Having reclaimed Erebor and vast treasure from the dragon Smaug, Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) sacrifices friendship and honor in seeking the Arkenstone, despite Smaug's fiery wrath and desperate attempts by the Hobbit Bilbo (Martin Freeman) to make him see reason. Meanwhile, Sauron sends legions of Orcs in a sneak attack upon the Lonely Mountain. As the fate of Middle Earth hangs in the balance, the races of Men, Elves and Dwarves must decide whether to unite and prevail -- or all die.
The final chapter in the massive and needlessly overlong adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien's prequel to the battle for Middle-earth saga, 'The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies,' arrives more with a whimper than as the exciting conclusion to the grandiose adventure it originally set out to be. Or better yet, once the dust and smoke settle from the nearly hour-long battle to reclaim the Lonely Mountain, audiences are likely to exhale a sigh of relief than applaud with satisfied enthusiasm. It's not so much that the movie is bad — though it's not great or quite as good as the previous two — as there is a general sense and feel of liberation, that it's finally over after three years and three films imagined from one book. That may sound more negative than positive, but that's only because this final installment seems content to exist right at the cusp between a shoulder-shrugging meh and an adequately mediocre accomplishment.
Walking into it largely from an obligation to see the entire Middle-earth series come to a full, complete circle, Peter Jackson's film is neither a total disappointment nor is it the overwhelmingly gratifying conclusion initially imagined. Not sure if it's from a feeling of exhaustion, after spending so much time in this epic fantasy world, or because the previous two entries were honestly tepid starters leading up to this, raising expectations higher than could be achieved. Even the battle sequences, as stunning and magnificent as they are to witness on the big screen, digital characters, monsters and landscapes that look spectacularly lifelike thanks to the talented folks at Weta Digital and the skillful direction of Jackson, fail to truly captivate and immerse the viewer. In spite of the wild imagination and thrilling visuals on display, the clash between the dwarves, elves, humans and eagles against a terrifying horde of goblins and orcs doesn't quite measure up to the encounters seen in 'The Lord of the Rings' trilogy.
Part of the problem can be a sudden loss of interest with the many characters involved and several key moments feeling rushed while others linger for longer than necessary. Then there's also an unexpected desire to have the whole affair simply come to a close as personalities clash over who has a rightful claim to the share of the gold Smaug guarded. Of course, some will be quick to point out that Thorin (Richard Armitage) is largely to blame since his gold lust and obsession for the Arkenstone blinds him from peaceful negotiations for promises made to the Bard (Luke Evans) and the people of Laketown. Elvenking Thranduil (Lee Pace) also desires certain necklace of white gems, creating an alliance with the humans to invade the mountain if necessary. With Smaug now dead, Azog and his Orc army want the mountain as a strategically important stronghold, and if dwarves die in the process, all the better in his eyes. There're lots going on and none is of major interest, except perhaps the fight between Thorin and Azog, which I admit was quite satisfying.
It's a real shame, to be honest, because 'The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies' picks up immediately where the second film left off with explosive action and mayhem as Smaug (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch) sets Laketown ablaze. It's a promising start, visually potent, dynamic and energetic, but it the excitement quickly subsides with scenes of Bard leading people to the ruins of Dale for shelter and Thorin turning dictator commanding his loyal dwarf company in search of the Arkenstone or risking their lives for the gold. Yes, this is taken directly from the book, but it's a bit boring to watch on screen. And this made the worse by the made-up melodramatic romance of Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly) and Kíli (Aidan Turner) while Legolas (Orlando Bloom) watches dopey-eyed from a distance. Through all this, Gandalf (Ian McKellen) and Bilbo (Martin Freeman), our initial heroes of this epic saga, are treated like side characters, their influence to the plot circumstantial.
Altogether, Jackson's closing chapter to the series is not a complete loss, but it's also not the electrifying finish promised by the previous movies.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Warner Home Video brings 'The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies' to 3D Blu-ray as a five-disc combo pack with an UltraViolet Digital Copy code. Housed inside a blue, slightly-thicker than normal eco-elite keepcase, the 3D version is spread across two Region Free, BD50 discs. The next two, which are also Region Free but one is a BD50 and the other a BD25, contain the 2D version and special features. All four come on two center panels with each disc on opposite sides while the fifth is a DVD-9 copy of the movie. Viewers are taken straight to a 3D static menu screen with music playing in the background. The package also includes a flyer for a variety of Middle-earth merchandise.
The final installment in the fantasy-adventure trilogy erupts on the screen with a superb, demo-quality 1080p/MVC MPEG-4 encode that opens with a blaze of fire and 3D mayhem. As Smaug ignites Laketown with his fiery breadth, the camera maneuvers between buildings, making them bulge and stick out while the steadier moments looking down rows of wooden structures creates an impressive elongated illusion where the farthest objects penetrate deep into the background. Meanwhile, weapons and arrows pierce through the screen with excellent pop-out effect. Separation between characters and other objects is outstanding, creating an amazing sense of space and vastness, and faces come with a believable roundness to them, particularly close-ups of Smaug's long snout.
In the 2D realm, the all-digital photography of Andrew Lesnie astonishes with razor-sharp clarity and definition. Like its predecessors, the movie was shot entirely on a Red Epic camera system, using the high frame rate of 48fps, and it looks exceptional on the traditional frame rate of 24fps, exposing the tiniest flaw and imperfection in the clothing, armor, buildings and various weapons seen throughout. Individual hairs are distinct, and the textures of the fabric in the costumes are very well-defined and lifelike. Facial complexions are highly revealing as well, showing every wrinkle and pore in the faces of the cast.
Presented in a 2.40:1 aspect ratio, the video is energized by a wide, sumptuous array of colors. Primaries lavish every frame with bold vivacity while a varied assortment of secondary hues provides warmth and animation. A crisp, brilliant contrast allows for extraordinary visibility in the distance, exposing the tiniest objects in the background and the fine lines of various rock formations scattered throughout the New Zealand landscape. As with the previous two movies, the brightness levels are the presentation's only minor drawback. A majority of the runtime shows accurate, rich blacks, but there are several shadows which appear noticeably murky and somewhat faded, flattening the picture a tad during a few sequences. There are also a couple instances of trivial aliasing along the finest metallic lines around the armor worn during battle. However, they are not enough to completely ruin the film's enjoyment.
The epic battle rages on Blu-ray with a reference-quality DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack; however, of the three films now available, this is arguably the weaker of the bunch. Still, the design offers distinct clarity and superb definition in the mid-range, generating a brilliantly wide and engaging soundstage. The tiniest pop and sizzle of crackling fire burning the wooden structures is distinctly heard while the clanging, clashing sounds of metal on metal is extraordinarily detailed, echoing throughout the room. The upper ranges during battle scenes never falter and are precise without a hint of distortion, allowing for every scream and wail to be heard above the chaos while dialogue remains intelligible.
Along with the excellent dynamic range, bass plays an appreciable role in Howard Shore's thrilling musical score, adding a great deal of depth and weight to the orchestration. The low-end is powerful and robust enough, making the battle sequences rumble with palpable excitement, but sadly, it's not as effective as the last films, almost a bit disappointing, and it never really digs deep (bass chart). As with the previous two releases, the rears deliver a variety of subtle ambient effects with the scenes of war and mayhem providing an awesomely satisfying environment. Battle cries and howls effectively surround the listener while arrows fly overhead to the back and swords swing from one side to the other with fluid panning, creating a stunningly immersive 360° soundfield. Though it's not as consistent as its predecessors, the final chapter in the trilogy comes with a marvelous and highly-enjoyable lossless mix.
The final chapter in the massive and needlessly overlong adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien's prequel to the battle for Middle-earth saga, 'The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies,' arrives more with a whimper than as the exciting conclusion to the grandiose adventure it originally set out to be. Featuring the same cast from the last entry, the conclusion is not an altogether waste, but it's also not the electrifying finish promised by the previous two movies. The 3D Blu-ray arrives with demo-worthy video and a reference-quality audio presentation. Although supplements are on the light side, the overall package should satisfy fans, but the curious are best to rent before purchasing and wait for the inevitable extended edition.
Portions of this review also appear in our coverage of Dunkirk on Blu-ray. This post features unique Vital Disc Stats, Video, and Final Thoughts sections.