What can I say? I love 3D! From the moment I began watching 3D content in my home I quickly discovered that I needed more content. I suspect that those of you just purchasing your first 3D hardware will acquire the same ferocious appetite. That's why I became the HTF 3D ADDICT. I personally love images that pop off the screen and come inches away from your face without becoming overly gimmicky. However, I certainly appreciate the nature documentaries that offer beautiful depth and separation. These are not necessarily reviews of the film themselves. I am not going to concentrate on story or supplements -- you can find the 2D reviews elsewhere on this forum. My job is to let you know exactly what kind of 3D experience to expect from the titles that are being released. As I will be receiving a handful of new product from the studios expect to see more title coverage.
The Desolation of Smaug
Studio: Warner Bros.
Product Release: April 8, 2014
Audio: DTS-HD MA 7.1
Running Time: 161 minutes
On A Scale 0-5
Overall 3D Presentation Rating: 5
3D Separation: 5
3D In Yo' Face Factor: 2
"I am fire! I am death!"
Since this is my first review of any of the films within The Hobbit series, I am
going to spend just a little bit of time talking about my personal feelings towards
the original Lord of the Rings trilogy as well as what Peter Jackson has done with
these new Hobbit installments.
As a teenager, I was very much absorbed in the novels written by author J.R.R.
Tolkien. I clearly remember the day I bought the first book, The Hobbit, and how
I spent the next several weeks engrossed in its story, slowly making my way to its
conclusion. Of course, that was followed up by the purchase of the three book
Lord of the Rings trilogy which included The Fellowship of The Ring, The Two Towers
and Return of the King.
Anyone who has read these books in their youth or as adults have these adventures
clearly burned within their memories. They were meticulously well-crafted stories
that inspired a wealth of imagination. Clearly, these are the best fantasy novels
ever written whose popularity have stood the test of time.
I mention all of this because I want to establish that I have a clear understanding
of the novels and how well the films represent the original material. I have always
felt that Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings trilogy was an amazing cinematic
accomplishment given the complexity of adapting those stories for the screen and
making Middle Earth a convincingly real world, thanks to the film's groundbreaking
CGI visual effects. To date and perhaps forever more, the trilogy will stand as the
best fantasy film series of all time.
When Peter Jackson announced he was finally moving forward with his plans to
return to the series and make two films based on the original novel, The Hobbit,
fans were overjoyed by the news. However, excitement soon turned to concern
when Warner Bros. announced that the planned 2-part film would now become
I think the fears of fans were somewhat realized in The Hobbit: An unexpected
Journey, a film whose storyline was overstretched, that for many, it became a
laborsome watch. I know of die-hard Lord of the Rings fans who either fell
asleep or walked out of the theater from boredom. There are others, like myself,
who have expressed a desire never to watch the original Hobbit film again. Personally,
I feel Peter Jackson and the studio made a very poor choice to expand the storyline
to the point where pacing was adversely affected.
Fortunately, it seems like The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is not the same
weighted anchor that the first film became. In fact, it's a rather exhilarating journey
that is more tightly edited, contains some solid action sequences, and some of the
most groundbreaking visuals that have ever been seen on screen thanks to the
efforts of Weta Digital.
Picking up immediately after An unexpected Journey, we find Bilbo Baggins (expertly
played by Martin Freeman) and his company of dwarves led by Thorin (Richard Armitage)
and Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellen) continuing their quest to retake Lonely Mountain, a
kingdom of treasure that has been invaded by a rather nasty dragon named Smaug (voiced
by Benedict Cumberbatch). In the original Hobbit film, we only saw quick glimpses of the
monstrous creature. However, as the title suggests, this film belongs almost entirely to
Smaug, as he is finally revealed with eye-popping results.
To watch this film on 3D Blu-ray is a sight to behold. Perhaps the reason for this is that
the film is presented across two discs, allowing for more bandwidth to be utilized for both
video and audio. There is an unprecedented level of clarity that had my eyes squarely
glued to the screen in complete awe as I soaked in the fine details within the film's
massive set pieces. The bar has certainly been raised with this transfer that offers
exceptional imagery, perfect color grading, and noticeable detail -- even within the film's
darker regions. Rarely do I see picture quality of this magnitude when wearing 3D eyewear.
So, let's take things up a notch as I talk about the 3D presentation which serves to
make The Desolation of Smaug an even more exciting and emotional experience.
For anyone hoping for any kind of pop-out gimmickry, there is none to be seen here
except for a rather grand (but brief) moment in the film (which I will talk about momentarily).
This presentation all about depth and the manner in which it effectively expands upon
the enormous set pieces which look larger than life. There are some stunning 3D moments
to behold here as the camera swoops above then directly through various sets and scenery.
One of my favorite moments is when the camera dives into the Mirkwood forest with its layers
of cloth spider webbing that seems real enough to touch. As our group of travelers race into
the the home of Beorn, there are bumble bees that fly in and out of frame -- giving a distinct
"oh wow" impression that anyone watching the film in 2D would clearly miss. At the beginning
of the second disc, falling snow (most of it digitized) within LakeTown gives a rather satisfying
effect. Film turns to thrill ride during the barrel escape scene which will ultimately stand as one
of the most breathtaking sequences ever filmed for the entire series.
Another way in which this 3D offering really shines is how it brings out the massive
scale and grandeur of the beast known as Smaug. The only pop-out that exists in this
presentation occurs as he first awakens, his head rises, and snout protrudes forward.
It's not necessarily, "in yo' face," but a point is definitely being made in having the snout
extend itself directly into the audience. This is the only moment in the entire film where
the slightest hint of ghosting is introduced. Other than that, there absolutely no crosstalk
or any kind of abnormality that mars the absolute perfect image presentation.
This is the point in the review where I can proudly say that I no longer have to talk about
how 7.1 audio has been downconverted to 5.1 on my system. As of last month I have
expanded my audio system to support 7.1 channels. For me, this is an entirely new
in-home audo experience which will most likely explain why I am about to gush all over it.
For anyone whose home system supports 7.1 (and 5.1), I am assuming this is probably
the most immersive audio experience that could be had until Warner does a proper home
release of Gravity. This is one hell of an active audio experience with rears working at
full force to provide ambient effects which include several moments of sinister voices that
move fluently around the room and clearly into the two back rear channels (which resulted
in a huge smile on my face). One of my favorite audio moments happens within the Mirkwood
forrest as the hissing sounds of spiders and their ghoulish dialogue surround and envelope
the listener. It's here that you can sense the level of sonic detail within the mix, as you
clearly making out the individual steps of crawling spider legs. Another terrific sonic moment
takes place at Dol Guldor, were Sauron is revealed to Gandalf. The twisted, creaking sounds
of the fortress engulfs the listener. Another memorable moment comes when we first meet
Legolas and his band of elves. As they surround the dwarves, you can hear the sounds of
individual bows being drawn through every single channel. This is a mix puts the listener
directly in the middle of the action while being swept off their feet by Howard Shore's
beautifully epic score. The presence of LFE is unmistakable, but yet never overpowering.
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug arrives as a 5-disc 3D combo package. As
mentioned previously, the film is spread across two Blu-ray discs with a sort of abrupt
cutting point. Two additional blu-rays make up the 2D version and Special Features.
The fifth disc is the DVD. A Digital HD Ultraviolet presentation is also included. The Blu-ray
packaging is encased in a cardboard lenticular sleeve.
I will let other reviewers go into the special features included on these discs. My reviews
are more about the presentation.
Prior to this review, Warner's Blu-ray release of Gravity held the top spot on my Top 30
most recommended 3D release list. Amazingly, that top spot was given to a film that
was not natively shot in 3D, but unconverted in post production. With absolutely none
of the pop-out that I personally prefer, I gave Gravity its award based upon is overall
immersive experience both visually and sonically.
However, Warner's neglect in providing a 7.1 track for Gravity is the reason why it has
now become unseated.
In short, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is an incredible, cinematic achievement
that has been given a grand treatment on Blu-ray. It's image quality is so exceptional
that even 3D eyewear cannot diminish its level of detail. The 7.1 mix serves as the icing
on the cake in making this the most immersive 3D experience to be had in the home. For
that, it now ranks as what I feel, at the moment to be, the best 3D Blu-ray disc you can buy.
Images are for illustrative purpose only and not representative of the picture quality of this disc.
Samsung PN64F8500 display professionally calibrated by Gregg Loewen, Lion AV
Oppo BDP-93 3D Blu-ray Player
Denon 3311CI Receiver
Atlantic Technology H-PAS AT-1 fronts, 4400 center; 4200 rear side and back speakers
SV Sound Subwoofer