy was received in a much more lukewarm fashion. ‘The Battle of the Five Armies’ already had to complete with high expectations and the general derision the films have gotten so far, but what if the trilogy faltered at the last hurdle?
Bringing all the threads running through the 'Hobbit' films together for a massive climax, ‘Five Armies’ tackles the very end of Tolkien’s book, where an epic battle is fought for ownership of the Lonely Mountain and the kingdom of Erabor within it. At barely two and a half hours, it’s the shortest of the Middle Earth films, but most of its length is dominated by the battle itself, and in the hands of Jackson, it’s often a sight to behold. Of course the film looks spectacular, but this isn’t a surprise anymore. Where the film falters is in having to finally deal with the mistakes of the previous films, which were both strong enough on their own to overcome them. It starts off surprisingly strong, giving its talented cast a chance to chew on some great character work and conflict, but with so little material to work with, the film tends to paddle water a lot in its middle stretch, taking the kick away from the battle itself.
Most frustrating of all, the Lake Town sequences, which in the second film were amongst the worst work Jackson has ever done, only get worse here, the misplaced comedy taking over with redundant characters and plots that stink against the more considered and serious elements. In fact, the comedy becomes so frustrating that you find yourself literally switching off whenever it appears. What also works against the film is, in fact, the book itself. What is satisfying on the page turns out to be unsatisfying on screen, with the trilogy ultimately ending on a rather depressing note, and neither rousingly coming to a big finish nor adequately linking itself to the superior and magnificent Lord of the Rings Trilogy. Thankfully, the one element that has always held these films together is still at its best, and that’s Martin Freeman as Bilbo. He’s the everyman within the chaos, our anchor amongst the pontificating and grandiose excess the film and the performances occasionally fall into.
In the end, ‘The Battle of the Five Armies’ is a bit of a nothing film, entertaining and memorable but ultimately unsatisfying. Maybe it just doesn’t know what it is. Is it the end of a six-film cycle? Is it the third film in a six-film cycle? Is it the final film of a trilogy? That’s never made entirely clear. There is still stuff here to celebrate, and Peter Jackson still knows how to touch the sublime, but if this film proves anything, it’s that his ambition in this case exceeded his hand, and can’t justify his decision to change from two films to three. It’s still a magnificent mess of a trilogy, with so much to offer, but unfortunately doesn’t quite get there in the end.
It’s still a magnificent mess of a trilogy, with so much to offer, but unfortunately doesn’t quite get there in the end.
PICTURE & SOUND
As you can probably imagine, the film is still a marvel on Blu-ray. The 1080p 2.35:1 transfer is practically perfect, brimming with detail and colour. This is a much darker film than its predecessors, but no detail is lost at all, making for a stunning reference-quality image. The same can be said for the thunderous DTS-HD MA 7.1 track which gives the speakers a good work out (especially in the heart of the battle sequence) without overpowering dialogue. You probably couldn’t ask for a better presentation of the film, and one that’s consistent with the releases of the first two films.
We know the motherload is still a good six months away with the extended edition, but the extras here are still worth checking out. There’s the final part of the ‘New Zealand: Home of Middle Earth’ featurettes, a strange combination of location documentary and tourist advertisement. A really great feature on the second disc looks at the many extras in the battle sequence, and the effort that went into staging it with so many people involved. Two further featurettes under the banner ‘Completing Middle-Earth’ look at the six films as a whole, talking about the seventeen years it took to complete them. There’s actually more stuff in here on the Rings Trilogy (which isn’t a bad thing) and it is interesting hearing some of the decisions made to link the two trilogies together. Add a few trailers, a discussion of Billy Boyd’s credits song ‘The Last Goodbye’ and a music video, and that’s about it. Strangely, very little of the material is actually about the making of the film, but for fans of the trilogy, we know copious hours of that material is still to come. For the casual viewer, it’s still a satisfying collection.