It was certainly not unexpected that the first instalment in Jackson’s bloated adaptation of Tolkien’s story would see an extended edition on Blu-ray being released. Nor did anyone not expect that the film’s divisive running length would cause a greater kerfuffle with the addition of (mostly) unneeded extra footage. Having said that, and being a Blu-ray purist myself, there is no shame in wanting to own the extended version especially when it’s released in such a sexy box and filled to the brim with special features.
As the release of the final film in The Hobbit trilogy draws ever closer, audiences are well aware of the direction Jackson took with this grandiose adaptation of an extremely humble story. It seems he wants to divide the opinions of even the most ardent fans of his work. Despite its vastness in the film, The Hobbit is an extremely simple story with ideas and themes that are very to-the-point.
With a smart series of additions, refinements and expansions and only a few questionable tweaks or misguided deviations, Jackson tends to overcomplicate and overcompensate and comes across as a director trying to relive the hey-day of the Lord of the Rings. Nothing he can do will ever repeat that but The Hobbit comes as close to this as he ever will be able to.
Do the new scenes and beats add anything to a film which has already been criticised for being overly-long? As always, yes and no. Some are quite good and even surprising but many are a resounding no. It’s really much of a muchness and the new scenes don’t add anything that wasn’t really there but they do give you a deeper glimpse into the world Jackson created. Does the hit-or-miss nature of the extensions tarnish the movie or the Middle-Earth experience? Despite the fact that there are more flaws than before, not really. I remained thoroughly entertained from start to finish and found myself to be as fond of the joy Jackson and company spill out on the screen as before. Does that make the extended cut a better film? Not by my estimation, although for the most faithful among you it may be exactly that.
The real jewel and reason why you would want to get the extended edition is simple: the special features. Every inch is thoroughly explored in the vast appendices and leave you feeling like an observer of the entire production. All in all, this is a collector’s dream come true and a must own release for fans who want to see more than what was seen on the screen.
The video presentation wows, dazzles and thoroughly impresses with an encode that stays 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 the image depth and strength.
The sound is just as impressive and may be one of the best reference titles you can use to show off your surround system. The resulting soundfield is wholly immersive, 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 and Howard Shore’s score is sweeping and full, just as it should be.
Where do I start? Filmmaker Peter Jackson and co-writer Philippa Boyens deliver an extensive and engaging commentary for The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, charting its long development, the many challenges the production faced before the cast even assembled, and as many details about the shoot as the pair could feasibly squeeze into a three-hour discussion.
Most of the special features are made up of featurettes that together, form an exceptionally in-depth, front row seat look at the making of the film. New Zealand: Home to Middle-Earth takes us back to natural wonder of the country that is now synonymous with Middle-Earth and reveals many of the stunning locations used in the film.
The Appendices Part 7: A Long Expected Journey: The film’s appendices — the “Chronicles of The Hobbit – Part 1″ – is spread across two discs, with an embarrassing wealth of bonus content that leaves no stone unturned… quite literally at times. The four-and-a-half hours of extras that appear on the first bonus content disc breaks down as follows:
Introduction by Peter Jackson: Jackson welcomes fans to the Appendices, and even offers a brief glimpse at some of the behind-the-scenes material we can expect from the eventual Extended Edition release of The Desolation of Smaug.
The Journey Back to Middle-Earth: The lengthiest of the Part 7 documentaries and featurettes focuses on the film’s seemingly unending, then suddenly time-crunched pre-production, cast prep and Dwarf boot camp, and readying Jackson’s Middle-Earth locales, costumes, prosthetics and practical effects for the shoot itself.
Riddles in the Dark: Jackson, Freeman and Serkis stage the iconic “Riddles in the Dark” sequence as if it were a one-act play, all as the team works to make Serkis’ final appearance as Gollum as memorable as the scene itself.
An Unexpected Party: Newly devised motion capture methodology and tricks of the size-and-scaling trade make for a challenging return to Middle-Earth as Jackson and company film the dwarves’ visit to Bag End.
Roast Mutton: Jackson throws a wrench in the troll scene’s set design, asking the crew to all but start from scratch at the last minute. From there, three of the Dwarves don motion capture suits to portray the trolls themselves.
Bastion of the Greenwood: Sylvester McCoy and stunt-double Tim Wong bring Radagast to life before Jackson and the FX team focus on the wizard’s animal friends and sleigh-pulling giant rabbits.
A Short Rest: Ian McKellan, Cate Blanchett and Hugo Weaving return to Rivendell for everything from costume tests to rehearsals to the scripted-on-the-fly filming while Christopher Lee, Ian Holm and Elijah Wood head to London for yet another Lord of the Rings reunion.
Over Hill: What soon becomes some of the most difficult performance bits and stuntwork of the film comes during the rain-soaked Misty Mountains rock-giant battle and tricky, intricate and potentially dangerous trapdoor plummet into Goblin-town.
Under Hill: The Goblin King takes the throne courtesy of Barry Humphries as Jackson works to create practical sets, effects and performances that will easily transition into a digital kingdom teeming with hundreds of goblins.
Out of the Frying Pan: The final battle between Thorin’s Dwarves and Azog’s orcs in all its fiery, tree-toppling, action-packed pre-FX glory, from conception to stage to fun-filled green-screen shoot.
Return to Hobbiton: Familiar faces and special guests descend on the Hobbiton sets in Matamata after the filming of an Extended Edition scene in which Gandalf first meets a young Bilbo Baggins at Old Took’s party.
The Epic of Scene 88: It wasn’t just the Dwarves that were running in circles during the Warg chase; everyone involved had to dash from one New Zealand location to the next before the scene could come together.
The Battle of Moria: The prologue sequence began simply but soon blossomed into an epic of its own to lay the groundwork for the drama and conflict that will come over the course of all three films.
Edge of the Wilderland: Pick-ups throughout New Zealand cap off The Unexpected Journey shoot, which soon wraps with a cast who began the production as strangers and ended as family.
Home is Behind, the World Ahead: With principal photography wrapped, the crew dig back through what’s been and look ahead at what’s to come as Jackson and editor Jabez Olsen settle into the editing bay, watch as the FX comes together, and prep for the first film’s premiere. Better still, The Desolation of Smaug begins to come together, offering fans a preview of many sequel scenes and characters that have gone largely unseen before now.
The Appendices Part 8: Return to Middle-Earth: Another four hours and forty-five minutes:
The Company of Thorin: This six-part documentary delves into the five families of Dwarves featured in the film, their relationships and histories, the tone and balance Jackson struck within the company, and the actors’ approach to their characters. Segments include “Assembling the Dwarves,” “Thorin, Fili & Kili,” “Balin & Dwalin,” “Oin & Gloin” and “Bifur, Bofur & Bombur.” Of particular value is the cast’s comments on their performances, which reveal more detail about the warriors than could possibly be attained simply by watching the film.
Mr. Baggins: The 14th Member: From conceptualization to casting to performance, Martin Freeman is front and center in this rather candid overview of the process behind finding and fully realizing the perfect Bilbo Baggins.
Durin’s Folk: Creating the Dwarves: Concept art and design, costuming, makeup and prosthetics, props, personality, diversity and differentiation; spend a wonderfully exhaustive hour with the concept artists, WETA wizards and talented team members who transformed Tolkien’s Dwarves into viable big screen heroes.
The People and Denizens of Middle-Earth: Moving beyond Bilbo, Thorin and the Dwarves, this next hour-long documentary tackles the beasts, creatures and other colorful characters of An Unexpected Journey, many of which required extensive motion capture, digital performance and visual effects. Segments include “The Stone Trolls,” “Radagast the Brown,” “Goblins” and “Azog the Defiler.”
Realms of the Third Age: From Bag End to Goblin Town: Yet another must-see, all-encompassing hour of Appendices, this time devoted to the locales of Middle-Earth as seen in An Unexpected Journey. Witness the development, creation and implementation of Hobbiton, Rhosgobel, Rivendell, the Misty Mountains and Goblin Town.
The Songs of The Hobbit: It isn’t often that a film’s music is given much attention come its eventual supplemental package, but the first film in The Hobbit trilogy earns just that. Learn how the filmmakers adapted Tolkien’s songs for An Unexpected Journey, from “Blunt the Knives” to “Misty Mountains,” “The Man in the Moon Stayed Up Too Late,” “Goblin Town” and “Song of the Lonely Mountain.”
Absolute purists of the series and anyone looking for greater depth behind the making of the first instalment.
The Bottom Line
Even if you aren’t impressed with the new cut of the film, its overwhelming abundance of extensive, meticulously crafted supplemental content is worthy of a purchase.