Blu-ray Review: “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” Extended Edition


Review by James McDonald

A reluctant hobbit, Bilbo Baggins, sets out to the Lonely Mountain with a spirited group of dwarves to reclaim their mountain home – and the gold within it – from the dragon Smaug.

I loved the “Lord of the Rings” movies. I had never read any of the books (still haven’t) so seeing the movies was pure magic for me. Peter Jackson made three enormously entertaining films with “The Fellowship of the Ring” being my personal favorite. After they were released on DVD, they later released EXTENDED EDITIONS which put a lot more of the story and characters back into each movie. For the most part, it was just additional exposition, characters walking, talking, a little bit more action and for Tolkien fans, it was a chance to see more of his world onscreen. Since “Return of the King” was released back in 2003, talk inevitably turned to Jackson and Co. and whether they would ever get around to filming “The Hobbit”, a book that actually takes place BEFORE the events of LOTR. Jackson, it would appear, was not too keen on the idea as he had other projects he was concentrating on, “King Kong”, “The Lovely Bones” but over time, he eventually circled back to Tolkien and directed not just “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” but also two additional movies, “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” (out in December) and the finale, “The Hobbit: There and Back Again” (December, 2014). With the release of “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey – Extended Edition” out next Tuesday (Nov. 5th), I got the opportunity to review not just the movie but the special features on the upcoming Blu-ray as well.

I’ll start off by saying this. I felt let down when I first saw “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” in 2012. After the enormous undertaking that director Peter Jackson and his cast and crew accomplished on the LOTR movies, I was anticipating a new trilogy set in the same universe. Alas, I never really felt that on “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey’s’ initial viewing. I felt like Jackson pulled a George Lucas with his “Star Wars” prequels, steering them all towards kids. Not that there’s anything wrong with children’s movies (“Babe” is in my top five movies of all-time) but after the tone and ambience of LOTR, it just didn’t match up and, for me, I just couldn’t feel it. Shortly after, I spoke with a friend of mine who’s a Tolkien enthusiast and when I told him my feelings on the film, he informed me that “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” was initially written as a children’s book and LOTR came later, aimed at a more adult audience. Having taken that into consideration, I decided to watch the extended edition of the movie and I came away enjoying it much more. The additional exposition and character development added to the story and added new depths of emotion that were previously lacking and now I’m more enthusiastic for “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” next month.

I also wanted to go over some of the SPECIAL FEATURES included with the movie.

Disc 1:
This is the extended version, with an additional 13 minutes of new footage and also a filmmaker’s commentary by director Peter Jackson and Co-Producer & Co-Screenwriter Philippa Boyens. Some of the additional/extended scenes are below:
More Hobbiton.
More Goblin Town.
The Goblin King’s full song.
More of the dwarves being disrespectful to the elves of Rivendell.
An appearance by Thranduil and the white gems the dwarves and the elves are still fighting over.
An appearance by Girion and the black arrows which can pierce Smaug’s scales.

Disc 2:

I loved this disc. It shows Jackson and Co. in pre-production from conceptual art and casting the film, right through production and into post-production and leads up to the World Premiere in New Zealand. There is some coverage of then director, Guillermo del Toro and some of his vision of what he wanted the film to look like and then his exit from the film when MGM went into bankruptcy and put everything on hold. He had spent two years in pre-production and when financial troubles hit the set, he ended up having to leave so he could move onto other projects, his next film being PACIFIC RIM. We also see the main cast going through boot camp training with swords and martial arts fighting and horse-back riding. You get a great glimpse at the overall scope of the making of the movie but they also give you a few sneak peeks at the upcoming DESOLATION OF SMAUG, out next month.

Disc 3:

This disc explores the characters and backgrounds of the five families of Dwarves and we meet the actors chosen to portray Thorin’s Company on the Quest of the Lonely Mountain. We see the actors’ audition tapes and we see the camaraderie, not just of the Dwarves but of the actors portraying them. We see Martin Freeman and how he and director Peter Jackson breathed life into Bilbo for his first big-screen adventure. One section I loved, was seeing Sir Ian McKellen as Gandalf, having extreme difficulties as he had to act opposite nobody in a green-screen environment. Another was seeing Andy Serkis bring Gollum back to life one more time but then getting the biggest thrill of his life when asked by Peter Jackson if he wanted to stay on board as Second Unit Director. Highly recommended.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey – Extended Edition.
Released: November 5, 2013.
Rating: PG-13.
Run Time: 182 mins.
Blu-ray 3D: $54.98 SRP.
Blu-ray: $35.99 SRP.
DVD: $34.99 SRP.

Movie: 3 out of 5 stars.
Special Features: 5 out of 5 stars.


James McDonald
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