Those who are wondering what director Peter Jackson has to say to those who are not heaping praise on his Hobbit films the way they did with his Lord of the Rings trilogy need look no further than the bonus features in this extended edition release of The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies. In them, Jackson admits that taking the reins from Guillermo del Toro so late in the pre-production process left him no time to prep the movies his way.
Jackson explains: “We didn’t wind the clock back a year-and-a-half and give me a year-and-a-half prep [time] to design the movie, which was different to what he was doing. It was impossible, and as a result of it being impossible I just started shooting the movie with most of it not prepped at all.”
There you have it. If you’d rather not dig through the bonus features to find his comments, someone has helpfully uploaded them to YouTube.
When I reviewed the film’s theatrical cut on Blu-ray, I found it bloated and seriously in need of being combined with its predecessor to create a streamlined sequel to The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. While the first movie benefited from some fleshing out with materials from Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings appendices, the second and third films were weighed down by lengthy unnecessary subplots involving a new Elvish character, Tauriel, and “I am the one percent” scenes with the Master of Laketown, among other things.
In addition, the set pieces felt like someone at special effects house Weta was mashing controller buttons, as the barrel ride in the second film became something akin to a bonus level in a videogame. Same with the plot to encase the dragon Smaug in molten gold, which serves as the climax to the second installment.
The third film cut down on the movies-meets-video-games moments, thankfully, but the bloated plot problems remained, and the opening with Smaug’s attack on Laketown was a sequence that would have made more sense at the end of the second movie. This extended edition does little to fix those problems, although it does fill a few holes, such as showing us the fate of Alfrid, the Master of Laketown’s sniveling number two, and it gives us a few nice tie-ins with the next trilogy, including a moment wherein Gandalf gets his new staff. However, it would have been nice if the additions had come with cuts to get rid of the bloat.
Interestingly, enough carnage was added to the battle scenes that this version earned an R rating, which makes it the only Middle-earth film to have one.
The bonus features in this three-disc set follow the same formula as the previous extended editions, starting with a commentary track featuring Jackson and co-writer Philippa Boyens. Like the other discussions they’ve had on Middle-earth films, this one is enjoyable and interesting, with plenty of good information for the fans. A moment of intrigue arrives when they say that they would be interested in seeing others remake the two trilogies some day. The movie disc also has a six-minute piece about the New Zealand locations used for the film.
Over on disc two, the voluminous appendices begun for the first two extended editions continue with Part 11: The Gathering Storm. This is a massive five-hour chronicling of the making of the movie, from on-set moments to special effects insights and more. An enormous amount of grueling work goes into an epic film like this one, and this bonus feature captures the highs, the lows, and just about every mood in between.
Disc three finishes the appendices with Part 12: Here at Journey’s End, another five-hour marathon that takes a deep dive into: the creation of the climactic Battle of the Five Armies; the design and casting of Tauriel, Thranduil, and Dain Ironfoot; and the practical and special effects work that went into creating Dale, Dol Guldur, and Erebor.
The final disc wraps up with a birthday greeting from Jackson and Ian McKellen for Harry Knowles, who runs the site Ain’t It Cool News and who hosts the annual Butt-Numb-a-Thon in Austin, along with an amusing look at Adam Brown, the actor who played Ori, a music video for “Rivers of Gold”, and a touching remembrance for the late Andrew Lesnie, the cinematographer who worked on all six Tolkien films.
That’s it for Jackson’s second and last epic trilogy based on Tolkien’s works, unless a studio puts up the money for him to adapt The Silmarillion as a ten-film series. It feels anti-climactic, which is a bummer considering the huge wave that The Lord of the Rings rode over a decade ago, but The Hobbit simply joins the detritus from promising movies that crashed on release. (Matrix sequels or Star Wars prequels, anyone?)