The Battle of the Five Armies R-Rated Cut Explains A Lot
The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power is arriving shortly, making now a great time to look back on one of the weaker entries into the Middle earth saga. Turning J.R.R. Tolkien’s classic children’s novel into an epic film trilogy was never going to be an easy feat. Although it is a prequel to The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit is not an “epic” in the same sense, nor is it a particularly dense piece of literature. Ironically enough, a 1977 animated film managed to translate the story fairly accurately in less than 90 minutes. That’s a far cry from the nearly ten-hour epic that Peter Jackson delivered.
As detailed in the extensive behind-the-scenes footage on The Hobbit trilogy’s Blu-Ray release, the production was beset with challenges from the very beginning. Guillermo del Toro was developing the project for two years, but delays ultimately forced him to abstain from directorial duties. Jackson was forced to return to Middle Earth without time to prepare and begin shooting before the films could be mapped out. On top of the rushed nature of the production, Jackson wasn’t able to use as many practical effects as he wanted. He was also forced to include a love triangle between Legolas (Orlando Bloom), Tauriel (Evangeline Lily), and the Dwarf Kili (Aidan Turner).
The Third Movie We Didn’t Really Need
As a result of the botched production schedule, The Hobbit was turned from a two-part storyline into a trilogy shortly before the release of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey in December 2012. This decision ended up benefiting the first two installments; An Unexpected Journey mirrors the story of The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, and The Desolation of Smaug functions as a darker, more epic sequel. Unfortunately, this didn’t leave the third installment with much of a story to tell. The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies is essentially a 140-minute battle that’s desperately trying to conclude a misconceived series on an emotionally resonant note.
The Battle of the Five Armies became the lowest-grossing film within Jackson’s Middle Earth saga, and the only one to receive a “rotten” critical score on Rotten Tomatoes. Given that one of the chief criticisms of the trilogy was that it stretched out the material, some loyal Tolkien fans may not have checked out the extended version of the films. Unlike The Lord of the Rings extended editions, the extended cuts of The Hobbit films don’t add that much more story details. However, The Battle of the Five Armies is something else entirely; it’s a bonkers, crazy fantasy adventure that saw Jackson returning to his horror roots. The demented, crass take on a children’s novel earned Middle Earth its first R rating from the MPAA.
Confusing Character Arcs
Jackson’s disillusionment with the franchise was evident at this point. The Battle of the Five Armies had to conclude character arcs that weren’t established in the beginning; Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) is beset with “dragon sickness” that turns him into a power-hungry jerk, but somehow manages to overcome his issues and turn into a hero in a matter of moments. The extended version at least gives some insight into why Thorin changes in the first place. He’s been fighting to restore his homeland for nearly his entire life, but it’s Bard the Bowman (Luke Evans) who is crowned a hero for slaying Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch). Jackson allows Armitage to campily stew in the background amidst Bard’s heroism.
The R-Rated Version
One of the things that distinguished Jackson as a filmmaker early on in his career is his gleeful use of practical effects. Bad Taste and Braindead are the products of a filmmaker who is just having fun with what they can get away with. Even with all the resources at his disposal, Jackson brought back some of that energy in The Battle of the Five Armies. The extra 20 minutes of footage add extended shots detailing the different creatures that make up the “five armies.” Even if he didn’t have a story worth telling, it’s evident that Jackson still has respect for the creatures of Middle Earth.
It’s the frantic action sequence that truly pushes The Battle of the Five Armies into “splatter” territory. While the theatrical edition felt like a poor recreation of the Battle of Gondor from The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, the R-Rated cut includes some demented jokes that suggest Jackson isn’t taking anything that seriously. A chariot rides through the battle, decapitating trolls and spraying blood at the screen. When Legolas stabs Bolg to his death, Jackson includes a few extra shots that show the Orc withering in pain. There’s even a comical moment when the Dwarves literally “use their heads” to get the best of one of their pursuers.
The entire tone of the battle changes. When the Dwarves rally behind Thorin, we don’t get an epic speech like the one given to the Riders of Rohan in The Return of the King. The cries “For the King!” feel like they’ve been lifted straight out of Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Jackson even manages to apologize for one of the worst characters in the trilogy. The obnoxious deputy master of Lake-town, Alfrid Lickspittle (Ryan Gage), is gruesomely tossed to his death when he tries to hide in a catapult.
What Could Have Been
Although Jackson mostly uses the added run time to add details to the battle, there are a few instances that suggest that he may have been able to do a better job with the trilogy had he been given more time. Thorin’s funeral is an afterthought in the theatrical cut. However, the added scenes in the extended cut include some heartfelt words from both Bilbo and Gandalf. Bilbo’s shattered spirit explains why he has grown so reclusive by the time of The Fellowship of the Ring.
At the end of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Jackson was showered with praise and received numerous accolades. Return of the King won eleven Oscars (three awarded to Jackson), tying the record for most victories with Ben-Hur and Titanic. At the end of The Hobbit trilogy, Jackson admitted that he was “making it up as I went along.” He may not have delivered the epic that he intended, but Jackson managed to turn the Middle Earth saga into a ridiculous, demented splatter picture. That itself is an achievement worth celebrating.