On Eagle’s Wings

Laketown’s leader fills his boat with gold as he tries to escape Smaug’s attack on his own citizens. He shoves people overboard when the weight it too great, rather than the gold. Not long after, he dies. So does Smaug. And, eventually, an entire orc army, all for the same cause.

Through Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit films (Tolkien’s books too, of course), the constant is greed and power undoing all that is right. Battle of Five Armies masterfully connects this allegory, turning Hobbit’s hero dwarf Thorin (Richard Armitage) into a blinded fool as he towers over his wealth. Outside, elves want their promised cut. Soon, the two sides will war, but being heroes, they choose instead to fight alongside one another.

Battle of Five Armies masterfully connects this allegory

This is the shortest Hobbit movie. That’s not why it’s the best of the three, although that helps. It only takes 20-minutes to wrap Desolation of Smaug’s story, and from there, Battle of Five Armies contains itself primarily to one location. There’s more focus on character, narrative, and arcs instead of effects, places, or things. Thorin’s turn toward selfishness is played as a curse because that’s how fantasy works, yet his allure toward a golden kingdom bases itself in any reality. His blind ignorance blocks Thorin from seeing anything other than himself, or the mass of riches, more than anyone could spend in a lifetime. Wealth changes anyone.

Battle of Five Armies spends the final hour – nearly all of it – on action. Suitably, it’s an epic, grandly scale war, and sprinkled throughout, the trilogy settles remaining storylines; this isn’t all for show. There’s meaningful progress on the battlefields. Decisions matter. While Bilbo and Gandalf knowingly make it out alive, others might not. Tension is genuine.

After the city is breached, Bard (Luke Evans) orders a lackey to evacuate the women and children, because fighting is for men. In defiance of that trope, a scene later shows elderly woman taking up arms and rushing toward the scrum. Excellent – except those woman never appear again. Close, but not quite there yet. It’s a rare gaffe in an otherwise sightly climax, both to The Hobbit and Jackson’s fantasy saga. Bilbo (Martin Freeman) is more casual observer, but his few remarks, retorts, and sarcastic jabs resonate. It fits with Gandalf’s (Ian McKellan) words in a previous film, about how the small things matter the most. For all the swords and shields, it’s Bilbo’s careful involvement that calms the disputes, pulls warring sides together, and wins the day.

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies


Smaug burns an entire city as Battle of the Five Armies opens, sending brilliant flames across the screen and taking full advantage of Dolby Vision’s potential. Contrasted by Smaug’s dark hide, the images stretch the format’s limits in the best way. Separation between light and dark is impeccable, best-in-class stuff for a trilogy already stellar in its HDR.

The rest still falls to the digital limitations at the source, imagery messy and coarse, lacking a more organic purity. Visual effects tend to worsen things, leading to ringing. Medium and wide shots suffer worst, begging for better resolution than an upscale can give. Sagging definition leaves not only the edginess, but smeary, waxy surfaces too. Flickering fine lines or glittery costumes drawn further ire, especially Thranduil’s cloak/crown. Warner’s encode doesn’t add to the problems at least. It’s clear and clean.

Slightly brighter in palette, warmth persists, but allowing more room against the snow-draped scenery for other primaries. That’s evident immediately past the opening attack, where a hot sun brings out variances in costumes. Even into the dwarven city, blues, teals, and gold collect to stretch the palette, gorgeously refined by this format.


Again, the intro action stands as reference material, faultlessly blending mammoth low-end from Smaug’s wings and flames, alongside the wide, dazzling soundstage. Heights and overheads see constant use, sweeping to the rears or stereos wherever possible. Already a worthy affair on Blu-ray, the remaster betters each element.

The rest performs equally well, in sync with other Lord of the Rings or Hobbit efforts. Marching orcs tear up the low-end through force. Arrow assaults send infinite objects between channels. Wizards send spells capable of rattling walls. Swords clash in enough places to convince a listener they’re in the middle of the fight. Giant worms crumble a mountain. There’s not a disappointment anywhere in this track.


Extended and theatrical cuts on separate discs, but that’s all.

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.

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies
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Battle of the Five Armies finds purpose and settles storylines amid a gargantuan battle, plus offers a reasonable runtime.

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The following six screen shots serve as samples for our subscription-exclusive set of 71 full resolution uncompressed 4K screen shots grabbed directly from the UHD:

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