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The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey 3D(2012)
A curious Hobbit, Bilbo Baggins, journeys to the Lonely Mountain with a vigorous group of Dwarves to reclaim a treasure stolen from them by the dragon Smaug.
For more about The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey 3D and the The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey 3D Blu-ray release, see the The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey 3D Blu-ray Review published by Kenneth Brown on November 1, 2013 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.5 out of 5.
Starring: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Benedict Cumberbatch, Luke Evans (I), Cate Blanchett, Hugo Weaving
Director: Peter Jackson
» See full cast & crew
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey 3D Blu-ray Review
"Wider, not shorter. But sharp enough for the both of us!"
Reviewed by Kenneth Brown, November 1, 2013
If you thought The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey was a divisive 169-minute return to Middle-Earth, just wait until fans sink their teeth into filmmaker Peter Jackson's 183-minute extended cut. The theatrical version has already been criticized ad nauseum for being too long, too bloated, too ungainly, too action-oriented... on and on and on. And to be fair, each point has some merit. Yet those like myself who enjoy wandering down the film's ever-winding roads, embrace its portly mid-section and love losing themselves in Jackson and co-writers Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens and Guillermo del Toro's dense, sprawling adaptation have become fierce apologists; excusing the film's shortcomings to relish the magic and wonder of the tale. And with the release of Jackson's extended cut, only one thing is certain: the debate will not only continue, it will intensify. Unlike the extended cuts of The Lord of the Rings trilogy, the newly expanded Journey doesn't play like the essential, definitive version of the film some have been expecting. It's more of a traditional director's cut than anything more robust; inflated but not necessarily improved. The additional scenes will delight many of those who already adore the movie, leave some fence-sitting fans grumbling that the previous version is the clear victor, and embolden previously disenfranchised critics to wag their fingers more vigorously than ever.
Some of the new scenes and extra beats are quite good. Others... not so much. The coming days and weeks will be filled with point/counterpoint discussions as to which bits work and which fail. Does the hit-or-miss nature of the extensions tarnish the movie or the Middle-Earth experience? Despite the fact that there are more flaws than before, not really. I remained thoroughly entertained from start to finish and found myself to be as fond of the joy Jackson and company spill out on the screen as before. Does that make the extended cut a better film? Not by my estimation, although for the most faithful among you it may be exactly that. Bottom line: if you have any affection for The Hobbit whatsoever you owe it to yourself to find out firsthand. If nothing else, the Extended Edition's Appendices are worth the cost of admission alone, so you won't be out anything. Even if you aren't impressed with the new cut of the film, its overwhelming abundance of extensive, meticulously crafted supplemental content is worthy of a purchase.
As to my score of the extended cut of the movie, I gave the previously released theatrical version a 4.0. The extended cut lands somewhere between a 3.5 and 3.75, as it stands as a slightly lesser version of the first entry in the trilogy.
From my March 2013 review of An Unexpected Journey: The humble, altogether simple story of "The Hobbit" becomes the grand, still relatively simple story of The Hobbit, with a smart series of additions, refinements and expansions and only a few questionable tweaks or misguided deviations. Told in flashback (with several flashbacks within that flashback), we meet a younger, less impulsive Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), the once and future ring-bearer played in his old age by Ian Holm. Coaxed by Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellen) into joining thirteen dwarves on a quest to reclaim their kingdom and stockpiles of gold from a vile dragon named Smaug, Bilbo reluctantly embarks on an adventure that takes him from the safety of Hobbiton to the troll and orc-ridden wild, the Elven city of Rivendell, the depths of the Misty Mountains and beyond. Drawing from the original book, Tolkien's Appendices and co-writers Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens and Guillermo del Toro's ever-evolving screenplay, Jackson's Unexpected Journey presents Bilbo as an adventurer-in-the-making in a coming-of-late-age tale, dwarf prince-turned-king Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) as a fallen hero, the unruly dwarves as nomads longing for a rightful place to lay their heads (rather than mere treasure), their quest a more honorable journey, and Gandalf's frequent absences a means to a far greater end: a response to the rise of a sinister Necromancer (Benedict Cumberbatch) in the stronghold of Dul Guldur.
Elrond (Hugo Weaving), Lord of Rivendell, and Galadriel (Cate Blanchett) of Lothlorien return, as does Saruman the White (Christopher Lee), who isn't so willing to accept the news Gandalf and fellow wizard Radagast the Brown (Sylvester McCoy) have to share. Meanwhile, the dwarves -- among them Dwalin (Graham McTavish), Balin (Ken Stott), Bofur (James Nesbitt), Kili (Aidan Turner) and Fili (Dean O'Gorman), who receive the most screentime -- are being tracked by an old foe: Azog the Defiler (Manu Bennett), a vindictive orc chieftan who killed Thorin's grandfather before losing an arm in a battle with the dwarf king himself. But other enemies await Thorin, Bilbo and the dwarven company before the first film draws to a close. Rock giants, a trio of lumbering cave trolls, a horde of goblins, their king the Great Goblin (Barry Humphries) and, in a dank cave beneath the goblin halls, a riddle-obsessed creature named Gollum (Andy Serkis), corrupted by a seemingly harmless magic ring that grants its wearer invisibility.
As with The Lord of the Rings trilogy, Jackson, Walsh and Boyens focus first and foremost on character and story, placing the utmost value on casting, performances and the ensuing adaptation above all else. Freeman isn't an A-lister (or rather wasn't before The Hobbit) but his turn as Bilbo establishes him as the film's greatest casting coup. The scene in which Freeman's hobbit awakes to an empty house -- initially relieved and then, all at once, saddened by the silence -- is one of the best acted beats in Jackson's thus far four-film Middle-Earth saga, and makes everything that follows that much more convincing and compelling. It's moments like these -- small amendments to the original novel that are used to terrific effect in the film -- that highlight the balance between performance power and adaptative craft the filmmakers have made a habit of employing time after time. And it's these moments that carry An Unexpected Journey through less satisfying scenes that rely a bit too heavily on CG and heightened action (the escape from Goblin Town and the Rock Giant run being the most notorious offenders).
The rest of the ensemble is too talented for one film, extended or no. (Thank God there'll be three.) McKellen is Gandalf the Grey, and makes a number of interesting choices, from his perfectly rounded affection for Bilbo to his slight irritation at the hobbit's hesitance to strike out with the dwarves. McKellen is also responsible for yet another subtly emotional series exchange, this time with Blanchett, in a tender, easily overlooked moment of intimacy that never fails to send chills racing up my arms, even after this, my fifth viewing. Armitage is excellent too, even though Thorin's disdain for Bilbo is given the spotlight one time too many. With an iron gaze and a coalfire in his chest, he helps Jackson accomplish a dramatic trifecta: infusing the film with an undercurrent of tragedy, giving Bilbo a reason to sacrifice his all for the dwarves and providing the first film with a captivating conflict all its own. The rest of the dwarvish actors, particularly McTavish and Nesbitt, fill out the company nicely and, more importantly, serve Thorin and Bilbo's arcs selflessly. And Serkis? Freeman and Serkis' Riddles in the Dark sequence is engrossing, not just as a through-thread to Lord of the Rings but as a brilliantly staged and shot rendition of one of the book's most iconic encounters. All told, the cast is a true ensemble in every sense of the word. Jackson may not have filled the ranks with more familiar Hollywood faces, but what he nets in return is on-screen comradery, obvious even between Journey's mortal enemies.
If The Hobbit stumbles on its Unexpected Journey, it's in the amount of effort invested in expanding the action, aggressively embellishing Tolkien's simple little story and, to a lesser degree, allowing the visual effects to become so grandiose and, at-times, cartoonish. (How many death-defying falls can fourteen travelers survive?) Tolkien opposed his works being transformed into action-packed spectacles, and the last act of The Hobbit, more so even than The Return of the King (which arguably required spectacle), is puffed up to the point of bursting, with whirling swords, collapsing bridges and towers, an goblin interrogation and chase scene that drags on for far too long, a mountain-pass giant battle that borders on ludicrous (not the fight but the fact that the dwarves end up standing amid the giants' legs) and a burning treetop showdown that amounts to pure screenwriters' prerogative. None of it kills the film, but it does knock it down a notch, at least in terms of storytelling. Visually, it's exhilirating, brimming with cutting-edge WETA effects, incredible motion captured creatures and, of course, Gollum, who couldn't be more tangible than he is here.
Thankfully, Jackson doesn't turn to computers for every challenge. Middle-Earth is still New Zealand through and through, and the practical effects team's masterfully forged props, sets and production design are elements of hand-crafted beauty; enhanced with CG as needed, sure, but rarely created wholesale in a computer. More importantly, the entire production team -- from the costume designers to the armor makers, weapon masters, prosthetics artisans and beyond -- is an integral player in the ensemble, as much so as the actors. Like The Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is a melting pot of gracious, self-sacrificing talent both in front and behind the camera.
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey 3D Blu-ray, Video Quality
The 3D Extended Edition set includes five BD-50 discs: two for the 3D version of the 183-minute feature film (with a break midway through the extended cut), one for the 2D version of the EE (with no breaks or disc swaps to be had), and two more discs devoted to nine hours of HD bonus content. Thankfully, both the MVC-encoded 3D and AVC-encoded 2D presentations are virtually identical in quality -- to each other and to the March 2013 Blu-ray releases that preceded them -- and I didn't catch sight of any significant compression artifacts or anomalies whatsoever. (Be particularly wary of screenshot scrutiny on this point, as still images, as always, can be deceiving.)
As before, the video presentation of The Hobbit wows, dazzles and thoroughly impresses with two stunning 1080p video encodes: an MVC MPEG-4 3D experience and an AVC MPEG-4 2D presentation, each true to Jackson and cinematographer Andrew Lesnie's every intention. First, a small word of warning: Jackson is a proponent of world-expanding 3D; the sort that draws viewers into the image rather than assaulting them with overabundant gimmicks and screen-piercing distractions. In the Blu-ray.com forum, the approach has been labeled "conservative 3D," and for the most part, this is conservative 3D. Depth and dimensionality are outstanding, with vast landscapes, convincingly distant horizons, rocks that jut out of the ground, trolls that loom high overhead, wargs whose muzzles inch closer and closer, goblins that push our heroes forward toward a most unsightly, all too three-dimensional Goblin King, and twisted riverfolk who seem to peer out of their cave and into your home theater. The occasional sword, fluttering bird, swinging ax or tumorous flesh-sack protrude nicely (or not so nicely, depending on the visuals), but again, this is by and large a conservative 3D experience.
Not that the impact is lessened in any way. This more cinematic 3D translates beautifully without sacrificing the integrity of the native 3D photography. The lush, lovely Shire greens, summer-kissed browns and oranges, moonlit blues pierced by blazing flame, relatively lifelike fleshtones and cavernous blacks that grant its 2D counterpart soul and spirit are intact and unhindered. Impeccable contrast leveling and exceedingly natural shadow delineation certainly help, and the filmmakers' at-times stylized color grading is presented without apparent flaw. Detail is nothing short of extraordinary too. Edge definition is crisp and clean, without any notable ringing, and fine textures are refined and exceptionally rewarding. 3D displays that are prone to ghosting will have difficulty resolving a few shots (most noticeably in long shots of the goblin throne chamber, where tiny torch lights, eager eyes and restless minions are subject to slight crosstalk). However, any ghosting is a product of the 3D display or glasses, not the 3D encode itself. Moreover, troublesome aliasing, macroblocking, banding and other issues are absent, and only the slightest hint of noise and negligible crush will give eagle-eyed videophiles pause. Ultimately, Jackson's 3D may not raze your home theater to the ground, but it invites fans to accompany Bilbo on his journey, through grassy hills, towering forests, massive caverns and beyond. Next stop: 3D Lonely Mountain.
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey 3D Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Like the theatrical version of An Unexpected Journey, the Extended Edition boasts a bellowing beast of a DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 surround track. There's just one -- I'd say minor, some would say major -- difference. Bass enthusiasts will notice a small, perhaps negligible boost in LFE oomph that will most likely satisfy those who were disappointed with the March 2013 Blu-ray's low-end output. In the interest of full disclosure, I didn't notice anything amiss earlier this year when reviewing the theatrical cut, although I also should probably admit the issue didn't bother me even once I verified its presence with subsequent viewings. Similarly, I had a hard time picking out the differences here, so take that as you will, bearing in mind the power of placebo as it applies to all parties involved. (None of that, though, is meant to dismiss the concerns of those who were bothered by the theatrical track's bass. Quite the contrary.) The LFE channel once again struck me as forceful yet discerning, producing deep, resonant thooms and weighty booms. All the while, the rear speakers bustle and bristle with engaging, wonderfully effective activity seasoned with convincing directional effects and transparent cross-channel pans. The resulting soundfield is wholly immersive, dropping the listener into the heart of Erebor, the cozy hobbit holes of Hobbiton, the vast expanse of the wild, the midst of a thunderous rock giant battle, the chaos of an underground Goblin city and the center of a cave where a certain magic ring slips from its master's pocket and bounces along the ground. Dialogue remains crystal clear and intelligible throughout as well (without a lost or muffled line to be found), prioritization is flawless, and Howard Shore's score is sweeping and full, just as it should be. It would take quite a lot to top this one as one of the best AV presentations of the year.
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey 3D Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey 3D Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
No, the extended cut of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey isn't as satisfying as the theatrical cut. Several new scenes and shots directly address some of the film's problems, but most of the additions are inessential and actually exacerbate a number of issues (pacing and embellishment among them), making for an enjoyable but ultimately curious alternate take on the first entry in Jackson's trilogy. Even so, the Extended Edition set is a must-own release. Regardless of how you react to the new cut, its video presentation is outstanding, its 3D experience is most impressive, its DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 surround track is terrific, and its supplemental package is so exhaustive it's almost exhausting to dig through. Jackson and Boyens offer up an excellent commentary, and nine hours of Appendices material explores every last aspect of the production. Frankly, the Appendices discs are worth the cost of admission alone. Now it's simply a matter of patiently waiting for The Desolation of Smaug to descend on theaters this December.
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