Here we are once again. It’s the same place we were last year. It’s spring time so it must be coincidentally time for the newest entry in The Lord of the Rings (LOTR) saga…err I mean The Hobbit saga on Blu-ray. And low and behold…IT IS! How about I make a promise to you from the get go? My review below will not be as long as every LOTR infused butt numbing experience you ever had. No sir! Or no ma’am! This isn’t an Extended Edition anyway. I promise to keep my babbling to a minimum, but just in case let’s get a move on it. I tend to fib and we have lots to discuss here. We have a dragon to slay, elves, dwarves and orcs to feud with and possibly even a certain hobbit to toast. Ladies and gentlemen…this is second installment in the three-part film series set to conclude with There and Back Again this summer…may I introduce The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug…on Blu-ray.
So what you get this second time out, in my opinion, is more of the same I guess. Like in the LOTR trilogy, the second picture amps the action and minimizes all the slow character developments of the first feature. The same could be said of this one, more or less. The action sequences were sweetened. The threat levels and stakes were elevated. And of course, you have a fire breathing dragon. Did I mention he talks? Oh yeah! This dragon speaks courtesy of Benedict Cumberbatch. However, let’s back up just a bit and catch everyone up to speed with who’s all involved in this second outing and whatnot. It’s time for some housekeeping!
Once again, Peter Jackson returns to the series, as will be the case with this year’s film too, as co-writer, producer and most importantly, director. This is obviously a direct sequel too (just in case a few closet dwelling peeps were wondering) that continues the storyline in An Unexpected Journey where hobbit Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) travels with our favorite wizard Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellen) and “the company” of dwarves led by Thorin Oakenhield (Richard Armitage) to reclaim their former home, the Kingdom of Erebor, from the dragon I mentioned above, Smaug. The film also stars Evangeline Lilly and Orlando Bloom (I was very excited to see these two in action), Lee Pace, Luke Evans, Ken Stott and James Nesbitt. Last but not least, the familiar, thrilling, heroic and heart-warming score of the six-picture saga is brilliantly on display once again for all to enjoy and soothingly take in courtesy of Howard Shore. And if you know anything about these films, you know how much extra his incredible score adds to the events that unfold onscreen.
The word desolation means emptiness or destruction. I guess both are accurate when speaking in regards to what Smaug did to not only the dwarves’ former home, but also to the nearby lake town that was devastated during the attack so long ago. We obviously learn all this and more throughout this film’s way too long runtime of approximately 161 minutes. The movie also manages to take us back to a familiar bar setting not seen since the first film of the original trilogy. I have to admit. It felt really good to be home there. This scene I am referring to kind of gives us a little backstory on how Thorin and Gandalf first met up and decided to man up and heroically attempt this deemed impossible quest to take back Erebor from Smaug. Although it was a little disjointed from the fairly straight linear narrative of the films, it was a scene I welcomed with much appreciation and in the end it kind of serves nicely to hopefully answer all your unanswered burning questions.
So after the quick intro flashback, we are thrusted back into the heat of the chase where our merry gang of travelers just nearly escaped the clutches of that horrible looking, CG white orc I hate so much, Azog (Manu Bennett), in the first film. They are being tracked and fleeing for their lives. After taking a much needed quick break, it’s not long before they venture into Mirkwood forest where we see our posse attacked by spiders and eventually captured by elves. I would like to stop here for a moment. I don’t know if it’s just me or not, but what a feeling of nostalgia it was to see the elves, notably Bloom and Lilly’s characters, engaged wildly within the tight action sequences. While it was like watching a CG Spider-Man bounce all around as the elves brisk and erratic moves certainly upped the ante and brought back the warm, crazy memories of all the fast-paced battles I loved in the original trilogy. In other words, with the additions of the elves, the pace of the story FINALLY picked up a bit too. And when you’re talking LOTR, that’s always a good thing!
With all this talk of elves and quick action sequences I kind of lost track of where we were at in our tale. Oh yeah! So the dwarves continued their seemingly forever march to reclaim there homeland in the mountains and we meet a few new friends along the way, or are they friends? No worries. I’m not going to drop any spoilers for all the peeps who go into these films like me never having read the books. Eventually we are going to get to this dragon, right? Absolutely!
So here’s my conundrum. I understand this is a fantasy movie. Just about everything has a voice in these films, even the spiders. Hell, even trees talk and walk. But why oh why can I not accept the fact that Smaug the dragon talks? I’m not sure. It just kind of ruins it for me. Rather than him be this menacing dragon everyone should fear, I just don’t feel that way once he opens his big mouth and never shuts up. It takes the threat of destruction out of him for me. Of course, that’s not to say he wasn’t beautifully rendered and all. He was. It’s just me having a hard time coming to terms with a talking dragon and trying to take the heightened sense of danger seriously. Hopefully that will fade once I watch it a few more times on Blu-ray or something, but until that day comes I’m still hung up here. However, that’s my problem, not yours. I know I’m in the minority here.
My second beef with the film is it’s predictability. I understand the reason for foreshadowing in a screenplay and what not, but if you watch this film and you can’t tell me how things will resolve in the final film of the trilogy, then you’re an idiot. They basically spelled it out for you. Do you need me to hold your hand? Also, this one kind of has a Matrix Reloaded cut to it where just as you get into the heart of the action/battle it’s lights out. See you later people. Pay some more money and come back for more. It’s LOTR! What’s another two to three hours on top of this one, eh? I really would hate to see an Extended Edition of this one. This feature is long enough in my opinion. Everyone that wants an extended cut is just plain sick in the head. LOL.
Now let’s talk about what I liked. Besides the zany action sequences with the much missed elves there are three things I really like about this film that I feel are done extremely well. First, although he’s not prevalent like in the first film I really enjoy Bilbo’s character arc. He’s come along way from the first movie and it shows in all the heroic acts he performs. It’s almost as if Gandalf is right about him. He has changed. Thorin who?! Second, I love the B-story involving Gandalf who kind of goes out and does his own thing and in the linear process of the plot lines it sets up very nicely the events that unfold immediately in the first LOTR film. And last but not least, I love the fact that the stupid white orc, Azog, has very much diminished screen time. I mean he’s hardly in it. Hip, hip hooray! I hated the rubbery CG way he looked in the first Hobbit film and he’s no better here. I know we’ll see a lot more of him in the third entry, but for now I’m just ecstatic not having to deal with him here in this one.
The main difference between this film and the last are gone are the songs and silly behaviors of the dwarves. This one has a much serious tone, if you can imagine that, and um…it has a talking dragon! Yes, more than half of the movie is filled with chase sequence after chase sequence until they finally meet the dragon (like what else are they going to do to fill up 161 minutes of screen time), but rest assured…it does happen. Whatever the case, if you’re a fan of the first film, then you owe it to yourself to check this one out theatrically. I think whatever your feelings about LOTR or The Hobbit are, these films deserve and scream to be seen for the first time on the big screen, and opinions formulated thereafter during a second viewing on Blu-ray, but of course. So with that being said enjoy your fantastical time on Middle-earth once again. This time it will feel a tad bit brisker…and that’s a good thing!
I guess you can see from the bold score above that Warner Bros. is continuing its tradition from last year of delivering an exceptional A/V experience on Blu-ray. Come on I’ll show you around New Zealand.
• Encoding: AVC MPEG-4
• Resolution: 1080p
• Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1
• Clarity/Detail: From the opening frames this one is incredibly rich in detail and textures from the wrinkles, hair and pores on the dwarves, not to mention the fabric in their clothes, to the ultra clear and chiseled backgrounds and set pieces. The landscape of Ne Zealand is breathtakingly crisp and clear here throughout. You just want to become part of it. That’s how inviting it is onscreen. We cannot forget to mention the terrifically rendered scales on Smaug either. Although my favorite still has to be the costumes employed throughout and the attention to detail captured in all of them.
• Depth: Because of the intricacy in the costumes as mentioned above I found the characters onscreen just literally popping right out at me the whole time so yeah I guess you can say this Blu-ray possess that much desired three-dimensional pop we all love.
• Black Levels: There were a couple of times where the blacks were not as deep as desirable, but nonetheless they were all still satisfying throughout so no real problems here to report.
• Color Reproduction: I’m a huge fan of the contrast here. Although the color palette was a little darker than it’s Hobbit predecessor, that did not hinder the contrast here at all one bit. The colors were representative and faithful to the events unfolding onscreen and you can’t penalize them for that.
• Flesh Tones: The skin tones worked perfectly for me throughout the presentation here. Not once did I complain of someone being too hot or orange in the face. They all had a natural saturation to them. Check this off as spot on!
• Noise/Artifacts: This Blu-ray presentation is free of all debris, artifacts, white noise, specks, dirt, aliasing and banding. All evil agents and enemies of the Blu-ray format that would cause interference are locked up and at bay here. Everything is in check.
Continuing where we left off in the video department I dare anybody to find fault with this DTS-HD treatment Warner Bros. drops on us here. Any takers?
• Audio Format: DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1, French 5.1 Dolby Digital, Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital
• Subtitles: English, English SDH, French, Spanish
• Dynamics: I think one of things you will first sonically realize is the brilliant sweeping score of Howard Shore that will capture your attention instantly and may never let you go truthfully. But other than this the dynamics are off the charts here from the many raging battles, clanging of swords, roar of beasts and fire breathing dragon moments to riding barrels down a lazy or rampaging river and sliding down a pile of golden treasures. This track is exceptional!
• Low Frequency Extension: We kind of already touched upon this above, but what would this track be without its dynamite bass reproduction in bringing the roaring beats to life, the battles raging in your living room and making dragons breathe fire and infuse your landscape in flames? It’s all faithfully reproduced thanks to the LFE presentation here!
• Surround Sound Presentation: This is where this 7.1 surround track will really get you and suck you in from the mesmerizing score that will swallow you whole to the many battles that literally engulf you. You will have golden showers of coins sliding past you, arrows zinging by your head and even spiders crawling overhead. No expense is spared in ensuring you are part of this onscreen fight to take back the dwarves’ homeland. I hope you are ready for a rumble because this surround sound package is going to give it to you from all angles. Directionality is paramount here! And let’s not forget about the moments when Baggins slides on that ring. It’s like a familiar chant all around you like being in Vegas and hearing all those chirping and whirling slot machines. Music to my ears!
• Dialogue Reproduction: The dialogue is always intelligible and clear throughout even in the heat of battle where it’s prioritized. That’s always important to me and thankfully mastered here.
The extras here are actually spread over three discs, two of them being Blu-ray and the latter is a DVD. The first Blu-ray disc contains the feature (2:41:16) and one extra while the second Blu-ray discs houses all the other bonus goodies. I like this approach! Why compress when you can just be generous with a second disc? While people may complain that they have to switch discs out to access the extras, I say “F” hefty compression. Kudos Warner Bros.! And oh yeah…that third disc, the DVD, obviously houses the theatrical movie in standard definition on it. Rest assured, there’s also a leaflet inside with a UltraViolet Digital HD redemption code for enjoyment of the flick on all your portable devices. So should we begin with the dissection of these extras or what?! For this not being an “Extended Edition,” there’s still quite a slew of material that takes a couple hours to go through nonetheless.
Blu-ray Disc 1 (The Feature):
- New Zealand: Home of Middle-earth, Part 2 (HD, 7:11) – From Mt. Ruapehu to the Pelorus Reiver, the cast and crew introduce the epic Film 2 locations of New Zealand, which we all know as a transformed Middle-earth in the series. It seems like everyone loves it there too. I have to admit, it does look insanely beautiful as Luke Evans exclaims. They actually filmed at a sacred place where the native people welcomed the cast and crew and they all knew how special it was to be part of it all. The helicopter ride up does look pretty incredible. And man do the rocks ever look chiseled in this HD featurette as they shot in this one place actually called Paradise. It was also pretty cool to hear Peter Jackson say how he once visited the Pelorus River when he was 7 years old with his parents and he remembered how he thought it would be so cool to have monsters there. Brilliant stuff! No one is ever going to believe this scenery is real, BUT IT IS!
Blu-ray Disc 2 (Special Features):
- Peter Jackson Invites You To The Set (HD, 40:36) – There are a total of two documentaries here that chronicle a cross-selection of days during the making of The Hobbit trilogy to present the experience of a typical 24-hour day on and off set. There’s a Play All functionality selectable from the disc’s main menu.
- In The Company of The Hobbit (HD, 18:10) – This one basically starts out at 4:15 AM and runs all the way to lunchtime frolicking and showcases such tasks as crew calls, actors being made up, blocking scenes and shooting on location. Wow! 1100 crew! We even flash backward here to 12:15 AM just to show how people work around the clock 24 hours a day. The studio never sleeps. We even get treated to seeing breakfast being made, which is billed the best free breakfast. Just seeing them driving at 4 AM in the darkness makes me tired. I love watching the makeup and prosthetics being fitted and put on. Even bands play at their lunches. A fun time!
- All In A Day’s Work (HD, 22:25) – Here we get to spend an afternoon on the set all the way until nighttime festivities with a visit to the actor’s trailers, a spider webbing demonstration (how to get out of it) and the attack in Bard’s house. In all honesty I would freak out in that spider webbing due to claustrophobia. Luke Evans even briefly shows us around the studio lot. We witness the actors cat napping as the biggest thing on a movie set is waiting. And those dwarves love to sleep. We also get treated to dramatic reenactment of how difficult it is to go #1 in a dwarf costume. LOL. I love watching the stunt work and seeing Bloom enjoying himself. I mean, how can he not enjoy what he’s doing here? He’s making movie magic! Evangeline Lilly looks like she is having a good time with the fight scenes too. And there’s afternoon tea too!
- “I See Fire” Music Video (HD, 5:42) – This song is actually my favorite part of the movie because it signifies the end and beginning of the credits. LOL. Okay. I’m being a little facetious, but in all honesty I thought this was a brilliant way to wrap things up once the picture cut to black. And here’s the music video of it all courtesy of Ed Sheeran! It’s kind of like seeing him recording it live in the studio plus some movie clips. I like! He has a great voice in my opinion. The words perfectly match the movie’s story line. iTunes here I come!
- Live Event: In The Cutting Room (HD, 37:52) – This event took place in March 2013 where Peter Jackson gave fans a tour of his production facilities and fielded questions from across the globe. Now you can watch it here!
- Production Videos (HD) – There are a total of four production videos here and they are listed as follows. Of course, there’s also a selectable Play All function available too.
- Production Video #11 – Introduction to Pick-ups Shooting (HD, 9:06) – The crew reassembles here in preparations for pick-ups in films 2 and 3 while we are also reunited in Middle-earth an the Dwarves train for their upcoming battles.
- Production Video #12 – Recap of Pick-ups, Part 1 (HD, 8:20) – Here we get to meet Splinter Unit Director Christain Rivers and Lee Pace (Thranduil) as well as get to see Orlando Bloom and Evangeline Lilly performing stunt work.
- Production Video #13 – Recap of Pick-ups, Part 2 (HD, 8:46) – Ping-pong anyone? Martin Freeman wants to show you his skills here. We also venture into Smaug’s Lair and meet the Master of Lake-town (Stephen Fry). The crew also races to complete the required pick-up shots and post-production chores.
- Production Video #14 – Music Scoring (HD, 10:28) – I’m a sucker when it comes to these featurettes on the making of the score so it really comes as no surprise as to why I like this one so much. In a nutshell, we basically take a visit to Howard Shore’s composing studio and get a closer look at scoring with the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra at the Wellington Town Hall. Now tell me. How cool is this?!
- Trailers (HD) – Last but not least here, we have a total of six trailers with a Play All option. They are listed in the following order: Trailer #1, Trailer #2, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug Preview, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey – Extended Edition Trailer, Lego The Hobbit Game Trailer and The Hobbit Kingdoms of Middle-earth Game Trailer.
I don’t think the question here is should you own this. Of course you should! Even casual fans of the series like myself should have this in their HD arsenal. There’s no doubt about that! However, I believe the main question really all comes down to the fact as to whether or not you wait for the eventual double dip so to speak when Warner Bros. releases the Extended Edition of this movie (although I would hate to sit through anything longer in runtime honestly) later this year. You all know that’s inevitably coming. So do you hold off on your Hobbit love for now until winter or can you afford to swing both purchases if need be? That’s a question only you can answer. Me on the other hand, while I love the vast deepness of extras provided with the Extended Editions, movie-wise, this one is perfect for me, but to each their own. There’s no doubt about the fact that if you want the most exceptional presentation of this film you can get in the meantime, it has to be this Blu-ray! So I think you know what you need to do. You need to man or elf up and pre-order this one here so it’s on your doorstep waiting for you when you get home from a hard day’s work on April 8th. That’s an order hobbit!