In Review: The Battle of the Five Armies, Extended Edition

The extended edition of the third Hobbit film, The Battle of the Five Armies, continues the level of excellence of the previous extended cuts. Unlike the Lord of the Rings’ extended editions, those for the Hobbit films are seamless, beautifully integrated and often add crucial elements to the plot. BotFA EE is a great example of the extended edition done right, the additions are near imperceptible and often left me questioning if a scene was new or had been there all along. As with the two before, this is the film as it is meant to be seen.

That being said, in many cases, the problems of the original theatrical cut are similarly extended and even amplified. Most additions are a serious attempt to flesh out the events of the film and knit them more tightly together, but, as should be expected, there are moments of shear absurdity which have been reinserted much to the detriment of the action.

Now on to the specifics; if you do not wish to have the extended footage spoiled for you, I recommend stopping here. As explained above, it is likely I’ve missed many and possible invented a few which were in the theatrical cut; the scenes described below simply represent those which stood out to me at this time.

As with each of the preceding prologue scenes, this one is also slightly extended. I noticed a number of times Smaug passes over the city prior to the main attack, as well as further shots of the actual attack. Though barely a few seconds, these glimpses of the oncoming dragon help to establish the urgency of the opening scene and heighten the suspense of the inevitable attack and ruin of Esgaroth. As an aside, I still believe the inflation of the Black Arrow to a super weapon is a mistake, particularly at this moment when we see Bard shooting at Smaug with no chance whatsoever of having an effect. Though this is perhaps true in showing his desperation, it makes his heroism devolve into silliness.

The scene in Dol Guldur where Gandalf is tortured by an orc is implausibly extended by giving the orc knowledge of the Three Rings of power of the Elves. The scene further devolves by showing the Ring of Fire, leading to an attempt by the same orc to cut off Gandalf’s hand. As Galadriel enters Dol Guldur, a brief glimpse of Nenya is seen. While it is marginally important to establish the Elvish Rings and who bears them, this device (of a too knowledgeable underling) is absurd. Though it mirrors the knowledge and greed of Grishnakh in The Two Towers, it seems silly such would be allowed under the very nose of either the Nazghul or Sauron.

The scene continues with Galadriel bearing Gandalf away. He has passed out and Galadriel’s kiss awakens him. The fight ensues, with the entry of Saruman and Elrond unchanged. Radagast’s appearance is given a brief glimpse of the sled’s approach prior to arrival. Galadrial states that Dol Guldur is draining Gandalf’s life; and then uses her ‘scary voice’ to make Gandalf and Radagast leave. The battle overall is extended with more footage of fighting and the temporary destruction of the Nazghul. There is slightly more time spent with Sauron before he is banished. After which Elrond suggests that Gondor should be warned and a watch set on Mordor. Saruman more explicitly states that Sauron may not regain power without the Ring. All of this is visually spectacular, but serves little purpose; besides the last bit which should increase suspicion of Saruman (and where he stands in his fall). At Rhosgobel, Radagast gives Gandalf his staff. In a seemingly throwaway line, he explains that the top needs ‘twiddling’ in order for it to function properly as Gandalf rides away.

Brief shots and audio lend further ambience to the arrival of the refugees in Dale. These shots help to establish the dire straits they are in due to lack of food, water, and warmth. The elves arrive, and an added camera pan shows the extent of their army.

There is more explanation given on the nature of the mithril coat as Thorin gives it to Bilbo. This is followed by an expanded discussion of honor and keeping one’s word between the two of them. The conversation devolves into Thorin’s dragon sickness mutterings, of which there are more.

As Bilbo makes to leave Erebor to bring the Arkenstone to Bard and Thranduil, he encounters Bofur. Perhaps meaning to mirror the scene in the cave (On the Doorstep) in AUJ, Bofur thinks Bilbo simply desires to flee, to be anywhere else. He informs him that Bombur is next on watch, and he will take some time to wake. The scene is rather touching given the comradery which has now been established in the films. Unlike the book, in which Bilbo tricks Bombur into allowing him to take Bombur’s watch, this scene creates a brief moment of conflict and potential for regret. It poses a dilemma for Bilbo more bluntly (which has been well established in this film) of whether he betrays his friends by this action.

In the revelation of the Arkenstone, Thranduil delivers a surprising line, declaring that Ecthelion of Gondor would pay a fair price for the stone. I appreciate the name drop, but this is silliness. Gondor has been in steep decline by this point for almost two thousand years. According to the Tale of Years, they’ve been forced out of Ithilien only forty years prior to the events of The Hobbit. There slim to no chance their economy is strong enough to purchase a stone without price; particularly given the precarious military position they find themselves in.

At the final negotiation at the gates of Erebor, there is some more pacing and meaningful glances as Thorin plays for time and the appearance of Dain. From this point on, the battle of the Five Armies begins in earnest. In the extended edition the dwarves and elves actually do skirmish. The dwarves show off their cool anti-air weaponry and we get our first glimpse of dwarvish war chariots. The appearance of the were-worms ends the fighting.

The vast majority of the extended scenes used in BotFA come during the battle itself. There is significantly more fighting, and plenty more gore. In particular, there are a lot more decapitations and dismemberments, which probably account for the R rating.

There are more trolls in the battle. Thranduil actually fights a significant portion of the battle from his elk steed. The war chariots are shown to good effect; though over the top, they seem to fit. Bofur ends up riding one of the blind/chained trolls, using it as his own personal tank. Bombur’s fighting is used as comic relief. Dain and Thorin’s meeting in the battlefield is fleshed out, where they plan their next move in more detail. Getting to Raven Hill is shown to be much more of a challenge, and, thankfully, a greater and more believable distance. Balin, Kili and Fili, and Dwalin use a goat chariot to break a way through the orcs. They end up riding down the frozen river (as seen in some trailers). They are chased by an armored troll, which Bofur takes out with his previously mentioned ‘tank.’ This was unbelievable and crazy in the extreme. We get a brief glimpse of wargs chasing, before Dwalin, Fili, and Kili cut the traces and ride their goats the rest of the way (as seen in the theatrical).

Perhaps by way of apology for inflicting us with him, we are shown Alfrid’s demise. In the scene Gandalf is having trouble with Radagast’s staff, and is dutifully twiddling with the top, while confronted with a troll. Alfrid has conveniently hidden in a catapult, which fires him into the troll’s mouth, killing both. This is satisfying in a way, but in reality is a stupid waste of time. There is no need for more Alfrid!

It may be in the theatrical edition, but it bears repeating that Bilbo asks the question on everyone’s minds, “Where exactly is North?” I still hate the hack job they’ve done to the geography!

Bifur, otherwise known as the dwarf with an axe in his head, fights a large orc by head-butting. This lodges the axe into said orc, almost dragging Bifur and many of the others over a cliff. Bifur is freed of the axe in this manner. This seemed a throw-away crowd pleaser type scene, considering I had to look up which dwarf this was in the first place!

Thorin’s battle with Azog begins a little earlier, as he meets him on the stairs of Raven Hill and then fights others before the final confrontation. The arrival of the bats is expanded, showing a bit more of their role in the battle at large. Though it may seem impossible, the Legolas insanity is worse in the extended edition. As before, he hitches a ride hanging from a bat. However, as he goes up the hill, he hangs upside down, slicing his way through a column of orcs the bat conveniently choses to fly near. Tauriel is shown fighting her way up to Raven Hill. Again, the distance and the danger in getting there is fittingly increased.

As hoped, and predicted, there are brief additions to Beorn’s part in the battle, as well as the Eagles. They are two brief moments, but do establish him as a formidable foe, and actually show their arrival to be a turning point in the battle at large, as it should be.

Very little is actually changed about Thorin’s last battle. The next major addition is a scene showing Thorin, Fili, and Kili lying in state and the coronation of Dain as king under the mountain.

Overall, the extended edition of The Battle of the Five Armies does not change my overall negative feeling towards the last installment. In many ways it worsened them. However, it is a beautifully done film, which feels more complete than the theatrical version; as if this is the true movie, and that was the abridged. That is how each of the extended additions have felt for The Hobbit. They should be (and in my opinion) are the definitive editions. The wrinkles and holes in the plots of each are virtually non-existent, and the splicing between original and extended is near perfect. Though I still have many issues with the film (which for me mar it near irreparably), this is the finale the film trilogy deserves.

Advertisements

In Review: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, Extended Edition

I had high hopes for the Extended Edition of The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, given how well the extended edition of An Unexpected Journey turned out. Surprisingly, AUJ’s extended edition felt like the film as it should be, superseding the theatrical version in every way. Almost every addition added to the film lent clarity to the adaptation and how it was moving towards the future films.

To my mind, an extended edition should do a number of things: add significant length to the film (ideally seamlessly), clarify the vision of the film (and future ones), and add fun and/or interesting information or action. Generally speaking, it should coexist with the theatrical version without superseding it or feeling gratuitous. The extended edition of An Unexpected Journey did all of these, barring the last.

The extended edition of The Desolation of Smaug does an exemplary job, but does not, in my opinion, replace the theatrical cut. It adds information, and cut scenes which it makes sense were cut. There are a few added scenes, particularly shorts ones, that seemed should have been part of the original cut, but ultimately don’t add as much as similar scenes which were cut in AUJ and were subsequently reinserted in its extended edition. In particular, the additions to DoS are almost completely confined to additional lore drawn from The Lord of the Rings Appendices. There are some welcome extensions from The Hobbit text, as well as some expository scenes which further define cinematic choices.

So the general verdict is that DoS, EE is definitely worth watching, but except for a few scenes, I’d stick with the theatrical cut for most viewings.

That being said, here follow the additions as I caught them, and some general commentary. If you have not seen the extended cut yet, and would like to be surprised, stop here!

As in AuJ, the prologue of DoS has been significantly expanded. First, Thorin is in the area of Bree because he has had word that his father Thrain was spotted in Dunland. Not finding him there, Thorin heads up the Greenway to Bree. There is a flashback of the battle of Azanulbizar, where Thorin is unable to find the body of his father. Gandalf mentions Thror’s ring, regarding its location. He also states that he had urged Thror to move on Erebor, not Moria. This starts a trend towards emphasizing the importance of the Lonely Mountain in the extended cut, and particularly hinting at the relationship between Smaug and Sauron.

Gandalf’s comedic deception of Beorn when introducing the Company is wonderfully translated from the text. It is inserted following the night in Beorn’s house, when the Company finds that he is outside chopping wood and effectively barring their escape. They come in twos and Gandalf’s wordplay is in full force. It added some much needed characterization to Beorn.

As the Company readies to leave for Mirkwood, Beorn and Gandalf have a much expanded conversation off to the side. He speaks of news of Dol Guldur and the Necromancer, and the likelihood that this enemy is Sauron (implied). Beorn also mentions that the dead walk in the High Fells. Continuing the future geographic confusion of TBotFA, these lie to the north, and Angmar also extended to include the Wilderland between the Misty Mountains and Mirkwood. There is a brief cut scene showing the burial of the witch-king. This is further building the case that the Nazghul were once living men, died and are just now being raised by Sauron. It fits the Necromancer title, but ignores both ring-lore and the nature of the Nazghul. Talk of Sauron’s return, couched in the nature of the Necromancer follows. Gandalf counters with Saruman’s assertions that Sauron may not rise again. All of this lends urgency and purpose to Gandalf’s otherwise seemingly random foray to the High Fells, and later to Dol Guldur. It is a rather heavy-handed expository conversation, but really does help piece the plot together.

At the borders of Mirkwood, Gandalf not only warns the Company not to stray from the path, but also to beware the enchanted stream. Also, before entering the wood, Durin’s day is mentioned, and its exact date is known (this knowledge a repeated addition throughout). There is mention of the need for air, which helps to establish the suffocating oppression of the forest. The enchanted stream is featured. Even the vapors from it have an affect, creating drowsiness and disorientation, which largely cause Bombur’s fall into the stream. They cross over vines. Once crossed, Thorin spots and shoots at the white stag. He misses. Bilbo states this is bad luck. Immediately following, Bombur falls. Many scenes follow of carrying him through the forest.

Bilbo flicks a cobweb rather in the manner of Pippin in the Fellowship film. It is cut so this occurs soon after the stream crossing. Though drawn to do this while under the stupor of the wood, this blatant self reference and stupidity is irksome. However, it does explain how the spiders find them. There is a bit more shown with regards to the enchantment of the forest, and they are explicitly shown leaving the path. The Company often hears voices. Whether this is to indicate the elves, or the spiders, I cannot tell.

Barrels out of Bond has been needlessly extended, with more orcs and more elvish gymnastics.

In Esgaroth, there is a brief scene extending the introduction of the Master in which he eats rich (though visually disgusting) food and discusses Bard with Alfrid. They plot how to suppress the people and imprison Bard, going so far as to suggest laws specifically against bargemen.

When Bard and the dwarves arrive, there is quite a bit more time spent in their efforts to reach his home. They are found and a short, semi-humorous, battle ensues in the marketplace. The people help to hide the bodies of knocked out guards, which helps to establish their liking for Bard that is evident in the third film. In particular there is more of an introduction for Hilda Blanca (who I don’t remember ever having a name in the films, I had to look it up).

Alfrid is seen listening in to the people and Bard talk of the dwarvish prophesy. He shares this information with the Master, and helps reestablish the books conniving Masterly plot. In the Thrice Welcome scene, someone is asked to vouch for the Company. Bilbo steps forward. If you ask me, why the Lake Towners would listen to him, and not dwarves is absurd as he is a stranger too (who’s going to vouch then for Bilbo?!).

After the Company leaves for the Lonely Mountain, the dwarves left behind approach the Master for help. They are refused. The Master is shown before this discussing the win-win situation he is in: either he gains much gold or the dwarves die and are off his hands. I liked that this mercenary element of his character was re-instituted, though it is implied in the theatrical cut.

In the approach to the Mountain, there is a brief addition, showing Balin describing the Desolation of Smaug. There is also a brief glimpse of the thrush flying across the landscape.

Gandalf’s journeys through Dol Guldur are tremendously expanded. In a suspenseful and rather disturbing series of shots, he is followed, later he’s following, and finally attacked. It is revealed when Gandalf finally corners his attacker that this is Thrain. He is terribly insane. As in The Two Towers film, Gandalf basically does an exorcism. In a flashback it is revealed that Azog took Thrain’s ring, cutting off his forefinger. Hearing of Thorin, Thrain warns against retaking Erebor. Thrain explicitly binds Sauron and Smaug together. They are in league with one another, which is the danger Gandalf is working to prevent, in the text. However in the film, this danger is severely downplayed, and much is made of the Mountain’s strategic location and contrived relationship to Angmar, particularly in the third film. Therefore these scenes appear to conflict with the drive of the movies’ plot. On the other hand, the ties between Dol Guldur and Smaug do help, significantly, to explain why Smaug knows of the Ring and also of events in the outside world he’d otherwise have no knowledge of (ie. Thorin Oakenshield and the importance of the Arkenstone).

There are some brief additions throughout the last act of the film, which help to lay the groundwork for the dragon sickness which will be so prevalent in the third film. Also, perhaps having seen the third film now, it may be understood the that bizarre scheme to bury Smaug in gold is a plan derived in and out of Thorin’s madness, rather than any strategical sensibility which would easily spot the stupidity of such a plan. I may stretch things here, but it does make this disaster of a plot twist somewhat palatable, though only just.

Long story short, DO watch the extended cut of The Desolation of Smaug. Most major additions are confined to Beorn, Mirkwood, the Master and Dol Guldur. They are fascinating, and reveal much about the intended direction of the film-makers. I don’t feel the extended edition is the definitive version, as for most the added information would just confuse. For someone familiar with the wider breadth of Tolkien’s work, however, it helps a lot to understand the context of the film’s story, how it diverges and why. It doesn’t necessarily excuse changes or distortions, but helps make sense of them. Though the additions are seamlessly added, ultimately they are not fully necessary and the theatrical cut in much more tightly constructed.

In Review: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, Extended Edition

So the rumors are true!

The extended edition of The Hobbit: AUJ is significantly better than the theatrical release. Many of the scenes cut, though often insignificant in length, are very important for making sense of the plot in both this film, and even The Desolation of Smaug. The new scenes are stitched into the fabric of the movie beautifully, seamlessly and almost imperceptibly. A keen eye, and memory, is often needed to spot them. This makes for a whole new film, vastly superior to the theatrical, and, in terms of editing and choice of material, better than the extended editions of The Lord of the Rings.

Often, at least for the first half of the film, I was left to wonder why the scenes were cut at all, given the heavy lifting they often did. Usually in very short lines or sequences, added here and there, they add a lot to streamline the plot and characterization. To streamline through increased length may seem counter-intuitive, but here it works. Often actions and even character traits/biases seem fairly abrupt, arbitrary and out-of-the-blue in the theatrical release; not so here. While the things that bugged me about An Unexpected Journey are still present, the film is actually tighter, more enjoyable and more cohesive in its longer form.

I may have missed many of the additions, but many struck a chord and were rather thought provoking.

One thing that surprised me initially was the rapid fire tweaks and changes made in the prologue. In the homage scene, where the Wood Elves come to Erebor, they aren’t coming so much for that as for the white gems Thranduil mentions in DoS. Here, the brief allusion to the tale of the Nauglamir described at the end of ‘Flies and Spiders’, is updated to the present time, neatly side-stepping movie rights issues. In the ancient tale the treasure was largely owned by the elves, with the dwarves providing labor. The Nauglamir is also tied up in the Silmaril retrieved by Beren and Luthien. Thingol does not pay the dwarves, and imprisons them. In revenge, the dwarves invade Doriath and end up killing Thingol, which leads to the downfall of the kingdom. Obviously, Peter Jackson and Co. could not have used this information, and would have probably left most confused if they had. In the end, though a bit petty in scale, this scene worked marvelously well to establish the enmity between the wood elves and the dwarves. The subsequent abandonment at the fall of Erebor makes more sense, as does Thorin’s hatred of all elves, and Thranduils rather sudden ransom request of white gems in DoS.

After the prologue proper, which deals with Thorin and the fall of Erebor, there is a short scene at a celebration of the Old Took, where a child-Bilbo playfully attacks Gandalf with a toy sword. It is a brief scene, which yet again does a lot of work. The later scene in which Gandalf questions where the adventurous young hobbit he once knew went is clearer. It also adds wonderful new meaning to the prologue of The Desolation of Smaug, where it is evident Gandalf has a burglar in mind.

After the ‘Good Morning’ sequence, Bilbo goes to market to buy his fish for dinner. It is a great scene to see a bit more of Hobbiton, but also shows a couple things about Bilbo’s character. The way the scene is shot demonstrates the two minds of Mr. Baggins. First, there is a love or nostalgia for the Shire and a fear of being forced to leave its comfortable embrace. Secondly, there is also a sense of annoyance or boredom with the simple and mundane pleasures of hobbit life. The first is rather obvious, but at least initially, the second blooming of ‘wander-lust’ is there in the clever editing and facial acting of Martin Freeman.

Upon entering the hidden valley, Bilbo stops, and Gandalf claims he has felt the magic of Rivendel. I don’t quite like it put that way, but I found the moment intriguing. This moment is an interesting sideways reference to Vilya, Elrond’s ring. The scene is akin to the entry of Lothlorien, which makes perfect sense, as both are preserved by the power of one of the three elvish rings.

In Rivendel, there are many additional scenes, which were a mixed bag of cheap laughs, great characterization and clarified plot progression. A lot has been added to the feast at the beginning of their stay. First, Kili admires and comments on the elfmaids, noticing one attractive one, who happens to be male. It is good for a cheap laugh, but does foreshadow Kili and Tauriel’s relationship in DoS. The dinner continues with a dwarvish song and food fight. I found this completely distasteful. Yes, the dwarves are not as cultured as elves, but they are still rather stiff and proper (at least in the books). The song was somewhat of a treat, however, in that it is a reworking of Frodo’s song from the Inn of the Prancing Pony.

As Bilbo wanders around Rivendel, scenes have been reinserted which express the comfort, joy and peace he finds there. In a brief, but inexplicable, addition at the broken sword, he fixates on the Ring in Sauron’s hand. It’s interesting, but puzzling, as he would have no knowledge of it, or any ring really, at this point to know it is of any importance. Bilbo later has a conversation with Elrond, which rather beautifully portrays the friendship which would bloom between the two, Bilbo’s homesickness, and his reluctant participation in the quest.

With the dwarves bathing (which accounts for the brief nudity), we are treated to the further de-culturization of the dwarves. Thankfully, it is brief and leads directly into further great new material.

Bilbo and Thorin overhear the beginning of an extended version of the discussion between Gandalf and Elrond. This simple addition gives reason for the company’s sudden departure, which in the theatrical edition seemed rather abrupt and convenient. Here, it is seen more as a reaction to this conversation and the threat of being held back from their quest.

The White Council has also been expanded with discussion of the Rings of Power. In particular, the fate of the Seven is discussed, as well as the fate of the One. Here, we see Saruman’s emphatic assertion that it is lost forever. His recalcitrance in the entire conversation reads better with this scene, as it further indicates his own corruption. For those in the know, it may indicate Saruman’s own search is begun; it’s a tantalizing tidbit, which makes the entire Council segment feel more authentic, even with the buried witch king bit.

Upon entering the Goblin’s front gate, the dwarves check the caves. This simple gesture both foreshadows the abduction to come as well as grants a false sense of security (both for the dwarves, and the non-reading viewer).

I am unclear on how the theatrical version was cut, but it seems Bilbo here is much more visible to the goblins. He holds still, ducks down, and they pass him by. Is this to be further proof of the sneaking ability of hobbits? It felt pretty silly and implausible to me.

Though it felt largely out of place, the Goblin-King is given the goblin’s song to sing. It had me grinning ear to ear. It was delightfully humorous, while still carrying an undertone of (incompetent) menace. The entire character of this scene of the dwarves’ capture and interview is completely different. I loved it. The problem is, as stated earlier, it does not mesh as well as the other expanded scenes. Even so, here we get a sense for the difference between goblins and orcs. Goblins are described as crafty and more likely to enslave than kill. In this sense, they are not as large a threat and the silliness suits them. I do have to admit, I both winced and laughed uproariously at the “Second Age, couldn’t give it away” line, in reference to items stolen by the dwarves from Rivendel (which fact I did not like, other than it yielded this gem of humor).

In general, the bulk of the reinserted scenes are added to the prologue, Rivendel and Goblin-town. Some are throw-aways, adding cheap humor or further action, but the majority is extremely good. Barring the Goblin-king’s song (and even that segues rather well), they are seamless and beautifully integrated. Though it makes for a long movie, this is the film as it should have been. I still have significant problems with it, but some are mitigated by this edition. Forget the theatrical release. If and when I watch The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, this will be the edition I watch.