The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey – Extended Edition Blu-ray Review
With the great success of Peter Jackson’s THE LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy, both critically and financially, there was no doubt that the earlier stories of author J.R.R. Tolkein, most notably “The Hobbit,” would eventually find themselves on the big screen. But would it be wise to follow-up the most popular trilogy in film history? Nominated for an amazing 30 Academy Awards, with 17 wins (this was helped mostly by the fact that the third film, THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE RETURN OF THE KING was honored with 11 Oscars, winning an award in every category it was nominated in), would it be wise to mess with success. In a word: Yes. After some hand wringing over the rights to make the film, Jackson and company signed on for another trilogy based on “The Hobbit,” with the first chapter, subtitled AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY, coming out this time last year. With chapter two, subtitled THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG, heading to your local cinemas on or around December 13, 2013, the time has come for the release of an extended version of AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY on Blu-ray. And when you’re putting out an extended version of a film that already clocks in at close to three hours you’re really saying something.
We are given a quick introduction to Bilbo Baggins (Ian Holm) as an old man. He is going through his chests and reminiscing about the past when he comes across an item that stirs something in his memory. Taking pen to paper he begins to tell an incredible tale with him as the central character. Also included in the story are a horrible dragon, a kindly wizard and thirteen dwarves searching for their home. We soon meet young Bilbo (Freeman) and watch him interact with said wizard, Gandalf (McKellen) and aforementioned dwarves as they begin a journey that will introduce them to a world of unusual creatures, fire breathing dragons and a little bald guy who keeps going on and on about his “precious.”
Working from a script by long time collaborators Jackson, Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens, with an assist from filmmaker Guillermo del Toro, who was originally slated to direct, AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY flawlessly picks up the magic and excitement from the previous trilogy without missing a beat. Thanks to the skills of Jackson’s special effects group, WETA, you are able to lose yourself in a world where dwarves, dragons and nasty Orcs seem commonplace. At no time do you find yourself thinking “how did they do that” because “that” seems so natural. If Jackson is only remembered for one thing in his career it will surely be the quality of visual effects he has brought to the screen. I would put them up against anything James Cameron did in AVATAR.
This extended version has an additional 14 minutes of footage. Is it necessary? Yes and no. I know my only quibble with the film when it was first released in theatres was that sometimes the action on the screen was too “busy” – meaning that Jackson had decided to put everything, including the kitchen sink, on screen and sometimes these additional items drew your attention away from the main action on screen. The same goes here. But, that being said, they action flows fine and you don’t really notice the films’ length, which is always a positive with a three hour film. If you didn’t get this on Blu-ray when it came out in March I urge you to get it now, if only for the chance to hear the filmmaker’s commentary, which is a virtual class on how to make a movie. Enjoy.
Video: You would expect nothing but perfection from Peter Jackson and that is exactly what you get here. This three disc set wisely includes the full film on one disc, presenting it in a 2.40:1 aspect ratio in a stunning 1080p presentation. The colors are bright, the mountains are dark and you can count every hair on the beard of every dwarf.
Audio: This set comes with three audio soundtracks. The English version is presented in DTS HD Master Audio 7.1, while the French and Portuguese versions are in Dolby Digital 5.1. Like the visual quality, the audio is outstanding. You can hear every whisper, every footstep and every beat of dragon wings with no distortion.
As noted above, this is a three-disc set and nothing has been spared in making this an all encompassing look at the film. At over nine hours in length, not a beat is missed in documenting the making of the film.
DISC 1 (which contains the main feature)
Audio Commentary: Director/co-writer Peter Jackson and fellow co-writer Philippa Boyens spare nothing in recounting the tales involved in the making of the film. Towards the end Jackson points out that it’s odd to be doing this commentary when he’s still working on getting the next film ready for release. He also recounts how he was unhappy with the final shot in the film (the dragon, Smaug, is covered in gold) because he didn’t feel the gold cascaded off the beast properly. He also notes that the shot was completed the night before the film premiered so he had to take what he had.
New Zealand: Home to Middle-Earth (6:54): A look at the location sites used for the film. If you’re so inclined you can actually tour the “Shire” and visit Bilbo Baggins home.
DISC 2– The Appendices Part 7: A Long Expected Journey
Introduction by Peter Jackson (1:54): A quick hello from Peter Jackson with a surprise peek at what fans may find on the Extended release of “The Desolation of Smaug” Blu-ray.
The Journey Back to Middle-Earth (48:19): A nice featurette dealing with the pre-production of the film, including scouting locales, designing make up and costumes and a visit to Dwarves boot camp.
Riddles in the Dark (17:01): A fun bit with director Jackson, Martin Freeman and the great Andy Serkis, who portrays Gollum, as they run through the “Riddles in the Dark” sequence as if they were performing it on stage.
An Unexpected Party (25:28): An introduction to the new motion capture technology used to film the dwarves as they visit Bag End.
Roast Mutton (17:12): Unhappy with a scene, Jackson and his crew pretty much re-start at the beginning.
Bastion of the Greenwood (10:40): A featurette featuring Sylvester McCoy, who plays Radagast, and his stunt double Tim Wong and how they bring the character to the screen.
A Short Rest (29:12): With time off from filming, this short follows cast members Cate Blanchett, McKellen and Hugo Weaving as they relax during rehearsals and behind the scenes necessities. Also featured are Holm, Elijah Wood and Christopher Lee as they prepare for another “Lord of the Rings” get-together.
Over Hill (13:40): An in-depth look at the filming of one of the more dangerous sequences in the film.
Under Hill (19:14): This featurette shadows Jackson as he assembles the various performances and special effects that make up the scene where the Goblin King takes the throne.
Out of the Frying Pan (16:07): The film’s final battle, between the Dwarves and the Orcs, is detailed from page to filming.
Return to Hobbiton (18:35): A nice who’s who for fans of the film series as Jackson hosts visitors on-set after filming Gandalf’s first meeting with Bilbo.
The Epic of Scene 88 (8:28): Shown are the difficulties of filming a single scene with multiple locations.
The Battle of Moria (10:57): Filming the battle that serves as a prologue for the new film.
Edge of the Wilderland (22:37): Follows the crew as they shoot “pick up” shots through the New Zealand wilderness.
Home is Behind, the World Ahead (11:40): Director Jackson and film editor Jabez Olsen begin assembling the film while supervising the visual effects. Also shown are little bits of the upcoming sequel.
DISC 3: The Appendices Part 8: Return to Middle-Earth
The Company of Thorin (1:02:40): A in-depth look at the five Dwarve families featured in the film and the insights of the actors chosen to portray them.
Mr. Baggins: The 14th Member (16:12): Martin Freeman takes viewers inside the creation of Bilbo Baggins, from conception to on-screen.
Durin’s Folk: Creating the Dwarves (57:25): A wonderfully filmed look at the creation of the main characters of the film.
The People and Denizens of Middle-Earth (58:09): Focuses on the secondary characters and creatures featured in the film.
Realms of the Third Age: From Bag End to Goblin Town (59:00): As in-depth as its predecessor, this featurette looks at the creation of such locations as Rhosgobel, Rivendell and Goblin Town.
The Songs of “The Hobbit” (32:32): A look into the adaptation of various J.R.R. Tolkien songs for use in the film.