Release Date(s)2015 (November 17, 2015)
Studio(s)New Line/MGM/Wingnut Films (Warner Bros.)
- Film/Program Grade: A-
- Video Grade: A+
- Audio Grade: A+
- Extras Grade: A
Having awoken the dragon Smaug from his long slumber in the bowels of Erebor, the company of Thorin Oakenshield must now deal with the aftermath. Smuag has unleashed his wrath upon the lowly residents of Lake-town, sending them running to the Dwarves for help. Obsessed with finding the Arkenstone, however, Thorin offers them no aid or comfort, having fallen prey to the same greed that possessed his grandfather before him. Meanwhile, the dark lord Sauron had launched his plan to take The Lonely Mountain for himself, sending the Orc armies of Angmar to do his bidding. Now that the Dwarves have breached and reclaimed the Mountain, other forces would have it too, including the Thorin’s cousin Dáin of the Iron Hills and Thranduil of the Woodland Realm. So as the armies of Orcs, Dwarves, Elves, and Men converge upon the Gates of Erebor, Bilbo must find a way to make Thorin see reason before all is lost.
As diehard fans will know, this film’s original 144-minute theatrical running time felt a little lean, so I’m pleased to say that the 20 minutes of new footage added for this Extended Edition is a tremendous boon to the narrative. Every character gets a moment to shine here. The slaying of Smaug how has additional footage, the attack on Dol Guldur is greatly expanded (Galadriel in particular benefits from the additions), we learn that Gandalf wears one of the three Elvish Rings of Power, and we see Gandalf getting his new staff (the one he uses in the Rings films, from Radagast). There’s a great new scene with Bilbo and Bofur (this and other extended scenes make it clear just how much the company of Thorin has come to respect Bilbo). We see the well-earned demise of Alfrid. There’s lots of new material added to the main battle (hero moments for each of the Dwarves, Beorn joining the fight in a big way, the Dwarves' trailer-glimpsed chariot run, and whole movements, shifts, and turns of battle previously unseen) which make the action more brutal, the victories harder won, and all of it ultimately much more satisfying. The carnage is a bit more gruesome too – heads rolling, characters flattened, a bit more cleaving and spilt blood. Best of all, though, we finally get to see the funeral of Sons of Durin and the acknowledgement of Dáin as the new king under the Mountain – a moment that it’s very hard to imagine the film without once you’ve seen it. The result of all these additions is that The Battle of the Five Armies: Extended Cut becomes a richer and more satisfying ending for this trilogy. It’s also the best film of the trilogy and the best of the trilogy’s Extended Cuts by far. And I should note that there’s now a lovely tribute near the end of the credits to Andrew Lesnie, the cinematographer of all six Middle Earth films, who passed away shortly after the completion of the film.
Warner’s new Blu-ray edition delivers superior A/V quality that’s exactly on par with the previous Extended Edition BDs for these films – certainly it’s near to reference quality for this format. The film is delivered in 1080p high-definition in its original 2.40:1 theatrical aspect ratio. The image offers superior clarity, with rich and accurate color, deep blacks, and stunning texturing and detail. The audio is available in English 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, as well as French and Portuguese Dolby Digital 5.1, with optional subtitles in English (for the deaf and hard of hearing), French, Spanish, and Portuguese. As with the previous Blu-rays, the 7.1 soundfield is big, wide and immersive, with abundant bass, precise staging, and smooth panning. The surround and surround back channels are active and natural, the dialogue is clear, and Howard Shore’s score is well-presented in the mix.
Warner’s 2D Blu-ray is a 3-disc set. Disc One includes the film itself, plus feature-length audio commentary with writer/director Peter Jackson and co-writer/producer Philippa Boyens, The New Zealand: Home of Middle-Earth: Part 3 featurette (6:07), and a trio of theatrical trailers for the film (running 1:57, 2:33, and 2:46 respectively – that last one a Legacy trailer that highlights all six films in the series). All the video extras are in full HD. The audio commentary is lively and interesting. You can hear the relief and relaxed tone in Jackson and Boyens’ voices at having finally completed their work on this film. They go into detail on how and why they added footage for this cut and what it means for the characters. They offer new details about the story. There’s even talk of alternate versions of the script, early ideas, and character backstories that aren’t shown in the film but that they created to give the actors more information to work with. Peter reveals that not all of the footage shot for these films made it back into the Extended Cuts. “If we took something out [of the film] and it kind of works without it, we tend to leave it out, and only put back the things that enhance it.” In other words, there’s probably a good long (potential) deleted scenes reel for all six of these films that could be released on a future bonus disc one day. Jackson and Boyens also reveal that they wouldn’t mind seeing other filmmakers remake these films one day, out of curiosity to see what others might do with them.
Most of the special features in this set are on the two Appendices Blu-rays, of course, starting with Disc Two. This includes The Appendices, Part 11: The Gathering Storm. All of the content on this disc forms what is essentially a nearly 5-hour long behind-the-scenes documentary of the filming. The documentary comes in 10 parts, with an Opening (3:46) and Credits (4:03). Included are In the Dungeons of the Necromancer (30:08 – covering Dol Guldur), Fire and Water (30:02 – Lake-town), Under the Shadow of the Mountain (18:03 – shooting in the rock and pillar range), In the Wake of the Dragon (27:28 – Lake Pukaki), The Gathering of the Clouds (20:10 – Erebor), Many Partings (30:02 – the end of principal photography), The Clouds Burst (29:49 – pick-ups in Dale), A Last Desperate Stand (30:12 – Ravenhill), Out from the Gate (30:10 – Erebor pick-ups), and The Last Stage (34:05 – the final day of pick-ups). I don’t really want to spoil the content of these featurettes for you, as there’s lots of lovely things to see here with the cast and crew. It’s good stuff and if you’ve watched the previous Extended Edition documentaries you’ll know what to expect.
Disc Three includes the remainder of the set’s extras in the form of The Appendices, Part 12: Here at Journey’s End. This offers another 5 hours worth of video bonus material in the form of four mini-documentaries. They begin with Beneath the Thunder: Forging A Battle of Five Armies (1:30:00), which includes A Master Plan, Long in the Making (30:18), On the Front Lines of a Virtual Battlefield (30:08), and Turning the Tide (29:49) – it essentially covers the film’s visual effects work in great detail. Next you get The People and Denizens of Middle-Earth (1:28:08), which includes Tauriel: Daughter of the Forest (27:55), Thranduil: The King of Wood and Stone (30:17), and Dáin Ironfoot: Lord of the Iron Hills (30:16) – obviously these detail the development and depiction of key characters in the film. This is followed by Realms of the Third Age: From the City of Dale to the Halls of Erebor (1:30:28), which includes Dale: The City of Men (30:18), Dol Guldur: The Hill of Sorcery (30:14), and Erebor: The Lonely Mountain (30:16) – which chronicle the art department’s efforts to design the various locations seen in the film. Finally, there’s Farewell, Friends! (32:56), which features various members of the cast and crew – including cast members from the Rings films too – looking back at what the experience of making all six films has meant to them. You’re not done yet though – there’s also some additional video features here. Under the category of miscellaneous Bonus Features, you’ll find a Butt-Numb-a-Thon 2011 Greeting (11:43), the “Rivers of Gold” Music Video (4:32 – featuring the Dwarves), and The Real Adam Brown (5:25). These are goofy little odds and ends that don’t really fit anywhere else. But one of the things I most enjoyed on this disc was Andrew Lesnie Remembered (5:47), which is a lovely little video tribute. There’s also another Credits segment (5:09), which opens with more words of thanks and remembrance to both Christopher Lee and Lesnie.
All of the extras on these discs are in 1080p HD (with the exception of a few bits of Rings behind-the-scenes footage originally shot in SD but upconverted here), usually at an aspect ratio of 1.78:1. You’ll be pleased to learn that subtitles are available for all the extras on the Appendices discs in some seventeen different languages, including English (for the deaf and hard of hearing). These special features were once again created by BD producer Michael Pellerin and his team of fine documentarians (see the credits for the full list). Fans of these films the world over owe them all a very great debt indeed. The discs are housed in a dark-colored plastic BD case with a nice sturdy slipcover. Note that the package also includes a paper insert with a code to access a Digital Copy version of the film. There’s also a Blu-ray 3D combo version of this release (available separately) that includes everything reviewed here, plus the film in 3D split over another two discs.
Fans have been waiting a long time to finally watch Peter Jackson’s complete Middle Earth Saga in its full Extended Edition version on Blu-ray – something I hope to find the time for myself this holiday season. I’m very curious to see how well all six of these films fit together now that they’re finally done. Of course, there’s almost certainly going to be an eventual Middle Earth Saga: Ultimate Edition Blu-ray box set from Warner next year. The question is whether or not WHV will actually pay to reward diehard fans with more new content… or simply repackage everything we already own, just with new swag. We shall see. Fingers crossed the studio will do the right thing.
On a personal note, I’d just like to take a moment, here at the end of this review, to express my heartfelt thanks to director Peter Jackson, and to everyone involved in making these films over the years. My thanks too to all those of you who have been involved in producing these fine Blu-ray special editions. For those of us in the audience, who have eagerly taken this fourteen-year long journey with you, the experience has been tremendous fun. These films are truly a remarkable achievement. And I’ve enjoyed every single minute of them.
- Bill Hunt