The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug Blu-ray Review
THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY ended with Bilbo Baggins declaring with confidence, “I do believe the worst is behind us.” And then the camera swept through the land to Lonely Mountain, where the talking dragon Smaug (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch) was awakened. Cue the end credits. And with that, audiences had to wait another year to find out what would become of the quest.
The second installment in the trilogy (the third, THERE AND BACK AGAIN, will be released in—you guessed it—December 2014), THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG picks up right after the events in AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY. Here, Bilbo (Martin Freeman, who plays Dr. Watson on BBC’s SHERLOCK, which makes the Bilbo-Smaug encounter fairly amusing), Gandalf (Ian McKellen, portraying the character for the fifth time) and thirteen dwarves (which, for those keeping score at home, is six more than aided Snow White), led by Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage, who appeared as Heinz Kruger in CAPTAIN AMERCA: THE FIRST AVENGER), continue their journey to retake the dwarves’ native land of Erebor.
On their trip, they encounter giant spiders, wood-elves (led by Legolas, played by Orlando Bloom), archer Bard (Luke Evans, FAST & FURIOUS 6), elf Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly, ABC’s LOST), elf king Thranduil (Lee Pace, who will play Ronan in GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY) and whole bunch of other characters whose names would have red squiggles under them.
As with the rest of the films in the trilogy, THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG is adapted by director Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens (who has been collaboration with Jackson since 2001) and Guillermo del Toro (the original choice for directing THE HOBBIT). Whether their screenplay is faithful to the source material or not isn’t for this reviewer to answer. Die-hard J.R.R. Tolkien fans (Ringers? Hobbit Heads?) can be the judges of that; the rest of us should simply expect to be entertained.
And therein lies the heart of the problem with THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG. While there are certainly a number of wonderful and thrilling action sequences (see: the spider battle, for one), they are frequent enough that, despite location and character changes for each, they start to get tiresome and lose their appeal. The real treat for both fans and non-fans are the visual effects, which, for the most part, bring life to an assortment of creatures and create a world that is both gorgeous and ominous. (One notable exception is the river chase, which is as phony as the elves’ ears.)
Setting any positives aside, THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG is undoubtedly filler and a tease until the grand finale, which will likely exceed three hours. It’s easy to pick on any of the LORD OF THE RINGS/HOBBIT trilogies for their excessive runtimes, but there’s a reason for it. The movies tend to walk in circles without even realizing it or caring about isolating non-fans. And even though THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG is the shortest of the bunch, it is still far too long and could have afforded to take a few lessons from Rankin-Bass.
THE HOBBIT: THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG BLU-RAY REVIEW
Video: 2.40:1 in 1080p with MPEG-4 AVC codec. THE HOBBIT: THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG is presented in a spectacular high-definition transfer that brings out fine details, exquisite colors and deep black levels. The one noticeable drawback here is that the picture is so clear that it sometimes exposes certain scenes (as in the river/barrel chase) as phony—although this has less to do with the transfer itself than the initial visual effects work.
Audio: English 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio; French 5.1 Dolby Digital; Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital. Subtitle in English, French and Spanish. The audio transfer is stellar, as it presents clean dialogue and adds robustness to the sound effects and layer to Howard Shore’s score.
New Zealand: Home of Middle-Earth, Part 2 (7:11): This continuation of a special feature found on the AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY release looks at some of the New Zealand locations.
Peter Jackson Invites You to the Set (40:36): Compiled here are two videos, which can be viewed separately or as a whole. They are: “In the Company of THE HOBBIT” and “All in a Day’s Work.”
Live Event: In the Cutting Room (37:52): Peter Jackson invites participants into various production facilities and fields fan questions. This footage is taken from a March 2013 live event.
Production Videos (36:41): There are four here, which can be viewed separately or as a whole. They are: “Introduction to Pick-ups Shooting,” “Recap of Pick-ups, Part 1,” “Recap of Pick-ups, Part 2” and “Music Scoring.”
“I See Fire” Music Video