Extended ‘Battle of the Five Armies’ Patches Up Finale
The version of The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies audiences watched last Christmas was clearly not fined tuned enough for the big screen. Rushed by Peter Jackson standards at a franchise-low, 144 minutes (yes that’s short for a Middle-earth movie), Five Armies wasn’t exactly “the defining chapter” the marketing campaign claimed it to be.
Still, those who have been following Jackson’s career are well-aware that what you get in the theater in never, ever the finished product. Jackson has built up a reputation for his series of Extended Editions of his Middle-earth films, always released a year after the theatrical release. Even Jackson’s 3-hour plus King Kong was treated to a much longer version and it’s not even set in the Middle-earth.
Five Armies is no exception to this rule, incorporating 20 minutes worth of new and extended scenes for the extended cut. The film still ignites with Smaug’s attack on Laketown, picking up immediately where The Desolation of Smaug left off. You know, the cliffhanger that left audiences complaining well over a year. While its placement remains up for debate, the sequence succeeds as the catalyst that sets off the remainder of Five Armies.
The rest of the beats remain the same for the most part. The dwarves claim the Lonely Mountain, whose victory is short-lived when elves, men and Orcs wage war in the titular Battle of the Five Armies. The extended edition focuses more on patching up what kept Five Armies from being just a run-of-the-mill slightly satisfying finale.
While the few extra shots during the Laketown inferno are the first new additions, the most noticeable changes start to occur during the White Council’s rescue of Gandalf (Ian McKellen) from the clutches of an enemy fortress. Cate Blanchett’s introduction as elf-queen Galadriel is less abrupt with the added dialogue proving that she’s a force to be reckoned with during Gandalf’s time of need. The sequence is still boggled down in video game escapades, ultimately dumbing down the servants of evil, who were infinitely more menacing in Fellowship of the Ring.
One of the complaints in the theatrical version is how Bilbo (Martin Freeman) many times plays second fiddle to the dwarves’ quest. After all, this is The Hobbit. Correct? Freeman has plenty more on his plate in the extended edition, particularly in a touching scene with one of the dwarves that parallels a scene in An Unexpected Journey. The theatrical version of this scene plays out as rushed. But just adding one or two minutes beforehand is a well-needed improvement.
Where Battle of the Five Armies deviates the most from the theatrical cut is within the actual battle itself. First, the introduction of Billy Connolly’s dwarven forces has been altered completely. Now, Connolly’s Dain and his forces arrive on goats and rams, which play a larger role in the future extended scenes. Add some new CGI weaponry and a cutesy exchange between Dain and the elvenking Thranduil (Lee Pace).
The battle unquestionably still takes up a good chunk of the run time. But with the extended edition, there is plenty more breathing room. Even the dwarves who haven’t had many character moments thus far finally get theirs to shine. Granted with 13 dwarves, characterizations are hardly a priority, but at least they’re not “just there” while the main few pound out screen time. The end result is more slapstick comedy and cartoonish kills. But after the theme park ride barrel sequence in Desolation of Smaug, this shouldn’t come as a complete shocker.
To be perfectly honest, it’s a weird juxtaposition with the “R” rating this version received. That’s a first for Jackson’s Middle-earth franchise. Something Fellowship of the Ring and Two Towers continued to ride the line with its more practical kills. But here, the violence is aimed at more unrealistic enemies, yet deemed more violent. There is certainly violence, but still a watered down experience compared to what we’re used to with Jackson’s staged battle sequences.
If the new scenes in Battle of the Five Armies haven’t been enough of a selling point, one scene near the end of the film will. Emotionally heartbreaking, this new scene is the closest this franchise will ever come to reaching the impactful finale of Return of the King. If you’ve invested with these characters for a long, drawn-out nine hours, the payoff is even more powerful.
The extended cut is The Battle of the Five Armies is without a doubt the version that should have been released in theaters a year ago. Granted, there will still (and always be) two camps for these films, The three-film decision will still be up for debate. But for those, who back the three-film horse, The Battle of the Five Armies is a more complete film. Jackson hasn’t just slapped a bandage over the theatrical cut. While still not the perfect sendoff worthy of nearly 15 years in Middle-earth, it’s a much-improved fix.
GRADE: B- (7/10)