The latest installment of Peter Jackson’s cinematic adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit picks up immediately where the first one left off and improves on its predecessor in many ways. Those familiar with the release pattern of the previous film know that an extended edition with copious extras is mere months away. Those familiar with the film’s production history know that the film is a “killer app” for 3D exhibition. That being established, users interested in the original theatrical cut who either dislike or have no access to 3D home exhibition equipment are people too, so let’s explore what this release has to offer them.
Studio: Warner Brothers
Distributed By: N/A
Video Resolution and Encode: 1080P/AVC
Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1
Audio: English 5.1 DTS-HDMA, Spanish 5.1 DD, French 5.1 DD
Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish, French
Run Time: 2 Hr. 41 Min.
Package Includes: Blu-ray, DVD, UltraVioletStandard size Blu-ray case with double hub spindle on one side to accommodate three discs with the two Blu-rays stacked. Hard case wrapped in a foil-enhanced cardboard slipcover
Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer), BD25 (single layer), DVD-9 (dual layer)
Region: A, 1
Release Date: 04/08/2014
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
The Production Rating: 4.5/5
Directed by: Peter Jackson
Starring: Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, Orlando Bloom, Evangeline LIlly, Lee Pace, Cate Blanchett, Benedict Cumberbatch, Mikael Persbrandt, Sylvester McCoy, Luke Evans, Stephen Fry, Ken Stott, Graham McTavish, William Kircher, James Nesbitt, Stephen Hunter, Dean O'Gorman, Aidan Turner, John Callen, Peter Hambleton, Jed Brophy, Mark Hadlow, Adam Brown
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is the second of three planned film's in Peter Jackson's cinematic adaptation of J. R. R. Tolkien's The Hobbit. After a brief prologue dramatizing the first meeting between Wizard Gandalf the Grey (McKellen) and Dwarf Thorin Oakenshield (Armitage), the film picks up immediately after the events of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey and literally hits the ground running. The band of thirteen Dwarves led by Thorin, Gandalf, and Hobbit Bilbo Baggins (Freeman) is being pursued by a vicious band of Orcs from whom they narrowly escaped at the conclusion of the previous film. Their efforts to survive and fulfill their quest to liberate a large treasure buried deep inside a mountain that was the former royal seat of Thorin's father from a dragon find them at odds with the aforementioned Orcs and crossing paths with a number of colorful characters. Among these new characters are a skin-changer named Beorn (Persbrandt), Wood-Elf king Thranduil (Pace), Thranduil's son Legolas (Bloom), Sylvan Elf Tauriel (Lilly), a human barge-man named Bard (Evans), the human Master of Laketown (Fry), and ultimately, the dragon Smaug (Cumberbatch). After narrowly escaping the orcs, their efforts to reach the mountain are complicated when Gandalf must leave the company and enlist the aid of fellow Wizard Radagast (McCoy) on a parallel quest to investigate tidings of a rising dark force known as The Necromancer.
For a movie with no real beginning and a cliffhanger for an ending, Peter Jackson's The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is a surprisingly enjoyable cinematic experience. Free of the burden of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey to introduce fifteen major protagonists and get them on their way, the second film in the series moves along like a house on (dragon) fire from set-piece to set-piece maintaining a steady plot and character momentum.
One of the film's chief advantages is that it contains many of the most memorable episodes from the source novel including the introductions of a (reasonable) number of colorful characters. Even the extra bits invented by Jackson and co-screenwriters Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens involving Legolas and Sylvan Elf Tauriel manage to keep the trajectory of the plot moving towards the ultimate goal of reaching the treasure-laden Lonely Mountain and the dragon Smaug.
The extra post-production time compared to the first film (bolstered by ten weeks of pick-ups for this film and the forthcoming third film in the series) shows in both improved visual effects and a slightly more refined editorial style that enhances both the performances of the actors and the film's overall pace.
This momentum is interrupted only by a side-quest involving Gandalf and fellow Wizard Radagast investigating an evil force that will be familiar to fans of Jackson's Lord of the Rings films. It makes for some cool sequences and shores up a somewhat flimsy excuse from the novel to remove Gandalf from the proceedings for several pages, but it also marks the point where viewers are likely to become most keenly aware of the film's two and a half-hour plus running time.
"The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug" Trailers
"The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug" TV Spots
The AVC encoded 1080p presentation presents the film in its intended 2.4:1 theatrical aspect ratio. It offers a flawless 2D home video representation of the film, which was shot and rendered natively in 48 fps digital 3D. The color palette is heavily manipulated and frequently unnatural, consistent with the filmmakers' intent and with the prior entry in the series. Digital artifacts are few and far between, aided no doubt, by the decision to spread the film out across a BD50 disc with no promotional trailers and only a brief featurette as an extra.
Video Rating: 4.5/5 3D Rating: NA
As was the case with the films in Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings series, the CGI shows a marked improvement over the first film in the series. While there are still a good number of “uncanny valley” moments with digital creatures and landscapes, they are fewer and less distracting than in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. Curiously, one of the more distracting uses of CGI is to add visible breath to various characters speaking outdoors in Lake-town. In summary: dragon rampaging through treasure caverns = improbably convincing. Digital breath = weirdly distracting.
The primary audio track is a lossless DTS-HD MA 5.1 track that renders an impressively three dimensional experience with clever and aggressive use of all 5.1 channels. Surprisingly for a lossless track, the musical score is not rendered with the degree of fidelity that I have come to expect from the best lossless encodings on Blu-ray. It seems to have been dynamically compressed at some point between the mixing and mastering of the film’s soundtrack on disc. I did not see the film in theaters, so I cannot say whether this was a characteristic of the original theatrical mix as well.
Audio Rating: 4/5
Special features are presented in 16:9 high definition video English Dolby Digital 2.0 with available subtitles in English SDH, French, Spanish, and Portuguese unless otherwise indicated below. The lion’s share of the features appear on the 2nd Blu-ray disc, but Disc One includes a single featurette.
Special Features Rating: 3.5/5
New Zealand: Home of Middle Earth, Part 2 (7:11) As with Part 1 on the Blu-ray of the previous film in the series, this featurette is part location featurette and part promo for New Zealand tourism, skewing more towards the former than the latter. On-camera comments about the diverse and spectacular New Zealand locations come from Orlando Bloom (“Legolas”), Supervising Location Manager Jared Connon, Adam Brown (“Ori”), Director of Photography Andrew Lesnie, William Kircher (“Bifur”), Stephen Hunter (“Bombur”), Martin Freeman (“Bilbo”), Mark Hadlow (“Dori”), Graham McTavish (“Dwalin”), Richard Armitage (“Thorin”), Peter Hambleton (“Gloin”), Jed Brophy (“Nori”), Mikael Persbrandt (“Beorn”), John Callen (“Oin”), Dean O’Gorman (“Fili”), Ian McKellen (“Gandalf”), Luke Evans (“Bard/Girion”), Director/Writer/Producer Peter Jackson, and Evangeline Lilley (“Tauriel”).
Peter Jackson Invites You to the Set (40:36 with “Play All”) is a two-part collection of behind the scenes featurettes. For casual fans, they
- In the Company of The Hobbit (18:10) Offers up a glimpse at what goes on on a daily basis during the production of the film via a series of clips of activities occuring around the clock during production days. On-camera comments are provided by Brown, 2nd 2nd Assistant Director Byron Darling, Art director Brad Mill, Production Designer Dan Hennah, Senior Prosthetic Makeup Artist Katy Fray, Kircher, Stephen Frey (“Master of Lake-town”), McTavish, Bloom, Lee Pace (“Thranduil”), Persbrandt, Brophy, O’Gorman, Hadlow, Script Supervisor Victoria Sullivan, Jackson, Picture Double Simon Smith, Picture Double Hayden Weal, Key Grip Tony Keddy, Gaffer Reg Garside, Dolly Grip Steve Shaw, Conceptual Designer Alan Lee, Conceptual Designer John Howe, Weta Workshop Creative Director Richard Taylor, Ben Mitchell (“Narzug”), Movement Choreographer Terry Notary, Editor Jabez Olssen, Evans, Second Unit Director Andy Serkis, Assistant Stunt Coordinator Augie Davis, Brown, Caterer Jessie Malchik, Caterer Zach Farnes, New Zealand Casting Director Miranda Rivers, and Grip Conrad Hawkins.
- All in a Day’s Work (22:25) Composites a different series of daily events for more glimpses behind the scenes of ’round the clock activities during the film’s production. On-camera comments are provided by Evans, Hambleton, Hunter, Stunt Performer Brett Sheerin, Producer Zane Weiner, Jackson, Visual Effect Supervisor Eric Sandon, Serkis, 3D Camera Supervisor Gareth Daley, Lead Data Wrangler, Siobhan Durkin, Craft Sevice Samuel Page, Taylor, Weta Workshop Supervisor Rob Gillies, Weta Workshop Technician John Harding, Stunt Coordinator Glenn Boswell, John Bell (“Bain”), Stunt Performer Patrick Morrison, Assistant Stunt Coordinator Tim Wong, Stunt Performer Tom Cotton, Unit Production Manager Brigitte Yorke, 2nd Unit 2nd Assistant Cameraman Nigel Nally, Callen, Hennah, Construction Manager Colin Davidson, Stand-in Jamie Haugh, and Freeman
Live Event: In the Cutting Room (37:52) is an archival recording of a March 25, 2013 live event in which Peter Jackson gave fans around the world a tour of his post-production facility and conducted a live Q&A. Think of it as something like a Middle Earth Town Hall. It is introduced by actor Jed Brophy who quickly hands things over to Jackson. Departments visited include the motion capture stage, editorial, and pre-visualization. It includes pre-recorded greetings to fans recorded by actor Luke Evans, Stephen Fry and Orlando Bloom. More than half of the running time is dedicated to the fan Q&A, with questions submitted via YouTube and Twitter interspersed with clips providing sneak peeks of the second film and its new characters covered by narration by Jackson.
Production Videos (36:42 with “Play All”) Continuing on from the ten production videos included in the Blu-ray release of the theatrical cut of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, this release contains the next four entries in the series originally released on the films’ web site and YouTube page.
- Production Video #11 - Introduction to Pick-up Shooting (9:06) Sets the stage for the subsequent Production Videos in the series by explaining to the viewer what exactly “Pick-up” shooting is and how they go about reconstructing sets and re-convening cast and crew several months after completion of principal photography in order to accomplish it. On camera comments are provided by Jackson, Connon, Transport Manager Glenn Shaw, Construction Manager Norm Willerton, Art Department Manager Chris Hennah, Set Decorator Ra Vincent, Boswell, O’Gorman, McTavish, Hunter, Make-up and Haire Designer Peter King, Sylvester McCoy (“Radagast”), Extras Casting Director Victoria Beynon, New Zealand Casting Director Liz Mullane, Bell, and Evans
- Production Video #12 - Recap of Pick-ups, Part 1 (8:20) picks up where its predecessor left off with more behind the scenes glimpses of the ten week pick-up shoot. On-camera comments are provided by Post Production Supervisor Josh Levinson, Visual Effects Supervisor Eric Saindon, Previsualization Artist James Willingham, Jackson, 2nd Unit Director - Splinter Unit Christian Rivers, Boom Operator Corrin Ellingford, Stand-in Jamie Haugh, Stand-in (& Plane-spotter) Hayden Weal, Bloom, Lilley, and Pace.
- Production Video #13 - Recap of Pick-ups, Part 2 (8:46) Continues the series with footage of additional pick-up shooting for the second film in the series as well as some glimpses into the post-production process. On-camera comments are provided by Jackson, Willerton, Freeman, Creative Art Director Gino Acevedo, Brophy, Hadlow, Evans, Mark Mitchinson (“Braga”), Fry, Ryan Gage ("Alfrid"), Rivers, Nesbitt, Location Manager Mathew Gordon, Yorke, Animation Supervisor David Clayton, Animation Supervisor Eric Reynolds, FX Supervisor Kevin Romond, FX Supervisor Ronnie Menaham, Additional Re-recording Mixer Gilbert Lake, and Re-recording Mixer Christopher Boyes.
- Production Video #14 - Music Scoring (10:28) Looks at the composition and recording of the film's score. Including visits to Howard Shore's writing studio and the Wellington Town Hall where the orchestra was recorded. On-camera comments are provided by "Music Of The Lord of the Rings" author Dog Adams, Composer Howard Shore, Jackson, NZ Score Coordinator Kate Mulligan, Cobbin, Second Assistant Director Greg Daniels, Orchestrator/Conductor Conrad Pope, Principal Trombone David Brenner, Double Bass Malcolm Struthers, Doctorate Principal Trumpet Cheryl Hollinger, Actor Billy Boyd (circa 2001), Actor Dominic Monaghan (circa 2001), Principal Harp Carolyn Mills, Sub-Principal 2nd Violin David Gilling, Concertmaster Vesa-Matti Leppänen, Principal Timpani Laurence Reese, Gamelan Orchestra Pesinden Briar Prastiti, Score Editor/Mixer Kirsty Whalley, and Principal Flute Bridget Douglas.
A generous collection of theatrical, video, and game trailers is provided. The three Desolation of Smaug trailers can be viewed either individually or via a “Play All” function (7:45)
- Trailer #1 (2:11)
- Trailer #2 (2:32)
- The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug Preview (3:02)
- The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey - Extended Edition Trailer (1:34)
- LEGO The Hobbit Console Game Trailer (1:44)
- The Hobbit: Kingdoms of Middle Earth Mobile Platform Game Trailer (1:07)
This Blu-ray combo pack includes a standard definition DVD of the film presented with 384kbps Dolby Digital 5.1 sound in English, French, and Spanish and subtitles in English SDH, French, and Spanish. The only extra on the disc is the same New Zealand: Home of Middle Earth Part 2 featurette that appears on Blu-ray Disc One.
Ultraviolet Digital Copy
An insert in the packaging includes a code to unlock an Ultraviolet Digital Copy of the movie. Using the code to redeem the digital copy allows the viewer to access high definition streaming versions of the movie on portable devices, smart TVs, and set-top boxes connected to streaming services such as Flixster, Vudu, CinemaNow, Target Ticket, and M-Go.
"The Hobbit" - Production Videos
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug - Ed Sheeran "I See Fire"
Peter Jackson's The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug takes advantage of the lack of need for set-up, introductions, or a conclusion to present a nicely paced spectacle of enjoyable set-pieces. While not as satisfying as a complete story would be, it manages to keep viewers engaged, entertained, and likely excited for the forthcoming third and final entry in the film series. Its is presented on 2D Blu-ray with outstanding video and audio that makes impressive use of the 5.1 surround field but does not quite reach the levels of fidelity of the best modern lossless encodings.
Overall Rating: 4.5/5
Extras are numerous and of decent depth, but likely just a taste of what fans will be treated to when the inevitable extended edition is released months later.
Reviewed By: Ken_McAlinden
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