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The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey(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 and the The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey Blu-ray release, see the The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey Blu-ray Review published by Kenneth Brown on October 31, 2013 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.5 out of 5.
Starring: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Benedict Cumberbatch, Luke Evans, Cate Blanchett, Hugo Weaving
Director: Peter Jackson
» See full cast & crew
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey Blu-ray Review
Fun but flawed, the extended cut arrives with a host of special features in tow...
Reviewed by Kenneth Brown, October 31, 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 Blu-ray, Video Quality
The 2D Extended Edition set includes three BD-50 discs: one for the entirety of the 183-minute feature film (with no breaks or disc swaps to be had), and two devoted to nine hours of HD bonus content. And I'm pleased to report those who fear what might become of a three-plus-hour cut of The Hobbit presented on a single BD-50 disc needn't worry any longer. The extended cut looks just as good as the previously released theatrical version, and the new scenes are seamlessly integrated. Of course, a few tech spec sticklers will crunch the numbers and compare the bitrates of the 1080p/AVC-encoded 2D extended cut, its 3D counterpart (which is spread across more generously across two BD-50s) and the March 2013 release of the theatrical version. And I'm all but certain that there findings will show that the bitrate here is a bit lower. However -- and this is a crucial however -- in motion, as perceived by the human eye, the 2D extended cut is virtually identical in quality, 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 wows, dazzles and thoroughly impresses with an encode that stays true to Jackson and cinematographer Andrew Lesnie's every intention. Lush, lovely Shire greens, summer-kissed browns and oranges, moonlit blues pierced by blazing flame, relatively lifelike fleshtones and cavernous blacks grant the image soul and spirit, while impeccable contrast leveling and exceedingly natural shadow delineation give the image depth and strength. The filmmakers' at-times stylized color grading is presented without apparent flaw, and detail is nothing short of extraordinary. Edge definition is crisp and clean, without any significant ringing or aliasing. Fine textures are refined and exceptionally well-resolved. And there isn't a shot or scene marked by anything less than the utmost care. Better still, macroblocking, banding and other issues are absent, and only the slightest hint of noise and negligible crush will give eagle-eyed videophiles pause. The new cut of An Unexpected Journey delivers the first of what promises to be a trio of top tier Extended Edition transfers and doesn't disappoint in the least.
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey 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 Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey 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 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.
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey: Other Editions
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The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey Blu-ray, News and Updates
• This Week on Blu-ray: November 5-12 - November 2, 2013
For the week of November 5th, New Line and Warner Home Entertainment are bringing the extended version of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey to Blu-ray. Other titles include the sixth season of Mad Men, White House Down, Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman's Lovelace ...
• The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey Extended Edition Blu-rays (Upda... - July 31, 2013
Warner Bros. Home Entertainment has officially announced both the standard 3-disc Blu-ray/UltraViolet and 5-disc 3D BD/Ultraviolet Combo Pack releases of director Peter Jackson's The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, Extended Edition. Both versions of the 182-minute ...
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