botfa dvd artIn the USA, from March 24th, the last in Peter Jackson’s Middle-earth movies will be available for you to take home. (It’s been available in digital version in many countries since March 3rd; but from Tuesday you can get your hands on a ‘hard’ copy.)

Many fans, of course, like to wait for the Extended Edition release before purchasing a copy; but speaking personally, my collection isn’t complete unless I have the theatrical cut as well. I was thrilled to get my hands on a review copy of the Blu-ray Combo pack, which includes copies of the movie on Blu-ray, on DVD and a Digital HD copy – as well as various extras.

Let’s talk first about the picture quality of the film. I watched the Blu-ray version, and marvelled again at the beauty of home video these days. Every detail of that stunning Lake-town set, and that incredible, terrifying dragon, was clear to see. (Even some of the details we perhaps don’t want to see – such as the too obviously repeated figures in the various armies – stood out!) Moments in the extras, where clips from The Lord of the Rings trilogy are juxtaposed with parts of The Hobbit films, showed just how very far home video release has come in a decade. This is a beautiful film, and well worth seeing in such gorgeous definition.

By now, though, you’ve seen the movie, and you know what parts you do or don’t like! (I’m still baffled by ‘Japanese horror movie’ Galadriel, and can’t help wondering if she’s just there by way of a ‘nose-thumbing’ to all the fans who hated ‘nuclear Galadriel’….!) Suffice to say, the film looks stunning and has all the ups and downs it had on the big screen. Let’s move on to talk about the EXTRAS in this Combo pack.

The included special features are not extensive – there is nothing of the length and depth which we find on the Extended Edition home video releases – but they are interesting, charming and insightful; worthy ‘gems’ to be enjoyed by fans.

The disk with the movie also includes ‘New Zealand: Home of Middle-earth, Part 3’. This is an attractive vignette which stands (as Martin Freeman points out!) as a wonderful advertisement for New Zealand tourism, highlighting that amazing scenery we’ve all come to know and love.

On a separate disk, we get the further special features. ‘Recruiting the Five Armies’ is all about the hordes of extras (of the human, rather than DVD, kind!) who were such a vital part of these films. It’s a delightful behind-the-scenes look at a typical ‘day in the life’ of an extra – and of the fans who were so thrilled to have even a moment of screen time. It’s a very fun short film – and it was great to see Tami Lane, the fabulous make-up artist who joined us at The One Last Party!

botfa dvd backFans of Billy Boyd’s song ‘The Last Goodbye’ will be very happy; not only is the music video included in the extras, but there is also a ‘Behind the Scenes’ film about the song, which gives fascinating insight into its composition. The filmmakers were eager to have a piece which could serve as a bridge, leading us from The Hobbit to The Lord of the Rings trilogy, but which would also be a final farewell to all six films. They knew they wanted the words of the song to be Bilbo’s voice, and they therefore wanted instrumentation which would give an appropriate Shire/celtic sound. All that having been decided, and with his singing of ‘Home is behind’ having been used in the first trailer for The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, Boyd was the obvious choice to create this final ode.  It’s very fun to have this behind the scenes look at the recording sessions; Boyd comments that the song is for the fans, and is a farewell to them.

‘Completing Middle-earth’ goes into interesting details about how Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens wanted to create six movies which would tell ‘one grand story’. This wasn’t, of course, the plan right from the start (back in they days when they were even thinking just two Lord of the Rings movies!) In this extra, however, they are very clear about how they wanted to weave into The Hobbit films moments which will then pay off in The Lord of the Rings.  For example, in their telling of the story, they are specific that it is Sauron who instigates the Battle of the Five Armies (which of course is not true in the book); Boyens talks of turning this battle into a ‘pivotal moment’ in the entire history of Middle-earth, making it the first move in the War of the Ring.

Personally I don’t see the need to change the motivations behind the battle at the end of The Hobbit, but I do enjoy how these six films play out as a set – I can’t wait for the first occasion when I have time for a six movie marathon viewing! For me, the most enjoyable part of the extras was seeing clips from both trilogies side by side – it is a great pleasure finally to be able to see the films as a complete sextet. (It was also very fun to see popping up in the ‘Completing Middle-earth’ short – clips from TORn’s Return of the One Party were used, and in the credits TORn’s own MrCere (Larry Curtis) is listed as the photographer behind some of the stills used.)

Peter Jackson says, very specifically, that though they went there AND back again, there will not be a third time. (Of course he famously said ‘never again’ after they completed The Lord of the Rings trilogy…) This, then, seems to be the final part of Peter Jackson’s Middle-earth; though we do, of course, still have the Extended Edition of this final movie to which to look forward, so it isn’t all over quite yet.

In the meantime, in one of the special features, Ian McKellen says, ‘That was a journey worth going on.’  If, like me, you like to treasure every little part of that journey, then this The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies home video release is an absolute must-have.

[Buy the three disc ‘combo pack’ here.  Two disc (DVD, extras and Ultraviolet version) available here. If you just want a digital download of the film, you can buy that here.

Amazon also has box sets of the complete Hobbit trilogy available: click here for the 9 disc Blu-ray version. Click here for the 3 disc DVD version.]

UPDATE: WB sent us this EXCLUSIVE infographic – just in case you need a quick refresher on parts one and two before you sit down to watch your DVD or Blu-ray of The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies: