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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 March 7, 2013 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Director: Peter Jackson
Writers: Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson, Guillermo del Toro
Starring: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Benedict Cumberbatch, Luke Evans, Cate Blanchett, Hugo Weaving
» See full cast & crew
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey Blu-ray Review
"All good stories deserve embellishment..."
Reviewed by Kenneth Brown, March 7, 2013
It was bound to disappoint. With expectations at an enormous high, a 48fps experiment in tow, and fandom, both literary and cinematic, frothing at the mouth, poised to strike the moment the first film in The Hobbit trilogy showed the slightest sign of weakness, it was bound to disappoint. And yet it shouldn't have. Criticism continues to run the gamut. Too long! Too slow! Too expansive! Like butter scraped over too much bread! Was anyone really that surprised to see Jackson and company indulge a little? Did the decision to stretch two films into three fail to clue anyone into the fact that An Unexpected Journey would be more akin to a Lord of the Rings extended version than a lean, mean theatrical cut? For that matter, are the same people who swear by The Lord of the Rings Extended Editions actually upset with the end result? By some strange, blinding magic: yes, yes and yes.
Fortunately, it was only bound to disappoint some fans. There are those among us who chose a different path. Those who were familiar with the quaint, charming tale of "The Hobbit," enough so to avoid setting Rings-slaying expectations. Who didn't squander our first viewing of An Unexpected Journey by leaping headlong into an entirely new (and arguably distracting) way of watching a film. Who were overjoyed to immerse ourselves in Peter Jackson's Middle-Earth once again, for whatever length of time he saw fit. No, The Hobbit isn't perfect. It isn't a sacred adaptation of Tolkien's text, or even one that rivals any of The Lord of the Rings films. It's a gorgeous, gripping, at-times enthralling return to Middle-Earth, though, with far more to offer the Peter Jackson and J.R.R. Tolkien folds than many are willing or perhaps able to admit.
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. With Freeman, Bilbo is a fully realized anchor point and unmistakably human for a hobbit. The scene in which he 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 more convincing and compelling than it would otherwise be. It's these moments, these small amendments not present in the original novel but used to terrific effect in the film, that highlight the balance between performance power and adaptative craft the filmmakers make a habit of employing again and again and again. 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 come to mind).
The rest of the ensemble is too talented for one film. (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 not in expanding the tale or the characters, it's in expanding the action and, to a lesser degree, embellishing the visual effects. Tolkien opposed his books being turned into action-oriented spectacles and the last act of The Hobbit, more so even than The Return of the King (which all but required such spectacle), is puffed up and a tad bloated, with whirling swords, a chase scene that goes on a full minute too long, a mountain-pass giant fight that borders on ludicrous (not the fight but the fact that the dwarves end up standing on one of the giants' legs) and a burning treetop showdown that's intense but 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 immaculate, packed with cutting-edge WETA effects, incredible motion captured creatures and, of course, Gollum, who couldn't look more real. Thankfully, Jackson doesn't turn to computers for every challenge. Middle-Earth is still New Zealand and the practical effects team's masterfully forged props, sets and production design in all their natural and hand-crafted glory; enhanced with CG as needed, sure, but rarely created wholesale in a computer. More to the point, everyone on the production team -- from the costume designers to the armor makers to the weapon masters to the prosthetics masters -- is an integral player in the ensemble, as much as the actors. Like The Lord of the Rings films, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is a melting pot of gracious, self-sacrificing talent both in front and behind the camera.
The long and short of it? Even when The Hobbit can't quite carry the Ring, it can carry you.
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey Blu-ray, Video Quality
The Blu-ray edition of The Hobbit wows, dazzles and thoroughly impresses with a stunning 1080p/AVC-encoded video transfer 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 it 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. An Unexpected Journey delivers the first of what promises to be a trio of top tier transfers and doesn't disappoint in the least.
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey Blu-ray, Audio Quality
As impressive as Warner's video transfer may be, it's The Hobbit's bellowing beast of a DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 surround track that leaves the most lasting mark. The LFE channel is forceful yet discerning, producing deep, resonant thooms and weighty low-end support. (Albeit not ideal support, as some filtering has been reported and confirmed. For my part, it isn't a bother. Others will no doubt disagree.) All the while, the rear speakers bristle with engaging, wonderfully effective activity seasoned with convincing directional effects and transparent cross-channel pans. The resulting soundfield is wholly immersive too, 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 (without a lost or muffled line to be found), Howard Shore's score is sweeping and full, and prioritization is flawless.
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Still awaiting an official confirmation of an Extended Edition release? Look no further than the standard Blu-ray release of An Unexpected Journey and its two and a half hours of extras, the overwhelming majority of which have been available online for some time. Hardly the twenty-plus hours of original or exclusive content Peter Jackson and company are known for. That said, the special features on tap at least earn their own Blu-ray disc, not because they're so significant, mind you, but so they can be presented in HD without crowding the feature film, presented in its entirety on the set's first BD-50 disc.
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Debate will continue to rage as to whether The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is a worthy precursor and rightful successor to The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Whether it's a faithful adaptation or goes one step too far. Imbues the spirit of Tolkien or tramples on his grave. Could use serious trimming or stands soundly as is. Deserves to pass $1 billion in worldwide box office returns or shows how out of touch with literary classics modern audiences have become. Some will continue to criticize, some will continue to praise. But few can deny Jackson's passion for the material, his team's mastery of their craft, the strength of the ensemble's performances or the various strides the film makes in its own unexpected journey toward becoming a full-fledged trilogy. I, for one, am more than happy to return to Jackson's Middle-Earth and stay there as long as he allows. The film's flaws are minimal in the grand scheme of things and its future installments are ripe with promise. Here's hoping the next two Hobbit films will go one step further and take their place at The Lord of the Rings' side. Thankfully, Warner's Blu-ray release is an excellent one. It doesn't boast the supplemental breadth of its inevitable Extended Edition counterpart, but its stunning video transfer and fantastic DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 surround track more than make up for it. Some fans will no doubt wait for the Extended Edition release. I get it. Me? I'll be enjoying my copy of the theatrical cut and the Desolation of Smaug exclusive sneak peek in the coming months, biding my time and waiting to see what Jackson has up his sleeve next.
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey: Other Editions
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The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Exclusive Giveaway - The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey - March 18, 2013
Blu-ray.com and Warner Bros. Home Entertainment are offering five members an opportunity to win a copy of filmmaker Peter Jackson's The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, starring Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Richard Armitage, Cate Blanchett, Hugo Weaving, Christopher ...
• This Week on Blu-ray: March 19-26 - March 17, 2013
For the week of March 19th, New Line and Warner Home Entertainment are bringing The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey to Blu-ray. Despite the film's near-universal financial success - to date, it has grossed more than $1 billion - An Unexpected Journey did not find ...
• Desolation of Smaug Live Event Features Peter Jackson Q&A - March 12, 2013
Warner Bros. has revealed that filmmaker Peter Jackson will be hosting a live, previously unannounced Q&A after the March 24th online preview of The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. The live event will be limited to holders of an UltraViolet code, available by ...
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