Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey brings the director back to Middle Earth for a prequel that expands greatly on the source novel and then truncates it to the first in a series of three planned films.
Studio: Warner Brothers
Distributed By: N/A
Video Resolution and Encode: 1080P/AVC
Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1
Audio: English 7.1 DTS-HDMA, Spanish 5.1 DD, French 5.1 DD
Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish, French, Portuguese
Run Time: 2 Hr. 49 Min.
Package Includes: Blu-ray, DVD, UltraViolet
Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)
Release Date: 03/19/2013
In The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, a prequel to The Lord of the Rings, we are reintroduced to Bilbo Baggins (Ian Holm in the prologue, Martin Freeman for the rest of the film). Bilbo’s comfortable and sensibly Hobbit-like life in his cozy home at Bag End is upended when the wizard Gandalf (McKellen), recruits him to join a party of thirteen dwarves led by Thorin Oakenshield (Armitage), and, against his better judgement, he accepts. Their quest involves the liberation of a vast treasure from a dragon called Smaug in a distant former Dwarf stronghold in The Lonely Mountain. The initial part of their journey finds them running afoul of trolls, orcs, wargs, and goblins. They also spend an uneasy night in the Elven stronghold of Rivendell where the natural enmity of Dwarves and Elves is held at bay by the possibility that the Elf Lord Elrond may be able to decipher key information about how to access the dragon’s lair.
The Production Rating: 4/5
Fans of The Lord of the Rings films will feel quite familiar stepping into Peter Jackson’s second epic foray into J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle Earth. While Tolkien himself made some minor retcon changes between printings of The Hobbit to make it better mesh with his subsequent Lord of the Rings trilogy of books, the two works always differed significantly in tone. The Hobbit was a more whimsical adventure aimed at readers of all ages, and The Lord of the Rings books were darker and skewed towards older readers. Jackson’s The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey film is tonally skewed much closer to The Lord of the Rings than Tolkien's The Hobbit, not only because Jackson and his co-screenwriters Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens invent and/or greatly expand several scenes that foreshadow events in The Lord of the Rings, but also because Jackson’s filmmaking approach and love for graphic battle scenes give a darker edge to the otherwise lighter material. To be fair, Jackson’s whimsical sense of humor, which is as much a part of his auteurist profile as epic and gruesome battle scenes, also tonally shifted the earlier films into a slightly lighter direction than their source books from time to time.
Jackson’s ambitious vision for The Hobbit was likely not financially viable if it only yielded a single hit movie, but the sheer volume of material added to the narrative and the protracted bordering on indulgent length of the elaborate set pieces do threaten to test the patience of viewers from time to time. A visually spectacular battle between a pair of stone giants, derived from a single paragraph that may have been intended as a metaphor in the book, goes on so long (and in such slow motion), that a viewer has time to move past the awe of the spectacular visuals and start contemplating things like “I wonder if the giant to giant head butt will get cut from the UK edition” and “Why do these giant creatures move so slowly while smaller creatures like trolls, goblins, and Orcs move so swiftly?” That being said, compared to Jackson’s adaptation of King Kong, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey moves along as if on greased rails.
In the end, though, the visual spectacle, earthy wit, and charismatic cast led by Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, and Richard Armitage provided more than enough joy for me to forgive the moments of indulgence. As with The Lord of the Rings trilogy, Peter Jackson and his production team have created a Middle Earth that sets the table for “An Unexpected Party”, to which most viewers will be happy to attend and stay a bit too long.
This 1080p AVC-encoding is letterboxed to the film’s original 2.4:1 theatrical aspect ratio. Shot entirely digitally in 3D and at 48 frames per second, this Blu-ray 24p downconversion is a near perfect 2D rendering of the film’s digitally graded and heavily stylized widescreen palette. As with the Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, this first entry in a film series has effects work that can vary wildly in quality from shot to shot. In some of the shots where the digital compositing is less refined than others, the very high resolution makes the flaws quite evident. Hopefully, as with the later films in The Lord of the Rings trilogy, the lengthier post-production period afforded the second and third films will result in the smoothing over of these occasionally jarring visual effects.
Video Rating: 4.5/5 3D Rating: NA
The film’s original English soundtrack is provided courtesy of a DTS-HD MA 24 bit 48 kHz 7.1 surround track that is relentlessly directional and dynamic. Many of the impressive set-pieces make fine demo material for viewers wishing to show off the capabilities of their home theater surround sound systems. Alternate language 448 Kbps Dolby Digital 5.1 audio tracks are available in French, Spanish, and Portuguese.
Audio Rating: 5/5
With disc one of this three disc set devoted entirely to the movie (at the expense of even the promotional trailers studios cannot usually resist), all of the extras are relegated to disc two. They are presented in AVC encoded 1080p video with Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo sound unless otherwise indicated below.
Special Features Rating: 3/5
New Zealand: Home of Middle Earth (6:35) Part travelogue and part tourism promo, this featurette takes the viewer on a tour of real New Zealand locations that were used for the film with some discussion of how various locations (such as Hobbiton) were built of more permanent materials than they were for The Lord of the Rings films so that they can remain as tourist attractions after the completion of filming. On camera comments are provided by Richard Armitage ("Thorin), Writer/Co-Producer Philippa Boyens, Mark Hadlow ("Dori"), Ian McKellen ("Gandalf"), Director/Writer/Producer Peter Jackson, Production Designer Dan Hannah, Martin Freeman ("Bilbo"), Andy Serkis ("Gollum"/2nd Unit Director), Hobbiton Movie Set and Farm Tour Owner/Operator Russell Alexander, Elijah Wood ("Frodo"), Jed Brophy ("Nori"), Graham McTavish ("Dwalin"), Conceptual Designer Alan Lee, Conceptual Designer John Howe, William Kirchner ("Bifur"), Sylvester McCoy ("Radagast"), Dean O'Gorman ("Fili"), Peter Hambleton ("Gloin"), James Nesbitt ("Bofur"), Stephen Hunter ("Bombur"), and 2nd Unit 1st AD Liz Tan.
Video Blogs (2:07:08 w/”Play All”) Produced for online release during the production of the film (and still available via Wingnut Films' YouTube channel), these “Production Diaries” feature Peter Jackson personally guiding viewers through many aspects of the film’s production. If you were following these when they were initially released, there is nothing new about them other than a noticeable improvement in A/V quality. As promotional behind the scenes clips, they are far superior to standard electronic press kit fare due to Jackson’s personal involvement, the emphasis on fly on the wall behind the scenes footage over standard talking head interviews, and a whimsical playfulness that is laced throughout. That being said, they leave a lot of room for a more comprehensive collection of dicumentary featurettes that will no doubt be made available on some future special edition release. At the time the Video Blogs were produced, Jackson was convinced that he was filming two movies rather than the three he settled on during post production. As such, there are minor spoilery bits of footage from sequences that will not appear until 2013’s The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug mixed in with the production footage. Super spoiler sensitive viewers, consider yourselves warned.
- Video Blog #1 - Start of Production April 14, 2011 (10:32) reviews the pre-production activities and the first few days of principal photography. Subjects touched on include conceptual art, creature, prop, and set construction, wardrobe, and stunt training. It concludes with footage of the first day of shooting including a Powhiri Welcoming ceremony.
- Video Blog #2 - Location Scouting July 9, 2011 (10:20) begins with footage of the last day of Main Unit and 2nd Unit shooting on “Block One” of the film’s production. It begins with a sit down discussion/introduction between Jackson and Andy Serkis. They discuss how and why the shooting of the film was broken into three blocks. Several cast and crew members discuss what they will be doing during their break. About half way in, it transitions to footage of Peter Jackson and his crew’s location scouting in the South Island of New Zealand.
- Video Blog #3 - Shooting Block One July 21, 2011 (13:19) starts with a silly (in a good way) introduction from Jackson walking around Pinewood Studios in England and transitions into a collection of reminiscences from cast and crew about their experiences filming “Block One” of the film’s production. Includes the Gollum’s cave sequence, the Bag End sequences, the Trollshaw sequence, and the Rivendell sequence. Much of the running time is dedicated to discussions of the complexities associated with realizing the thirteen unique dwarf characters. The footage from the Bag End sequence includes a day where John Rhys-Davies (“Gimli” from The Lord of the Rings films) visited the set to discuss the finer points of Dwarf acting. It ends with an amusing cameo.
- Video Blog #4 - Filming in 3D November 4, 2011 (10:46) covers the technical and aesthetic challenges of shooting in 3D and at 48 frames per second. It includes discussion of the 48 Red Epic camera and seventeen purpose-built 3D camera rigs. The technical impact on production design, costumes, hair, and makeup are also discussed. Viewers even learn the names given to each of the 3D camera rigs used in the film, which are even harder to keep track of than the thirteen dwarves in the film.
- Video Blog #5 - Locations Part 1 December 24, 2011 (12:04) discusses the logistics of location shooting, which constituted the films’ second production “block”. The locations visited is Matamata, the home of Hobbiton. Much discussion occurs concerning the set construction of Hobbiton including differences between the Polystyrene version from The Lord of the Rings films to the more permanent version built for The Hobbit films.
- Video Blog #6 - Locations Part 2 March 2, 2012 (12:28) picks up where the previous video blog left off with the production moving to Piopio, Ohakune, Straith Taieri, Queenstown, Paradise, Twizel, and Nelson. It includes some interesting discussion of the helicopter-mounted “space-cam” used for 3D aerial shots.
- Video Blog #7 - Stone St. Studios Tour June 6, 2012 (13:59) consists of a Peter Jackson-guided tour of the Studio which was founded concurrent with the production of the Lord of the Rings films and has been expanded greatly since then. It includes visits to various studio buildings and locations housing various departments. Viewers are treated to glimpses of actors in trailers, assistant director trailers, Stunts,Hair and Make-up, various sound stages, Art Department, Technology Department, Backlot, Weta Workshop, and Scale Doubles. It ends with another surprise cameo and a very funny gag sequence based on it.
- Video Blog #8 - Wrap of Principal Photography July 24, 2012 (14:42) begins with a visit to Comic-Con by Jackson, Boyens, and various cast members. It then jumps to a video shown at Comic-Con hosted by Jackson that was produced over the last five days of shooting followed by cast and crew members reflecting on their experience during the lengthy shoot and the scale of the production.
- Video Blog #9 - Post-Production Overview November 24, 2012 (14:08) covers the lengthy post-production process for The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. Departments visited include Editorial, Pre-visualization, Visual Effects (Weta Digital Motion Capture and CGI animation), Digital Intermediate Color Timing and Grading, Sound, and the recording of the score at Abbey Road Studio 1 in London . The visual effects piece includes extensive discussion of the underground Goblin sequence.
- Video Blog #10 - Wellington World Premiere December 14, 2012 (14:42) covers the last few days leading up to the film’s gala premiere at the Embassy Theater in Wellington, New Zealand. It also covers the work to build giant decorative props to celebrate the film all around Wellington. It culminates with the film’s gala premiere including the arrival of the cast and crew, a musical performance by Neil Finn, a ceremony to kick things off emceed by Jackson, and a recorded message from Ian McKellen.
- Trailer 1 (2:34)
- Trailer 3 - Dwarves (2:34)
- Trailer 3 - Letter Opener (2:50)
- Trailer 3 - Bilbo Contract (2:48)
- Trailer 3 - Gandalf Wagers (2:45)
- Trailer 3 - Gollum Paths (2:44)
- The Hobbit: Kingdoms of Middle-Earth (:57)
- Guardians of Middle Earth (:34)
- Lego The Lord of the Rings (:34)
In the end, entertainment value of the spectacle of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey wins out over the occasions of narrative bloat. It is presented on Blu-ray disc with a pristine audio-video rendering and extras highlighted by two hours of production diaries (previously available from the production’s YouTube site), and a comprehensive collection of trailers.
Overall Rating: 4/5
Reviewed By: Ken_McAlinden
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