Back in 2001, Peter Jackson’s vision for The Lord of the Rings hit theaters. At the same time, the director saw the voluminous amount of content to be disseminated and, in a singular stroke of brilliance, made an Extended Edition available for home audiences — The Fellowship of the Ring offered roughly 30 more minutes and came out months after the theatrical version released on DVD.
Jackson has since repeated the process four more times, with the upcoming The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies Extended Edition being the fifth. While The Lord of the Rings lent itself to this, extending The Hobbit, already stretched thin by turning one book into three films, hasn’t felt as necessary. Let’s see if The Battle of the Five Armies can buck that trend.
Although we usually offer a brief summation of the plot in our reviews, given that this is for the final part of a lengthy trilogy (and an extended version at that) we’ll assume you’re familiar with the material and jump right into what we liked and didn’t like.
While moving The Hobbit from two movies to three felt unnecessary, it does actually help the final chapter as everything converges on one point: The Lonely Mountain. Outside of a few small deviations — Legolas going to check on Gundabad, Gandalf’s rescue from Dol Guldur — everything takes place in one area. It’s a nice change from the first two films, in which the number of divergent subplots could be a bit of a chore to follow.
The Battle of the Five Armies moves from a PG-13 rating on the theatrical release to an R for the extended version, and with good reason as much of the added battle content is decidedly more visceral than what was left in. We’re not talking Game of Thrones here, but there are an awful lot of severed heads and limbs, animals being killed and plenty of blood. We always felt the action shaded a little too cartoonish, so it’s cool to see it balance out.
A handful of smaller additions are also welcome ones, including Bilbo’s conversation with Bofur before he leaves for Dale, which serves as a nice tie-in to their talk in the first film before they fall into the goblin caves. We learn the fate of Alfrid Lickspittle as well. There’s definitely some silliness to it, but it’s better than him just sort of disappearing.
One of our biggest pet peeves from The Hobbit trilogy was the absurdity of certain action segments, such as the river escape from Thranduil, in which an endless supply of orcs are defeated by dwarves tossing weapons between barrels. It looks fake and robs the enemy of any semblance of menace.
Unfortunately, the extended edition adds a couple of those, including perhaps the most absurd sequence we’ve ever seen in a serious movie. Part of the scene where Legolas grabs a giant bat and uses it to ascend to the top of the tower was retained, but there’s a new piece in which the elf, dangling upside down from the bat, does some sort of spinning attack on two lines of invading orcs. Dozens of them then fall off the path to either side like dominoes. It’s patently ridiculous.
Another goofy addition shows Bifur, the dwarf with part of an axe lodged in his head, headbutting an orc and the two of them becoming stuck. What followed looked like it belonged in a Three Stooges episode with, of course, portly Bombur involved. Jackson treaded on very dangerous ground with Gimli being used a little too much for comic relief in Lord of the Rings, but here he jumps way over that line — doubly so when you consider it’s sandwiched in between lots of things getting killed.
THE BONUS FEATURES
If you’ve been collecting all of the extended editions dating back to Fellowship of the Ring, then The Battle of the Five Armies will complete your collection with appendices 11 and 12. There’s a staggering amount of new special features created specifically for this release (more than nine hours) spread over two additional discs. There’s also a full audio commentary on the main disc featuring Jackson, who has done a great job on these over the years filling in some gaps and clarifying decisions.
Given that we’ve now seen all six extended editions, it’s fair to say that The Lord of the Rings trilogy offered more interesting and valuable content than The Hobbit — not surprising since significant parts of the book were left out, whereas here things have already been added. That being said, The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies Extended Edition is a superior cut, and if you’re a big fan of the fiction it’s worth getting.