The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey Blu-ray Review
I don’t know about you, but I was one of the thousands (millions?) of Tolkien fans who followed every bit of the ‘action’ as THE HOBBIT went from pre-production to stalled, picked up directors and dropped them like flies, and eventually landed back on the front step of the masters of Middle Earth, Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh. This duo won an Oscar for LORD OF THE RINGS: RETURN OF THE KING (probably more deserving for the entire trilogy than for that film in particular), and they have once again lovingly crafted the world of hobbits, dwarves, elves, trolls, orcs, and men in a way that captures your imagination.
THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY is full of surprises for all but the most hardcore of Tolkien fans. Jackson and Walsh cultivate material from numerous sources, including Tolkien’s notes, to add backstory that ties THE HOBBIT TRILOGY more deeply to THE LORD OF THE RINGS TRILOGY while also providing additional history to the world. Why, I have wondered along with many critics and fans, did they take a book shorter than any of the three the original books on which the LORD OF THE RINGS TRILOGY were based and created another trilogy? What in the world could they add to the story that would be worthy of that much screen time? Sadly, it’s a bit of a mixed bag, as many of the action scenes are expository and just don’t have the ‘balanced on the edge of a knife’ feel from THE LORD OF THE RINGS.
The story begins with some expository action, including a quick peak at the dragon Smaug, who has claimed the seat of the dwarves and plundered their treasures. Soon we are back in the Shire, though, with an ordinary hobbit, Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman of the under-rated HITCHHIKER’S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY film), as he is greeted by a seemingly kindly grey wizard. Yes, the return of Gandalf the Grey (Sir Ian McKellen, reprising his role seen too briefly in THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING before becoming Gandalf the White for the remainder of the trilogy). Bilbo is quite content in the Shire, quietly living out his days in peace. But when dwarves begin arriving at his door, and Gandalf returns, he learns he has been chosen for a greater purpose – to help them reclaim their home in Erebor.
Bilbo’s metamorphosis in the film, the beautiful world of Middle Earth, and the fantastic performances of the three leads (including the two previously mentioned and the sadly under-utilized-by-Hollywood Richard Armitage as Thorin Oakenshield, the leader of our troop) and the supporting cast are the gems of THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY. The action, while sometimes slow and plodding, takes us across Middle Earth and sets the stage for the upcoming trilogy. Armitage carries the chip on Oakenshield’s shoulder with solemn pride, and delivers a performance that rivals those in the great dramas that usually reserve the majority of the Academy Awards. And don’t forget about Andy Serkis, once again as the creature Gollum, who provides some of the most emotional and incredible scenes in the film. I could write a thousand words about the incredible talent of that man… but I won’t. He’s amazing. That’s it.
So, is THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY a great film? No. But it is a very good film and would probably have faired better if it didn’t have to live up to the hype of THE LORD OF THE RINGS TRILOGY. The truth is The Hobbit was a children’s book, and I recall my father reading to my sister and I before bed when we were young. And while it is different in tone and story from The Lord of the Rings, it’s still a strong story on its own. I’m not a purist, and I hope the exposition of THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY pays dividends in the rest of the trilogy, but it simply wasn’t necessary. Enjoy the trip back to Middle Earth but don’t expect the same drama and high fantasy. As good as it is, it just doesn’t ever meet the standards set by the prior films.
Video: (1080p, 2.4:1 Widescreen) Some people complained about the frame-rate. Others about the 3D. I saw the 3D in theaters, regardless of your feelings for 3D this 2D blu-ray conversion is as beautiful and breathtaking as the source. I didn’t notice any issues with the frame rate – and honestly, who wants to think about that during a movie. Just sit back and enjoy.
Audio: (English DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1) The sound is absolutely phenomenal, with ebbs and flows that will immerse you in the world of THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY.
New Zealand: Home of Middle Earth (06:35) Cast and crew describe the beauty of New Zealand and the beautiful locations featured in THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY. Rivaling the beauty of the LORD OF THE RINGS TRILOGY, the diverse natural features of New Zealand look amazing. This special feature contains standard interviews with cast and crew.
Video Blogs (02:07:07) Featuring a Play-All option (which I love), THE HOBBIT: THE UNEXPECTED JOURNEY Blu-ray features 10 video blogs previously available on the web, now for your collected viewing pleasure. This is the vast wealth of the ‘making-of’ features on the disc, and they are stunning. Both for the hardcore fan and anyone who wants to see how a movie of this scale is done. The Video Blogs start shortly before shooting and finish with the premiere, documenting the incredible production work done to bring Middle Earth to life. I can’t say enough about these blogs. Thank you Peter Jackson and your team, for this incredible treasure-trove of material.
The Blu-ray of THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY also features 6 variations on the Theatrical Trailers totaling (16:16), for your enjoyment; as well as trailers for three Middle Earth inspired video games totaling another (02:05). A little bit disappointing in terms of numbers, this Blu-ray still delivers on time and love for the source material.