Battle of the compression codec
Yes, it’s too long. No, it did not need to be three movies. But, The Hobbit is no less fun. Bilbo may be almost a side character in this final chapter yet this allows for a wide range of action, battles, and fantasy wartime craziness. In terms of (bloated) escapism, few do it better than Peter Jackson and this plucky finale proves it yet again.
Read our theatrical review of The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies for more.
This is an unquestionably digital production. The signs are everywhere, not only for the masses of special effects, but the post-production tinkering as well. Five Armies is heavy on bloom. If it’s bright, it blooms; that’s the rule. At least it’s consistent and the effect adds a perceived layer of further fantasy over each shot. Color grading favors a now tired orange and blue palette, more so in the first half. Locations vary things as the story moves forward.
And still, that’s not it. Five Armies appears artificial and glossy. That’s the digital stamp. Signs of sharpening are evident. Faces are smeared, some with intent (Blanchett), others not. Epic pans across landscapes are soured, holding to the needed definition but doing so rigidly. It’s never natural.
Is Warner’s encode an issue? Maybe, or likely. This would not be the first questionable Hobbit on Blu-ray, and bitrates are often dipping lower than they arguably should be – again. There is a slew of space left unused. Muddy fine detail is an irritant, far too common to be excusable. Facial clarity is noted but unclean. The second go-round for this compressed look is equally as irritating as the first. The same complaints apply. Purity. That is what’s missing.
Other intangibles are fine. Black levels are precise and shadow details are great. Imagery is noise free. When it comes together, the spectacle is intact and resolution is firm. Yet, the satisfaction is still missing considering where the fault lies.
Open with a dragon spitting fire onto a town in ripe 7.1 and chances are the movie in question will do okay sonically. No surprises here. Smaug unleashes his fury with vibrant LFE and his flame breath does well as it pans across the soundstage. His voice – or Benedict Cumberbatch’s rather – rattles the sub. He feels enormous in scale.
This energy dips a bit afterward. There is a story to tell, after all. Space is sold via echoing voices inside of the mountain. Thorin’s conscious makes an especially vivid spinning trek through the channels late. Marching armies take up positions with footsteps hammering the sub in unison. They pass through each channel with grace.
Then it’s war for over an hour.
Swords clash, people/elves/dwarves/orcs scream. Chaos ensues. Nothing is restricted. Trolls bash through walls and dwarves break ribs with thundering hammers. Better still, the tracking of the action is stupendous. Pick any moment, although an orc spinning a heavy chain while isolated on a block of ice is more than enough to sell this track’s ability to entertain. Stereos and surrounds work in tandem without fault.
The first disc houses New Zealand: Home of Middle Earth, the third in a series of these featurettes which began, of course, with the first Hobbit.
Disc two is pretty much a waste of an entire disc. Given the space left on the first, much of this could have fit there. But hey, marketing, right? Recruiting the Five Armies is a fun look at being an extra in one of these movies, running 11:39. Completing Middle Earth splits into two parts for 20 total minutes, pointing out all of the connecting story threads and how they’re fed into the different Peter Jackson sagas. The Last Goodbye details the songwriting process and the resulting music video which serves as the send-off (15:39 in all). That’s it, outside of some trailers. A little over 45-minutes when added up, even less than Smaug. This has “wait for a special edition” written on the cover, it’s just hidden. Really (not really, but it should).
Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.
Click on the images below for full resolution screen captures taken directly from the Blu-ray. Images have not been altered in any way during the process.