Far over the misty mountains cold, To dungeons deep and caverns old, We must away ere break of day, To seek the pale enchanted gold……
The dwarves of yore made mighty spells, As hammers fell, like ringing bells, In places deep where dark things sleep, In hallow hall beneath the fells….
When Lord of the Rings finally got released in cinemas between 2001 and 2003, it made cinemas great again. A true epic in every sense, the scale of the trilogy as a whole was just enormous and quite rightly it sits with some of the best films ever made. So naturally the expectations for The Hobbit were pretty high (this is when it was announced as two films instead of three with Guillermo Del Toro directing it). After years of legal wrangles and false starts, which led to Guillermo Del Toro departing the project, Peter Jackson came back on board and formally announce that The Hobbit would start filming and would be split over two films, ‘An Unexpected Journey’ and ‘There and Back Again’. Drawing from J.R.R Tolken’s ‘The Silmarillion’ and ‘Unfinished Tales’, the idea was to have The Hobbit serve as a direct prequel to Lord of the Rings and key sequences would help set that up. Once production had started and the eventual promotional campaign started, announcements would be made about title changes and the film’s expansion from a two part film to an entire trilogy. When changes like this are announced, it would seem that the film makers themselves weren’t 100% sure how the production would pan out. Come Christmas 2013, we would finally see how it turned out and over the course of three years, revisit Middle-Earth one more time….
The Unexpected Journey wasn’t one I enjoyed at the cinema originally but after a couple of viewings, the film is certainly growing on me. Much like Fellowship of the Rings, it sets up the characters nicely and has that expectation of adventure (not being a book fan, the only aspect of the film that I knew would be that they would meet a dragon at some point) so it does build anticipation up whilst letting us revisit familiar places like The Shire and Rivendell, and bringing back some characters like Christopher Lee’s Saruman and Hugo Weaving’s Elrond. The action as well is pretty well staged and doesn’t slow down once it gets flowing. The only issue with the film (which was why I didn’t enjoy it) is that it was pretty dragged out and certainly could been trimmed by 30 mins of the theatrical run time. This new extended edition though doesn’t really do it any favours and the added scenes I personally felt weren’t needed. There are a few moments that connect The Hobbit with Lord of the Rings that will satisfy fans but scenes like the song and dance number with the Goblin king won’t.
The Desolation of Smaug was again, very much like An Unexpected Journey, dragged out more than it should have been. Don’t get me wrong but there are some great sequences in the film and the eventual revealing of Smaug was certainly the highlight of the trilogy, but it just takes a long time to actually get there. There are a couple of pretty big set pieces here like the spider infested Mirkwood (great use of 3D imagery here) and escape from the wood-elves. Where I wasn’t too impressed with the additional scenes in the extended edition of An Unexpected Journey, I’m glad to say that the new scenes in Desolation of Smaug were brilliant! Without dropping too many spoilers, but to actually include a brand new character into one of the film’s most intense scenes was pretty clever and builds a bit character for Thorin Oakenshield.
Battle of the Five Armies was a bit of a strange one. I felt that its opening scene (which is set literally moments after Desolation of Smaug’s cliffhanger ending) should have been the ending of the previous film. So after a pretty intense opening sequence with the total devastation of Laketown and Bard’s heroic efforts, it again takes quite a while for anything to happen for the film’s final showdown. Apart from Thorin’s downfall from ‘Dragon Sickness’, There is a lot of talk about battle without any actually happening. It was getting a tad frustrating but once arrow’s start flying, by Gandalf’s beard it is an exciting spectacle to behold right up to the film’s final emotional scenes.
So the Hobbit trilogy as a whole (as they are supposed to be watched) in general is a bit dragged out. Why Peter Jackson opted for three films instead of the original two films is questionable (the answer begins with M, rhymes with Honey) and does fall a bit short of the bar that the Lord of the Trilogy rose so highly. Also, the seemingly reliability on CGI was expanded for this trilogy whereas Lord of the Rings was filmed in camera as much as possible. So why the 4 stars then? Well, where the film stumbles in terms of pacing, it certainly makes up for with its excellent characters! Even though some of the story does drag out, Peter Jackson’s excellent ensemble really keep you sucked in. Martin Freeman’s performance as Bilbo Baggin whose adventure turns out to be a journey of self-discovery is enlightening and emotional. The rag tag company of dwarves, led by Thorin Oakenshield and superbly portrayed by Richard Armitage was personally my favourite aspect of the entire trilogy. From their gradual and humorous introductions, in An Unexpected Journey, Their onscreen antics, interactions with each other, emotional journey and heroic efforts are a joy to behold throughout the trilogy. And last but not least, the wonderful Sir Ian McKellen as Gandalf the Grey. One of the highlights of the original Lord of the Rings Trilogy, Gandalf the Grey has firmly become one of my favourite on screen characters in cinema history. From his humble mannerisms to his valiant heroism throughout both trilogy’s, Sir Ian McKellen performance is solely his own and no other actor could come close in my humble opinion.
For ancient king and elvish lord, There many a gleaming golden hoard, They shape the wrought, and light they caught, To hide in gems on hilt of sword.
On silver necklaces they strung, The flowering stars, on crowns they hung, The dragon-fire, in twisted wire, They meshed the light of moon and sun.
The Hobbit Trilogy consists of 15 discs in total with 9 of them being dedicated the extended versions themselves. The disc breakdown is as follows
Discs 1 & 2 – The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (Extended Edition) 3D Edition
Disc 3 – The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (Extended Edition) 2D Edition
Disc 4 – The Appendices Part 7: A Long Expected Journey
Disc 5 – The Appendices Part 8: Return to Middle-Earth
Disc 6 & 7 – The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (Extended Edition) 3D Edition
Disc 8 – The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (Extended Edition) 2D Edition
Disc 9 – The Appendices Part 9: A Long Expected Journey
Disc 10 – The Appendices Part 10: The Journey to Erebor
Disc 11 & 12 – The Hobbit ‘The Battle of the Five Armies’ (Extended Edition) 3D Edition
Disc 13 – The Hobbit ‘The Battle of the Five Armies’ (Extended Edition) 2D Edition
Disc 14 – The Appendices Part 11: The Gathering Storm
Disc 15 – The Appendices Part 12: Here at Journey’s End
All three films are presented on Blu-ray with MPEG4-MVC / AVC codecs in 1080/24p (for 3D and 2D versions respectively) and preserves the film’s original 2.40:1 aspect ratio. The films were shot with brand new Red Epic cameras with new technology which captured the film with 48 frames per second. This new format was shown at cinemas under the title High Frame Rate which displayed the 3D image at 48fps on screen. The Blu-ray’s though are presented in the industry standard 24fps.
Being a native 3D production instead of being converted in post, the 3D image on display is pure reference material throughout. Excellent use of depth and immersion with Peter Jackson’s ‘Bigatures’ giving the film that extra sense of scope with even the tiniest little details having 3D detail added to it like the contents of Bilbo’s home in Bag-end. It’s one of those films where you can pause it at any time and just examine the level of 3D and admire the work that went into it. Some key scenes in An Unexpected Journey like the third act which takes place in the heart of the mountain with rope bridges everywhere. The level of depth and layering is awe inspiring and really shows off how 3D can improve a film’s visuals without it looking like a gimmick. The film also contains a generous amount of pop out as well. With arrow’s being shot left right and centre and swords pointing towards the camera, it’s almost certain that one of two will end up poking out of your display at some point and here it’s done with some clever use photography and framing. Other little touches like the bee’s flying around Beorn’s home in Desolation of Smaug, which has the Bee’s flying out of the screen and back into it as they fly round the sleeping dwarves. Another notable highlight was the Laketown sequences. A town floating on water with long stretches of canals in the background which showed amazing some amazing depth and layering. Even when the snow falls, each snowflake has a different level of depth to it. Other little details like the curvature under Gandalf’s hat makes you want to turn your head and see if you can actually look underneath it! Battle of the Five Armies also has some outstanding sequences that utilized the full 3D technology, the layering of the hills during the battle sequences and especially the chariot battle is quite thrilling and certainly a spectacle to view. If you have a 3D TV, these discs are pure demo material
And if I haven’t said enough about the 3D visuals, let’s look at the 2D counterpart. Being a digital production (and being shot at 48fps) there were fears that it would have a live broadcast look to it but I’m happy to say that the post production work done of the Hobbit has made it look amazing! The picture is pretty much grain free and razor sharp throughout and the picture on display is vibrant and lush. You can really admire some of the work that went into the sets and production design. Colours pop off the screen and capture the beauty of New Zealand perfectly; hopefully the screen captures provided will give you an indication of how beautiful these films will look on any HDTV screen. Additional screencaps are available towards the bottom of the page
Far over the Misty Mountains cold,
To dungeons deep and caverns old,
We must away ere break of day, To find our long forgotten gold….
Goblets they carved for themselves, And harps of gold where no man delves
There lay they long, and many a song, Was sung unheard by men or elves….
All three Hobbit films were originally mixed with Dolby Atmos for its cinema release but are presented here in DTS-MA 7.1 for both its 3D and 2D disc
Right from the opening titles, the audio mix on these films are incredible. Excellent use of all 7 speakers throughout all three films with an immersive three dimensional quality that accompanies its demo quality video transfer. Right from the opening scenes, the excellent use of the surround channels and directional panning throughout really gets you in the middle of the action. Whether it discrete chitter chatter of background characters or just general ambience or roaring thunderous action scenes (Bilbo’s encounter with Smuag was again another highlight with some superb depth with the sound design and Benedict Cumberbatch’s booming voice utilizing all 7 seven speakers AND the LFE!), the audio clarity, dynamics and pin point precision is just an audio delight. LFE usage is delivered in spades giving the audio mix a real impact as Howard Shore’s beautiful score resonates throughout the speakers. Audio perfection at its best!
The pines were roaring on the height, The winds were moaning in the night,
The fire was red, it flaming spread, The trees like torches blazed with light…..
The bells were ringing in the dale, And men looked up with faces pale,
The dragon’s ire, more fierce than fire, laid low there towers and house frail…..
An Unexpected Journey
Audio Commentary: By Director Peter Jackson and co-writer Philippa Boyens.
New Zealand: Home to Middle-Earth – A look at the real locations used during the filming of the Hobbit.
The Appendices Part 7: A Long Expected Journey
– Introduction by Peter Jackson
– The Journey Back to Middle-Earth
– Riddles in the Dark
– An Unexpected Party.
– Roast Mutton
– Bastion of the Greenwood
– A Short Rest
– Over Hill
– Under Hill
– Out of the Frying Pan
– Return to Hobbiton
– The Epic of Scene 88
– The Battle of Moria
– Edge of the Wilderland
– Home is Behind, the World Ahead
The Appendices Part 8: Return to Middle-Earth
– The Company of Thorin – A six-part documentary that gives significant info on the five families of Dwarves featured in the trilogy.
– Mr. Baggins: The 14th Member
– Durin’s Folk: Creating the Dwarves
– The People and Denizens of Middle-Earth
– Realms of the Third Age: From Bag End to Goblin Town.
– The Songs of The Hobbit
Desolation of Smaug
– Audio Commentary: By Director Peter Jackson and co-writer Philippa Boyens
– New Zealand: Home to Middle-Earth Part 2: A continued look at the real locations used during the filming of the Hobbit
The Appendices Part 9: A Long Expected Journey
– A Warm Welcome
– Business of the State
– Shelter on the Long Lake
– In the Halls of the Elvenking
– Flies and Spiders
– Queer Lodgings
– On the Doorstep
– Inside Information
– Down the Swift Dark Stream
– Barrels Out of Bond
– A Chance Meeting
– Erebor Rekindled
– Into the Fire
The Appendices Part 10: The Journey to Erebor
– Summoning Smaug: Last of the Fire-Drakes – Three part documentary that looks into the development of Smaug
– “The Last and First Dragon”
– “Conversations with Smaug”
– “Into the Dragon’s Lai
– The Peoples and Denizens of Middle-earth Another three-part documentary that looks into the characters and production of The Desolation of Smaug
-“Beorn: The Shape-shifter”
– “The Spawn of Ungoliant”
– “The Men of Lake-town”
– Realms of the Third Age: From Beorn’s House to Lake-town
– The Music of The Hobbit
The Battle of the Five Armies
– Audio Commentary: By Director Peter Jackson and co-writer Philippa Boyens.
– New Zealand: Home to Middle-Earth Part 3: The third and final look at the real locations used during the filming of the Hobbit
The Appendices Part 11: The Gathering Storm
– In the Dungeons of the Necromancer
– Fire and Water
– Under the Shadow of the Mountain
– In the Wake of the Dragon
– The Gathering of the Clouds
– Many Partings
– The Clouds Burst
– A Last Desperate Stand
– Out from the Gate
– The Last Stage
The Appendices Part 12: Here at Journey’s End
– Beneath the Thunder: Forging a Battle of the Five Armies
– “A Master Plan: Long in the Making”
– “On the Front Lines of a Virtual Battlefield”
– “Turning the Tide”
– The People and Denizens of Middle-earth
-“Tauriel: Daughter of the Forest”
– “Thranduil: The King of Wood and Stone”
-“Dain Ironfoot: Lord of the Iron Hills”
– Realms of the Third Age: From the City of Dale to the Halls of Erebor
– “Dale: The City of Men” (30:18)
– “Dol Guldur: The Hill of Sorcery”
– “Erebor: The Lonely Mountain”
– Farewell, Friends!
– Butt-Numb-a-Thon 2011 Greeting
– The Real Adam Brown
– Music Video
– Andrew Lesnie Remembered
– Ultraviolet Digital Copy (via redeemable code for the extended trilogy)
The mountain smoked beneath the moon, The dwarves, the heard the tramp of doom
they fled their hall to dying fall, Beneath his feet, beneath the moon…….
Far over the Misty Mountains grim, To dungeons deep and caverns dim
We must away ere break of day, To win our harps and gold from him!…..
Whilst The Hobbit might have had a few bumps in the road in the long journey to the silver screen, and a few mis-directions might have prevented it from riding high as Lord of the Rings, you can’t help but enjoy Peter Jackson’s return to Middle-Earth for one final adventure. Even though you might be watching the clock during some scenes, the adventure as a whole is thrilling and exciting to be a part of and no doubt will be one to return to in years to come. When Lord of the Rings was originally released on DVD in the early 2000’s, it set a benchmark for home video released and was highly praised by fans and critics for both Theatrical and Extended home video releases for its extensive supplemental material on both editions for all three films making sure that nothing was repeated and both releases could be collection by fans for their collections. For The Hobbit, that template was used again to great success. Whilst I still have to get the theatrical editions for my personal collection, the extended boxset was an absolute joy to watch. Pixel perfect video quality on both 2D and 3D editions of the film with cinema quality audio that was a audible delight to listen to with hours upon hours on extensive supplemental material to discover afterwards. This boxset should be high on everyone’s Christmas list as it’s the best example of what a perfect Blu-ray release should look like.