It’s over. We now have Peter Jackson’s final Middle Earth Extended Edition. It doesn’t dramatically improve THE BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES but it certainly isn’t a pointless exercise in making your lean movie unwieldy like extended DESOLATION OF SMAUG. Battle is probably still the weakest of the Hobbit movies in its original cut because of jerky plotting and shaky characterisation that undermines some good acting. It also ends up being the Extended Edition most worth a watch due to some great embellishments.
The dwarven company of Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) have reclaimed their homeland from the great dragon Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch). No sooner have entered the mountain kingdom of Erebor, armies of elves, dwarves and displaced men gather outside baying for a share of the treasure, and a vast army of orcs blackens the horizon. How can hobbit burglar Bilbo (Martin Freeman) and wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen) help the races of Middle Earth to put aside their differences to halt the tide of darkness, and just how much further has Peter Jackson been able pump up the titular battle?
The great thing about home releasing, and of Jackson putting so much extra effort into this new cuts of his movies, is that he doesn’t mind what age rating it gets, and nor do Warner Brothers. He’s allowed to run riot and make the action as mischievously excessive and bloody as he likes. The sequence we glimpsed in the film’s trailer but was absent from the final cut (whether unfinished or just saved for the Extended Edition) involving a blade-wheeled chariot turning swathes of orcs and trolls into dogmeat is fantastically excessive.
While such a sequence would never be put in such a lucrative film on its initial release lest it pump up the age rating, other scenes were more bafflingly cut and only restored here. Why wouldn’t you want to see Bofur’s (James Nesbitt) tender goodbye to Bilbo? Or the lovely little gag where Radagast (Sylvester McCoy) warns Gandalf how temperamental his magic staff can be before bequeathing it to him. Seeing the elves and dwarves actually engage in combat with each other before hastily uniting to fight the orcs gives the alliance more dramatic heft. This also gives us more of an opportunity to see the contrasting fighting styles of the races and to witness the thrill of dwarves kicking elven ass (a great invention of ballistas that fire spinning projectiles that bat away arrow volleys is a particular highlight).
We finally get a real sense of the different personalities of each member of Thorin’s company (previously a challenge) as each approach being involved in a massive battle in their own unique way. Bifur (William Kircher), Bofur and Bombur (Stephen Hunter) prove to be a rather deadly family until on the battlefield (and yes, Bombur finally says something) and even old Balin (Ken Stott) gets to prove he’s still got some fight in him.
Of course with any of Jackson’s box set behemoths you have a hoard of extra features on the minutiae of blockbuster filmmaking to work your way through. It’s lovely to see Christopher Lee giving one of his final interviews for the section on Dol Guldur, and after joking he did all his own stunts “easy”, he poignantly sums up why he chose acting as his profession: “To be seen, and to be remembered”.
I’m sure a fair few of you, like me, now own every version of the Middle Earth movies. I’ve fallen for buying the theatrical cuts then the Extended Editions six times now (seven if you count KING KONG). Having said that, no matter how much I’ve added to Peter Jackson’s Lonely Mountain of money, I don’t regret it when I look at my DVD shelf. They’ve all brought me a lot of insight and a lot joy. SSP