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The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012) Blu-ray review (5-disc version)

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The prequel to the Lord of the Rings trilogy has caused quite a stir regarding various decisions in not only its implementation to film, but the technical filmmaking choices by director Peter Jackson, as well as the numerous iterations of it on video, which version to get, and the choice for fans to wait on other upcoming blu-ray versions. I figure it would be best to lay out in a review of not only the film (using the most complete blu-ray package available as of now), but of other information regarding other home video versions and upcoming versions to my knowledge.

The Hobbit originally began as a single film idea; something that would give fans clamoring for more Lord of the Rings a chance to be able to savor just one last dose of Middle Earth by way of someone (if not Peter Jackson) means to direct it and make it just as epically inventive and memorable. Thankfully, not only did Jackson return to direct, but he also used the same writers and much of the crew as the previous LOTR films. He also made the controversial choice to elongate the franchise into more than one film. Originally slated to create two movies, the decision eventually went all the way to yet another trilogy for the single J.R.R. Tolkien book that in itself is shorter than any one of his Lord of the Rings works. This would certainly give fans something much better than just one solitary film after a wait that took almost an entire decade after Return of the King in 2003. We certainly are a patient bunch.

The Hobbit stars English actor Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins, a personality that was played wonderously by Ian Holm in the Rings films, as well as Ian McKellen reprising his role as Gandalf the Grey. The Hobbit book is basically the story of Bilbo as a young hobbit and his decision to tag along on a venture with Gandalf, with a pack of 13 dwarf warriors in order to take back their stolen homeland of Erebor, or the Lonely Mountain, where the dwarves were originally run out of by a notoriously deadly and greedy dragon named Smaug. Smaug had plundered the dwarven riches of gold as well as the Arkenstone, which was a beautiful gem discovered within the rocks of the Lonely Mountain. Now having established his place within Erebor, the small group of dwarves decide to take back this mountain by force. Though the journey is led mostly by Gandalf, the dwarves themselves answer to their own leader known as Thorin Oakenshield, the ancestor of Thrain, who is the one who took credit in discovering the Arkenstone heirloom. Gandalf now decides to choose Bilbo as the 14th member of their journey, with the argument that hobbits have distinct stealth advantages over dwarves, even though the idea is mostly opposed by leader Thorin. An aspect of tension that continues throughout the film.

When the film opens, fans will automatically recognize Peter Jackson’s directorial “Rings” style of filming, with sweeping landscape establishing shots over the Shire and Erebor, as Bilbo played by returning actor Ian Holm (as older Bilbo at least) is writing a book regarding this adventure and telling an old background story about how Erebor was taken over. You will know you’re in for something grand as special effects are just as great as they were in all other previous films. Fans will feel right at home.

When young Bilbo’s story begins we are introduced to all of the dwarves in Bilbo’s home, and things begin fairly well due to a couple of songs sung by the group, and the mood is kept light and fun. As things progress we learn about Thorin’s past and hatred with the orcs, and one particularly epic battle scene when he met his arch nemesis Azog.We also learn where the divide between dwarves and elves began. While this is all well and good, Jackson chooses to unfortunately not give us too much story or even personality for many of the other dwarves. Considering we are going to spend an entire trilogy of movies with this group, not to also mention each movie running over two and a half hours (not counting possible extended editions), this choice feels like a mistake more than anything else. This is evident because when battles do come, we as the audience don’t feel as invested as we would like to, or as caring for the dwarves as a group. In the opening scene we do see them sing and dance a bit over dinner at Bilbo’s home, and a couple of them do share some thoughts, but the vast majority of them say little to nothing. Even Gandalf himself is cut somewhat short to what he could have been. He doesn’t ever do anything particularly heroic, or his character is not investigated all too much, and unless you have already seen all of the Rings movies, any newcomer may feel even less in terms of character development. It should also be mentioned that Martin Freeman as Bilbo does do a good job, but is nowhere near the spellbindingly charming actor that many critics claimed he was (a small gripe that’s mostly negligible as he takes nothing away from the film, but just figure it was worth mentioning). The film does try to remedy these flaws with the introduction to another wizard, Radagast the Brown – a quirky, odd, yet mostly likable character who helps our dwarves overcome their mission by drawing away the orcs in one scene. Some may have compared this wizard to the likes of Jar-Jar Binks from Star Wars episode 1, but doing so is an exaggeration, as Radagast shows great potential for the other two upcoming Hobbit films. If anything, he tends to show more likability than Gandalf. Anyway, it is during this middle section of the film where things just start to feel a bit overlong. Thankfully, once the group meets up with the elves in Rivendell (a whole portion not included in the Hobbit novel), we get the pleasure of seeing former elves from the Lord of the Rings films, as well as Saruman the White. This entire portion of dialogue works as a great throwback and does add some much needed charm to a film that at that point, unfortunately starts to feel like it needs it. It is then during the final act that things pick up for the greater good.

The final act of the film contains some very intense, gripping, and beautifully choreographed battles between the dwarves and goblins (not orcs yet) as they accidentally fall straight into the underground goblin kingdom. The star here being their giant and ugly (though nameless) leader, who seems to overstay his welcome by talking a bit too much, and just too eloquently for a goblin creature. This one character trait does take the viewer out of the experience a bit, but with a bit of patience it can be more acceptable. As things persist we then get to see dwarves and orcs battle it out for a period in yet another epically directed final scene. Overall, this final act of the film after Rivendell are engaging, fun, and bring us back to know why we love Peter Jackson and these Middle Earth “ring” films so much.

Now, this isn’t the only treat for an ending, but also the famous riddle game scene with both Bilbo and Gollum straight from the Hobbit book. Seeing Gollum again played by the ONLY man on earth who could ever play him, Andy Serkis, is one of the greatest things about The Hobbit. While the scene is not an action one, it is much fun seeing these two go back and forth in a game that will either give Bilbo his way out of the cave, or Gollum his next meal. Gollum himself shines, not only due to his CGI character now in more realistic 2012 computer technology, but also because Serkis has not lost even an ounce of charm for the character that can not only be cute but also wickedly evil in a transition of a split second. Freeman compliments him well during these stellar 10 minutes of film.

The film ends well after this as we get our lead-in to the next movie that we will have to wait another few seasons for. So while most of the film was enjoyable, there are some aspects that do take away from the better film it could have been. Characterization and editing being the prime culprits. So does The Hobbit match the wit, magic and wonder of any of the original Rings movies? No, but nor can it really, due to the simple fact that Jackson cannot just rewrite Tolkien’s story, but only add to it some ideas from other works of Tolkien in order to elongate the small children’s book into a trilogy of films. Things with ‘Rings’ were just bigger in terms of publicity and development. Even the Rings soundtrack just had many more original ideas. While The Hobbit does have its own orchestral theme, as well as a well matched dwarf vocal sung to that theme, it isn’t as melodic or as memorable, and is the only continuing theme in this film. It only goes to show how important music quality is to a great movie. The Hobbit just does not have it as strongly as it should have.

So to anyone who has read the books, there was not much progression in this movie as to how far the dwarves got, and the story did not go too far into the book’s length. Yet this only more confirms the fact that Jackson did not have to make this movie run at an overly long time of 2 hours and 45 minutes. A good 20 minutes shorter could have helped the pacing better. Perhaps a better idea would have been to remove the Rivendell scene, or even just some battles with the orcs, in exchange for us getting to know these dwarves a little better; maybe looking back into some of their pasts maybe could have helped. Yet perhaps out of respect for the canon as a whole, as well as Tolkien’s novels, were any possible ideas like this declined. Still, what is good here is very good, and any fan of the Rings films would do well with this seeing film (as most would probably enjoy it), but newer fans who have never had any experience with LOTR (as small a lot as that may be) would do better to see those older films first, if anything to get to know the main characters. Because just viewing this one won’t do that for you.

Now, regarding what this blu-ray package contains, the theatrical version did have some theaters run it at a 48 frame per second film speed. This blu-ray version does not contain that speed, but just a regular 24 fps speed, which is all the better, considering my viewing of it at the theater did provide better smoothness with fast action scenes, but overall just had a somewhat cheesy “syfy original movie” look to it, giving us that “soap opera” effect that may look more realistic, but is usually always shut off by movie buffs from their LED/Plasma televisions. That film speed decision by Jackson was really just unnecessary, so at least viewers do not need to worry about that here. So what we do have here in this package is a 3D version of the film split into 2 blu-ray discs (the rain scenes being the best part of the 3D), 1 blu-ray disc containing a regular 2D version of the film, 1 special features blu-ray disc containing not only trailers, but also video blogs (more on that in a bit), 1 DVD disc version of the film, 1 download code for Ultraviolet digital copy. Sadly, there is no digital copy for Itunes available. Other versions of the blu-ray are as follows:

-Target exclusive edition featuring only the blu-ray + DVD and Ultraviolet downloadable version; contains Bilbo Lego figure (no longer available in retail stores, but for about $40 to $50 on ebay)

-Wal-Mart exclusive version featuring blu-ray + DVD and Ultraviolet code; contains digibook. Also no longer available at retail store, but for about $20 to $30 on ebay

-Standard Blu-ray + DVD and Ultraviolet

-Single Blu-ray disc version

-Single DVD version

The question here is if fans will get yet another extended version of the film, hence to hold off on purchasing any of these current versions. The answer is a maybe. According to Screenrant.com, getting their information from Movies.com, states that in order to publicize the release of the second Hobbit film, the Desolation of Smaug, Warner Bros. will release an extended edition of this first Hobbit film. Given that many fans and critics feel this movie is TOO long already, perhaps this decision will be scrapped before the integrity of the film as a whole will be spared against just wanting to give fans what they think they want, or make more money. Yet other more casual fans may wait for some kind of trilogy release after all three films have all made their way to video in about 2 more years or so. This honestly is too long to wait and no guarantee at all at this point in 2013 at the time of this writing. So best case scenario for fans who may want to wait for possible future iterations, and want to still enjoy the Hobbit, just purchase either the standard DVD or Blu-ray + DVD versions.

Yet going back to this particular 5-disc version, as briefly mentioned before, there is a special features blu-ray disc containing 10 video blogs of behind-the-scenes work on this first Hobbit, containing footage not only from production, but also pre-production and post-production. Anyone who has ever seen the special features from the Lord of the Rings films in the extended editions, will be greatly pleased to see that the same amount of love, editing and dedication is used in order to create these 10 wonderfully enjoyable video blogs that last a little over two hours, making it a documentary all its own. These blogs feature studio tours, comic-con footage, as well as just getting to know what cast and crew do on a regular basis while on set, to sometimes silly lengths. It’s fun, informative, and make the viewer feel like they are just as much of the creation of this film as anyone else. The older LOTR features did the exact same thing back when they were released, so it is definitely very assuring that Jackson cares that much about fans; integrity in filmmaking like this does not come along very much, if ever. These video blogs can be found on either this 5-disc version, or the regular blu-ray+ DVD version (which contains 3 discs).

On a technical level the blu-ray transfer is absolutely perfect. Not only is the film visually sharp with beautiful, deep and vibrant color contrasts (better even than the Fellowship of the Ring blu-ray), but sound is even better. All voices, sound effects, and music are at a nice, full volume and balanced incredibly flawlessly, none ever interrupting another or anything sounding artificial. This is just testing the sound on a standard plasma and LED flat panel, but playing this at a home theater would be virtually identical to watching the movie in a normal movie theater. The behind-the-scenes video blogs are also presented in HD, and while not looking as good, it’s really the feature film here that matters.

So in closing, while I did enjoy The Hobbit, I did not feel it contained the same amount of magic and great pacing of the previous LOTR films, but even without comparing it to those other movies, technicalities such as some editing, script revisions regarding characterization, and even a more creative and varied score could have helped it become all the more memorable than it was. The Hobbit could be appreciated by any fan of action fantasy films, but fans, or especially die hard ones, will get more out of The Hobbit. Hopefully things will improve for the second and third films. I give it a solid 3 out of 4 Arkenstones for the film. For this 5-disc package, I’d give it a solid 4 out of 4, only due to the amount of work put into making it the best it could be, and is a great deal considering the retail price point.

About metalgrinch

Media lover and collector, freak over action/adventure games, classic old school, 80s/90s film/music, movies and pop culture, even lots of new school thingamabobs...and those other meticulous little things we tend to get snooty about. Sony fanboy for life \m/ (>_<) \m/

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