Well, we knew it was coming, the extended edition of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, following the same pattern as the original Lord of the Rings film trilogy from Peter Jackson. I haven’t watched the film since I reviewed the theatrical version’s Blu-ray release, and I have to admit I enjoyed it more this time around, so perhaps the third time’s the charm. I can’t say that extending it is the reason, however, unlike with Lord of the Rings. I didn’t find any of the additional material added to An Unexpected Journey to bring much more to the story, and I still find the newly-extended prologue (and the first act of the film in general) to be far too drawn out and a little dull. That said, the film has a charm of its own that begins to win you over the more you allow yourself to open up to it and just escape into Jackson’s and Tolkien’s fantastical vision. Some missteps still remain, however, such as the over-the-top song and dance number in Hobbit Town. Some of these things are perhaps unavoidable when trying to stretch a single work into an epic trilogy of the same caliber of the complex and multilayered world that was created by Tolkien in his three-part epic, The Lord of the Rings.
What follows below is my original review for The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. At the end is a listing of the additional and extended scenes and their starting points on the disc.:
Peter Jackson returns once again to the land of Middle-Earth for a tale that precedes the epic Lord of the Rings trilogy that he so adeptly brought to the big screen. As soon as the new journey opens, fantasy fans are transplanted to a familiar place, in part due to the skills of returning cinematographer Andrew Lesnie, but also because Jackson and fellow screenwriters Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, and Guillermo del Toro engulf us in the familiar rhythms of Tolkien’s writing.
It is long before the epic journey that Frodo Baggins (Elijah Wood) would take into the heart of Mordor to save Middle-Earth, and Gandalf (Ian McKellen) has arrived to enlist the young Bilbo (Martin Freeman) in an unexpected journey. It is a journey that will take the less than willing hobbit on a dangerous quest with a group of dwarves, led by dwarf prince Thorin (Richard Armitage), through treacherous mountains, while hunted by orcs and wolves, to reach the former dwarf kingdom once resplendent with gold, now guarded by a foul dragon named Smaug.
Fans of The Lord of the Rings will immediately recognize the various scenes of the band of heroes trekking through various mountainous regions, being chased by orcs, and battling for their lives. It might all seem rather reductive at first. However, Jackson and co. are effective in setting a good pace and keeping the story lively and, well, unexpected with humor and heart. Most of all, the sumptuous visual effects which have taken great strides in the over a decade since the last trilogy was made have grown even more palpable and at times frightening. Stone giants tower over our heroes hurling boulders, hordes of orcs riding wild, snarling beasts are in hot pursuit, and, of course, the motion capture villain Gollum (Andy Serkis) looks more malevolent than ever.
Still, even with all of this, there are times when the film does drag a bit in its nearly three-hour run. One can’t help but consider if it was truly a wise choice for Jackson to turn what was a solitary novel, so much smaller in scope to the sprawling, triple-volume, Lord of the Rings, into what is going to be another cinematic trilogy on the same scale. Having never read the source material as I had with the former, I cannot comment directly on how much artistic license has been taken in order to stretch the story out over such a space. I would have to assume, however, given the condensation that took place with the Lord of the Rings for its cinematic versions, and given the girth of those films, that some padding must be going on here to expand Bilbo’s tales into three epic films.
That said, given the overall quality, nonetheless, of this initial offering, which, after all, is intended as the setup of a trilogy, we could still be in for a quite satisfying fantasy trilogy in the long run.
- Prologue: The Fall of Erebor (00:00:00)
- “Blunt the Knives” (00:23:16)
- Rivendell (01:24:56)
- A Short Rest (01:30:34)
- The White Council (01:41:40)
- The Great Goblin (02:03:57)
- Mr. Baggins (00:17:27)
- The Last Homely House (01:39:03) (see last three screen captures for a look at this scene)
Unlike The Lord of the Rings trilogy, there is no visible difference whatsoever between the theatrical release and the extended edition of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. You can see this in the three screen captures I’ve included from the extended edition for comparison’s sake, above, in this section, and immediately below. Two of the scenes can be seen in the previous review of An Unexpected Journey. Some differences may be noticeable due to slight variations in the frame and the different codecs (we’ve switched from lossy JPEG to lossless PNG since then).
Warner has once again sent us only the 2D release, and that’s what this review pertains to. Nothing has changed. The extended version of the film comes to Blu-ray with the same AVC/MPEG-4 1080p encodement from Warner. The Hobbit was shot in high definition with the Red Epic cinematographic HD camera, and is also in fact a native 3D production. Being a digital production, there is no film grain as such, but I did notice some digital anomalies in the image that are most likely a result of the production and camera. In some darker areas of the screen there was some noticeable digital noise and posterization that intruded on the otherwise pristine image. Apart from that, this is a nicely rendered transfer with extended details, nuanced shadow delineation, and strong contrast.
Audio also remains the same, with a fantastic English DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 (48kHz/24-bit) soundtrack included alongside French and Portuguese Dolby Digital 5.1 dubs. The English track has a wide and natural dynamic range that both captures the score of Howard Shore with a natural balance and air around its instrumentation, and the various foley effects such as the marching of the orcs or clanking of swords with a tight 360-degree soundstage. Dialogue is clear and always above the fray of sounds while lows are deep, providing a decent workout for the subwoofer.
The appendices return in this extended edition for over 9 hours of behind-the-scenes features detailing every aspect of the production of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, from the musical scoring, to creating the creatures, to locations and more. This is a fan’s and a cineaste’s delight. They’ve also added a commentary. Unfortunately, DVD is dropped from the package, but UltraViolet is still included.
Blu-ray Disc 1 (Main Feature):
- The Filmmaker’s Commentary – Director/writer/producer Peter Jackson and writer/co-producer Phillipa Boyens offer their perspective and stories on creating the first film of The Hobbit trilogy.
- New Zealand: Home of Middle-Earth (1.78:1; 1080p/24; 00:06:35) – 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.
Supplemental Blu-ray Disc 1:
The Appendices Part 7 – A Long-Extended Journey, The Chronicles of The Hobbit (1.78:1; 1080p/24; 04:31:11):
- Introduction by Peter Jackson (00:01:54)
- The Journey Back to Middle-Earth
- Riddles in the Dark
- Roast Mutton
- A Short Rest
- Over the Hill…
- …Under the Hill
- Out of the Frying Pan…
- Return to Hobbiton
- The Epic Scene 88
- The Battle of Moria
- Edge of the Wilderland
- Home is Behind, the World Ahead
Supplemental Blu-ray Disc 2:
The Appendices Part 8 – Return to Middle-Earth (1.78:1; 1080p/24; 04:45:21)
- The Company of Thorin
- Mr. Baggins: The 14th Member
- Durin’s Folk: Creating Dwarves
- The Peoples and Denizens of Middle-Earth
- Realms of the Third Age: From Bag End to Goblin Town
- The Songs of The Hobbit
The Definitive Word
The extended edition of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is a good deal more for its massive amounts of supplements than for the additional material in the film. The new and extended scenes do not necessarily improve the film the way they did for The Lord of the Rings trilogy. That said, it is certainly a film that continues to grow on you after multiple viewings and is a fantastic home theatre experience.
Additional Screen Captures