Editor’s Notes: The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, Extended Edition and The Apu Trilogy are out on their respective formats November 17th.
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, Extended Edition
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, Extended Edition (Warner Home Video), Peter Jackson’s third and final installment of The Hobbit series, returns to J.R.R. Tolkien’s fantastic world of dwarves, wizards, and monsters. The flying dragon Smaug (voice of Benedict Cumberbatch) was rampaging at the end of Part 2. With little re-cap, this next part launches into several plot lines, so if you haven’t seen the earlier films, you might find yourself lost. The Battle of the Five Armies is overstuffed with plot.
Heroic dwarf leader Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Ermitage) covets the massive store of gold in the Gothic Slumber Section of the Lonely Mountain of Erebor, and is determined to hold off four armies in order to keep it. What he most desires is the Arkenstone of Thrain, the Lonely Mountain’s magical gem. But there is also the Ring of Sauron, the entity that dispenses all knowledge and grants the wearer invisibility. The downside to possessing it: the wearer will be driven mad. Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), without realizing it, has both the Arkenstone and the Ring in his pocket, and all he wants is to get back to his cottage. Gandalf (Ian McKellen) and pointy-eared archer Legolas (Orlando Bloom) are on hand from earlier installments, along with other characters.
The second half of the movie is devoted to a huge battle comprised of computer-generated images and close-ups of the main characters engaged in hand-to-hand combat. By allowing the battle to go on endlessly, Director Jackson diminishes its overall impact. At 144 minutes, the movie is bloated. The original novel is a mere 300 pages. If the three long feature films were re-edited, there could be a single decent film adaptation. Tolkien fans might be happy with this extended version, but other filmgoers will probably have to struggle through the picture’s padding.
The 3-disc 3D Blu-ray Extended Edition contains three versions: 3D Blu-ray, standard Blu-ray, and DVD. There are 20 minutes of new and extended scenes and over 9 hours of bonus features, including commentary with Peter Jackson and other filmmakers, and several behind-the-scenes featurettes chronicling the making of The Battle of the Five Armies.
The Apu Trilogy
The Apu Trilogy (The Criterion Collection), directed by Satyajit Ray, brought India into the golden age of international art-house film. The three films follow one character, a free-spirited child in rural Bengal who matures into an adolescent urban student and finally a sensitive man of the world. The films — Panther Panchali (Song of the Little Road), Aparajito (The Unvanquished), and Apur Sansar (The World of Apu) — were based on two books by Bibhutibhushan Banerjee and shot over the course of five years, from 1955 to 1959.
In Panther Panchali, we meet the family of Apu (Subir Banerjee) before he is born. His sister has a habit of stealing fruit from the neighbor’s orchards. Her mother scolds her but knows they need the food, and an elderly aunt sneaks what little food they do have. His father is a local priest and aspiring novelist, but not much of a provider. Yet he is ever optimistic, convinced that the family’s fortunes will improve. Apu is born and by the end of the film, his life and family change in many ways, some tragic.
In Aparajito, Apu (Pinaki Sengupta and Smaran Ghosal) and his parents have moved to a city, where the father works as a storyteller. Apu wants to go to school, but it is too costly. However, when he scores very well on his entrance exam, he’s offered a scholarship and has to move away to school.
Apu Sansar finds Apu (Soumitra Chatterjee) a grown man working on a novel. He survives day to day, frequently late with the rent, but has inherited his father’s optimism.
Taken together, the films comprise an epic. Though the subject is poor and on the surface not extraordinary, the concentration on Apu’s development makes the trilogy captivating. In a sense, it foreshadows An American Family, PBS’s 1973 close-up look at the Loud family and Richard Linklater’s Boyhood (2014), which was filmed over a 12-year period. The Apu Trilogy films are beautifully shot in black and white by Subrata Mitra. Director Ray hired an amateur cast and crew on a meager budget, using his personal savings. The three films went on to win several national and international awards and are often considered among the greatest of all time. All three movies are in Bengali, with English subtitles.
The 3-disc Blu-ray edition is a reconstructed new restoration (the film’s original negatives were burned in a fire). Bonus features include 1958 audio recordings of director Satyajit Ray reading his essay “A Long Time on the Little Road” and in conversation with film historian Gideon Bachmann; new interviews with actors Sumatra Chatterjee, Shampa Srivastava, and Sharmila Tagore; making-of featurette; “Satyajit Ray’s Epic Debut,” a new video essay by Ray biographer Andrew Robinson; a selection of Ray’s storyboards for Panther Panchali; and footage of Ray receiving an honorary Oscar in 1992.