It’s hard not to feel like the whole Hobbit franchise was a waste of time. Sure, the series made nearly three billion worldwide, but as a continuation of the Lord of the Rings films, it turned a fun, three hundred page story into a bloated, not fun three film series with a number of main characters who were mainly defined by their facial hair. The final chapter is The Hobbit: The Battle of the Fire Armies and it’s a slog.
The film opens with Smaug destroying Laketown, when Bard the Bowman (Luke Evans) is able to fell the creature. This is a colossal “Fuck you” because it is the climax of the second movie – literally, this is how the second film should have ended were these movies anything more than a cash grab. With Smaug out of the picture, Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) goes gold crazy and won’t share his riches with the townsfolk or the elves as promised and is especially itchy to get the Arkenstone, which Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) is hiding. This leads to a near fight as the townsfolk and elves are peeved at Thorin, though he’s called his cousin Dain (Billy Connolly) to help protect the gold. But then there’s an army of Orcs headed their way.
Thorin getting greedy essentially keeps the plot moving for about an hour and change until he snaps out of it, Bilbo – the lead of the series – has virtually nothing to do for much of the movie, while the motivations are kept at this level of ludicrous. It all leads to big battle sequences, of which there are fun moments, but without Sauron behind the Orcs there’s not a great sense of threat, and the film is so lazy that the threat is never properly defined: it seems when Thorin and his team of twelve dwarfs are able to turn the tide because they can wipe out hundreds of Orcs by themselves. Director Peter Jackson has gone full George Lucas, and much like the prequel films these films are only going to be entertaining to those who like spending time in the universe. As narrative films, they are garbage, and this – though filled with action – may be the most tedious of the lot. So get excited about the eventual expanded edition due later this year!
Warner Brothers Blu-ray of the film comes with a DVD and Digital copy, while the film is presented widescreen (2.35:1) and in DTS-HD 7.1 Master Audio. The picture quality is excellent, though as the film was shot in 48FPS, there are moments that look great, and some that look like daytime television, especially in the opening sequence. This is how the film looked theatrically, but it’s obviously a technology that hasn’t been perfected yet. That said, the sound is amazing, with solid surround usage and great sub-woofer action. Supplements on the first disc are limited to a promotional featurette about New Zealand called “New Zealand: Home of Middle-earth Part 3” (6 min.) which basically has the cast and crew stumping for New Zealand’s tourist appeal.
Disc two houses the rest of the supplements, but there’s not a lot of meat here. First up is “Recruiting the Five Armies” (12 min.), which puts the focus on the work that goes into the costuming and training of the extras. Considering the scale of the film it is an interesting look at the usually least focused on part of the cast. Then there’s the two part “Completing Middle-Earth” which is broken into the sections “A Six Part Saga” (10 min.) and “A Seventeen-Year Journey” (9 min.). This first connects this film into the larger Lord of the Rings picture as it’s the first big fight that will lead to the fellowship. The featurette also features a lot of footage from the original trilogy and offers clips of Peter Jackson and co-writer Phillipa Boyens doing a lot of the talking, though much of the footage seems geared to make you remember why you love the original trilogy. The second part talks about the shooting process of making the six films, with the first half focusing on the making of the first trilogy (and features a lot of behind the scenes footage from the previous special editions), while the second half has the cast and Jackson offering empty platitudes about how great the final movie will be. Basically, it looks like the best supplements will be made available when the extended editions hits later this year.
There’s also “The Last Goodbye” section, which has a behind the scenes featurette on the song from the film (11 min.), and a music video (4 min.). Jackson and company wanted the song to be a goodbye to the franchise, but also as a way to connect the two trilogies, so they brought in Billy Boyd to sing the song, which was done over 430 takes. Rounding out the disc is a trailer for the film, and a trailer for The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug extended edition Blu-ray. So that’s about fifty minutes of special features in total.