I am quite behind on doing this, but I’ve finally gotten a chance to watch all of the Extended Edition of The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies. And I can report with distinct satisfaction that it is definitely a more coherent cut of the movie than the one which was released in the theaters, which makes a clean sweep of my preferring the Extended Edition of all six of Jackson’s Middle-Earth movies.
As a general reminder my review posts for the theatrical cut are here and here, two posts since I saw it twice in the theaters. And by and large my overall opinion of the movie hasn’t changed much. So I’m going to focus instead on what the EE version brings to the table in this post.
Obviously, there are spoilers in this post for both versions of the movie, so if you haven’t seen Five Armies at all and you think you might want to, you might want to hold off reading this until then. Spoilers behind the fold!
I’m not going to call out scene-by-scene changes between the theatrical cut and the EE–that’s been done already. If you’d like to see that list, you can find one on this thread on Reddit.
I’ll talk instead about the biggest and most obvious changes for me and how they improved my experience with the movie.
The Assault on Dol Guldur
I was hugely delighted to see the extended bit with Gandalf and the orc trying to torture him–not because OH SHIT POOR GANDALF, but more because we get to see Narya, finally. It’s not obvious anywhere in the rest of the Jackson movies, but Gandalf is canonically one of the bearers of the three Elven Rings. He has Narya, the Ring of Fire. Dara asked me about this last night and why Gandalf, who’s not an elf, gets to have one of these rings. It was given to him by Cirdan, the same shipwright who built the Grey Havens that you see at the end of The Return of the King. Cirdan gave Narya to Gandalf since he realized that Gandalf was one of the Maiar–essentially a demi-god–and that Narya would aid him in his mission in Middle-Earth.
This means that we get to see all three Elven Rings in this version of the film–because we also see Galadriel invoking Nenya, the Ring of Adamant, and Elrond with Vilya, the Ring of Air.
Also, let’s just talk about the extra footage with Galadriel because FUCK YES. Seeing Galadriel come into the scene all “I CAME FOR MITHRANDIR AND I AM LEAVING WITH HIM GET OUT OF MY WAY OR I WILL DESTROY YOU” was what I wanted out of that entire sequence to begin with.
And then she obliterates the orc. FUCK YES. 😀
Also a brief but highly effective extra shot: Galadriel urging Gandalf to let Radagast bear him away, and her specifically staying behind. Her last word to Gandalf is “GO”, and as she turns her head, she’s got the beginnings of Scary Galadriel Mode coming over her face. Which changes the whole flavor of her lying there in a heap. All at once she’s not just lying there because OHNOEZ I AM HELPLESS. She’s lying there because her power is charging up and she has to brace herself to let it come through. That played for me way better in this version of the film.
The Fate of Alfrid Lickspittle
I wrote in my earlier reviews of the movie that of the various issues I’ve got with this trilogy, the character of Alfrid, the Lake-town Master’s toady, is the biggest. I have less of an issue with him being a non-canon addition to the film–because I have no quibble with that as a concept, since I’ve also written about how I’m a Tauriel advocate–and more with how he’s just so thoroughly wretched a character.
When Dara and I talked about this last night, Dara told me that he’s essentially a bog-standard henchman type, and that’s exactly right. He’s self-serving, cowardly, vicious, and petty. He has no interesting characteristics to offset his baser qualities and which might justify his ongoing presence in the plot. He has no redemption arc. He’s just there to be annoying, and in every single frame he had on camera, I kept wanting him to get diced.
The Extended Edition of Five Armies granted my wish. But oddly enough, I’m of two minds about it! Because here’s the thing: Alfrid’s death scene was also supremely stupid. He’s killed by a single gold coin triggering a catapult which jams him down the throat of a very startled war troll, who then promptly chokes on him.
It doesn’t help either that during this sequence, we see Gandalf being the least effective he ever is anywhere in all six of the Middle-Earth movies, as he struggles to use Radagast’s wonky staff correctly.
So I’m willing to forgive this trilogy and this movie in particular a lot of sins for the EE actually killing Alfrid off. I just wish it could have done it in a less stupid fashion. Happily, though, that’s about the only real quibble I’ve got with this version of the film.
Bilbo Sneaking Off the Ramparts
There’s a nice little extra exchange between Bilbo and Bofur, as the latter catches him about to sneak off to give the Arkenstone to Bard and Thranduil. Bofur clearly knows that Bilbo’s up to something and is all “somebody couldn’t be blamed for wanting to sneak off in a situation that sucks as much as this one does”. But he’s not confrontational about it, either–he’s very much along the lines of “I totally know what you’re up to and it’s okay, I’ve got your back. I gotta go get Bombur for his turn at the watch now EVER SO CONVENIENTLY.”
Which really makes me wonder if Bofur actually is supposed to have figured out that Bilbo had swiped the Arkenstone?
Because I also realized, after this viewing of the movie, that this was an interesting scene to have to compare against the other time Bofur catches Bilbo sneaking out–back in An Unexpected Journey. Only at that point, Bilbo’s sneaking out because he’s trying to bail and go back to the Shire. This time, he’s trying to stop the outbreak of war. It’s really neat narrative symmetry, and in my headcanon, Bofur totally realizes that because Bofur is awesome. <3
Thranduil Brings the Snark
There are a few extra lines in the standoff between Thorin, Bard, and Thranduil, and I particularly like Thranduil’s suggestion to Bard that he sell the Arkenstone to Echthelion of Gondor.
Echthelion, of course, is the father of Denethor who we see in The Lord of the Rings.
But me, I’m just snickering at that exchange in general. That’s some Sarek-of-Vulcan-level snark Thranduil’s got going on there.
All the Fighty-Fighty-Fighty
Most of this movie is still given over to fighting. But as I called out in my previous posts, one of the issues I had with the theatrical cut was that there was nothing in that version of the story to help balance that fighting and make it somewhat less of a slog to get through.
The EE version of the story does improve matters considerably. Dara told me that it made the fighting actually make more strategic sense to her, whereas for me, several moments of levity helped counterbalance the non-stop violence. Mind you, there is more graphic violence on-screen in this version, which is rated R. So if you have any sensitivity to graphic violence, be mindful of that.
But that brings me to the next big thing I liked.
Extra Character Moments With Many More of the Dwarves
Once Thorin and his Company finally charge out into battle, we not only get the rallying of Dain’s army, we also get several very welcome scenes in which a lot of the supporting dwarf characters get their moments to shine. I was very, very happy to see those–because after all, this whole company of dwarves are the characters we’ve been following this entire adventure, and they’re the dwarves I care about. Dain’s army is neat to look at and all (WAR PIGS! WAR GOATS!), but Thorin’s Company are the heroes here.
So it was very awesome to get to see Bombur being effective in battle by body-checking an orc, and a bit of fun with the same axe being flung from dwarf to dwarf as they took down their enemies.
Thorin, Fili, Kili, and Dwalin heading up to Ravenhill gets more setup that makes that whole excursion more sensible–because in the EE version, they go on one of Dain’s war chariots, and Balin comes with them. Which means Balin gets extra screen time and I approve of that wholeheartedly. Even if I had to start singing DASHING THROUGH THE WAR IN AN EIGHT-GOAT OPEN SLEIGH. XD
And Balin having to sacrifice the chariot and stay behind leads to the original four dwarves continuing the trek up Ravenhill, which gets us back to what we see in the theatrical cut.
But then we also get another great scene with the supporting dwarves–in which, notably, the axe is finally pulled out of Bifur’s skull and he gets to talk! \0/ Yay, Bifur!
The Funeral and Coronation
Last but not least, we get on-camera shots of Thorin, Kili, and Fili being laid to rest within the Mountain, particularly Thorin with the Arkenstone. And we get to see the surviving dwarves and Bilbo reacting to their loss. Which, guh. Wrenching. Particularly when Bilbo starts to cry.
But I really think that that scene needed to be there, because again–these are the characters we’ve been following through this whole story. So it’s necessary for us to see them grieving for the loss of some of their own. It helps lend the end of the film some needed gravitas.
The (brief) shot of Dain being crowned King Under the Mountain, also good, though not as dramatically necessary IMHO.
All in All
I still totally accept that for some folks, the Hobbit trilogy of movies in general just aren’t fun. If you’re one of those folks, you’re probably not going to like either version of Five Armies, and that’s okay. It is still in my opinion the weakest of the three films.
But for me, the EE improves the last third of the story significantly. And now that I’ve seen all three of the EE versions of the Hobbit films, I’m well and solidly happy to give the overall trilogy a B+. The Lord of the Rings is still the far superior trilogy–but a B+ out of Jackson is still pretty damned awesome.
Try to ignore the stupid death for Alfrid (while being pleased that yes, the jackass did in fact get killed off), and take heart with all the extra mileage of Galadriel and the dwarves being awesome. Because yeah, this version of the film is totally worth your time.
And for the record? Billy Boyd’s song over the credits is still beautiful. <3