DVD & Blu-ray Reviews

The Hobbit – An Unexpected Journey – Extended Edition 3D, Blu-ray (2013)

An excellent first prequel to the Lord of the Rings series of a decade ago.

Published on November 27, 2013

The Hobbit – An Unexpected Journey – Extended Edition 3D, Blu-ray (2013)

The Hobbit – An Unexpected Journey – Extended Edition 3D, Blu-ray (2013) 

Cast: Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, Cate Blanchett, Hugo Weaving, Andy Serkiss
Director: Peter Jackson
Writers: Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Guillermo Del Toro
Music: Howard Shore
Studio: New Line Home Video/ MGM/Warner Bros. – 5-disc version (11/5/13)
Video: 2.4.1 anamorphic/enhanced 3D (Orig. shot 48 fps)
Audio: English/Elvish DTS-HD MA 7.1, DD French 5.1
Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish
Extras: Nearly 9 hours worth—UV Copy of Extended Edition THE FILMMAKERS’ COMMENTARY Director/writer/producer Peter Jackson and writer/co‐producer Philippa Boyens provide their Perspective and stories on creating the first film of The Hobbit. NEW ZEALAND: HOME OF MIDDLE‐EARTH From Matamata to Queenstown, travel with Peter Jackson and his team across the stunning locations of New Zealand, transformed by the filmmakers into Middle‐earth. THE APPENDICES PART 7 A LONG‐EXPECTED JOURNEY: The Chronicles of The Hobbit A fourteen‐part chronological history of the filming of An Unexpected Journey, covering pre‐production in the various departments of the film in the months leading up to the start of principal photography, the boot camp training for the main cast, and the work done on set chronologically through the three shooting blocks and in the world of its digital effects. · THE JOURNEY BACK TO MIDDLE‐EARTH · RIDDLES IN THE DARK– Gollum’s Cave · AN UNEXPECTED PARTY – Bag End · ROAST MUTTON –Trollshaws Forest · BASTION OF THE GREENWOOD – Rhosgobel · A SHORT REST – Rivendell and London · OVER HILL – The Misty Mountains · UNDER HILL – Goblin Town · OUT OF THE FRYINGPAN…– The Forest Ledge · RETURN TO HOBBITON – The Shire · THE EPIC OF SCENE 88– Strath Taieri · THE BATTLE OF MORIA– Azanulbizar · EDGE OF THE WILDERLAND – Pick‐ups and the Carrock · HOME IS BEHIND, THE WORLD AHEAD · CREDITS THE APPENDICES PART 8 RETURN TO MIDDLE‐EARTH THE COMPANY OF THORIN Explores the characters and backgrounds of the five families of dwarves and the company of actors chosen to play Thorin’s company on the Quest of the Lonely Mountain. · ASSEMBLING THE DWARVES · THORIN, FILI & KILI · BALIN & DWALIN · OIN & GLOIN · DORI, NORI & ORI · BIFUR, BOFUR & BOMBUR MR. BAGGINS: THE 14TH MEMBER A revealing look at the film’s charismatic and talented lead actor, Martin Freeman. DURIN’S FOLK: CREATING THE DWARVES Reveals the journey and process of designing, conceptualizing and physically realizing the dwarves in The Hobbit. THE PEOPLES AND DENIZENS OF MIDDLE‐EARTH Focuses on the realization of new characters and creatures we encounter in Film 1, from casting to characterization to physical and digital design. Including the Stone Trolls; Radagast the Brown; the Great Goblin and his horde; and Azog the Defiler. · THE STONE TROLLS · RADAGAST THE BROWN · GOBLINS · AZOG THE DEFILER REALMS OF THE THIRD AGE: FROM BAG END TO GOBLIN TOWN Follows the creation of the Middle‐earth locations from conceptual design, to set and prop building to fully digital realities. Realms explored include Hobbiton, Rhosgobel, Rivendell, The Misty Mountains and Goblin Town. · HOBBITON · RHOSGOBEL · RIVENDELL · THE MISTY MOUNTAINS · GOBLIN TOWN THE SONGS OF THE HOBBIT A look at the realization of Tolkien’s songs in Film 1.
Length: 182 minutes
Rating: *****

The big attraction of the Extended Edition – in addition to the 9 hours of extras with Appendices 7 & 8, and the 3D – is the 13 additional minutes which have been added to the feature as shown in the theaters. [See Calvin Harding’s earlier review of the original 3D release Blu-rays.] Although some of the early reviews have been unkind, I felt this was just as fine a film as the original Lord of the Rings series, and cinematography and special effects have improved over the decade.  This really does seem to be the world’s greatest adventure. The first two discs are the 3D Blu-rays in two parts, No. 3 is the entire thing in 2D, and Nos. 4 & 5 are the appendices of extras 7 & 8.

The basic thinking here is that this new series is actually a prequel to The Lord of the Rings, taking place in an earlier time. For example, Rivendell, the home of the Elves, is in its prime and looking gorgeous, whereas in Lord of the Rings it had had its better days and now shows its age. The fascinating extras (often with Jackson as the host) explore each of the locales in the film: with extended documentaries on Hobbiton, Rivendell, Rhosgobel, The Misty Mountains, and the dens of the goblins and Gollum. For the first series, the film company only built a few temporary “Hobbit holes” since the farmer who owned the land in New Zealand wanted it returned to its original state when the film had been shot. This time however, a very complete Hobbiton was built, with many more homes, including fishermen, potters and a working tavern/inn. The interior of Bilbo’s Bag End home on the set was an amazingly finished creation which several of the actors said they would love to live in all the time. Freeman, the actor playing Bilbo, is also Dr. Watson in the BBC’s Sherlock Holmes, and had to take time off in the middle of shooting to return to Britain for the TV Series. The original director of The Hobbit had been Guillermo Del Toro, but negotiations over the two big studios giving the production a go-ahead resulted in his finally having to leave and Jackson again taking over as the director (although he got assistance from Andy Serkiss on some sections).

Jackson found he got better and more believable acting doing his film with the Red digital camera this time. He let it run between takes since there was no film expense to worry about, and sometimes got bits that he used in the final film. It also enabled him to shoot at 48 frames instead of 24 (for those theaters able to project it) without doubling his raw film costs.

The general plot is that Bilbo, who likes his home life and surroundings in the Hobbiton shire, is swept into an epic quest launched by the wizard Gandalf the Grey and the 13 dwarves. The plan is to reclaim their fabled Kingdom of Erebor, from which they were evicted long ago by the terrible dragon Smaug. Against his will, Bilbo finds himself joining the group of 13 dwarves (led by the son of the former king) and Gandalf. Their goal is far to the East and the wastelands of The Lonely Mountain, but first they must fight various foes along the way. They visit the home of the Elves, where the Dwarves display their disdain for the cultured life of the Elves by acting like primitives, as they had done in Bilbo’s dining room when they first showed up. There is also another lesser, somewhat befuddled wizard named Radagast (who sports a sledge drawn by giant rabbits). The expedition falls into the caves of the goblins and has to fight them. They are led by the awful goblin king (played over-the-top by Barry Humphries [Dame Edna]). Bilbo encounters for the first time the strange creature the Gollum on the shore of an underground lake, and steals from him a ring, which he doesn’t yet understand is tied to the fate of all Middle-earth.

The acting and the special effects are terrific. Since Tolkien only wrote about two of the 13 dwarves as far as having personalities, Jackson and the filmmakers had a field day creating the different characters of each one. They all have similar names, which Tolkien took from Nordic folklore. Some of them grew beards for the roles but when they started they were admonished to shave them off to prepare for the complex makeup and special beards made of yak hair. Only one member of the entire cast didn’t wear a wig because his white facial hair was good enough as it was. In order to make the 13 normal-sized actors look small as dwarves, they were filmed in one rather cramped set, while the tall Gandalf was filmed in another green-screen set that was 25% larger all around, and the two were synchronized perfectly. Tricks used in the first films, such as having Gandalf closer to the camera to look taller, couldn’t be used in the 3D version. There were also 13 children and real dwarves as stand-ins and stunt doubles. They were used in more distant scenes when there was no dialog, such as when they are surrounded by the Elves’ mounted horses on their arrival in Rivendell.  For the first films the large hairy feet of the Hobbits had to be individually created for each actor and it took much time and effort. For this series they had ready-made pull-on feet and shins that the actors said were quite comfortable and saved a great deal of time. Even all the huge variety of food in the banquet scenes had to be prepared by an on-site chef and was real, since some of the actors actually ate it onscreen. Just some examples of the fascinating stuff in the huge appendices.

The 3D effects are very well done; especially exciting in the goblin caves. Tolkien lovers as well as most anyone else will love this one. The second film in the series, on Smaug, is to be in the theaters next, and then there will be one more too.  You will feel like you’ve spent time living in Middle-earth after this.

—John Sunier




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