First Impressions of The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug Extended Edition on Blu-Ray

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Hobbit-DOS-EE-BDGreetings from Middle-earth, Goblins and Gals!

Ye Olde Dragon here, with a quick cursory review of the middle chapter of Peter Jackson‘s adaptive trilogy of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit – well, not the movie itself, but the Blu-Ray release of the Extended Edition.

At some point, I have every intention of doing a more detailed review, but for now I’ve only been through the film twice – once without commentary (by Peter Jackson and Phillipa Boyens) and once with it. I have also only been through each of the Appendix discs once. Not hard to imagine, considering that each has five hours of featurettes.

THE PACKAGING

As expected, the packaging style matches last year’s release of the Extended Edition of THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY. Although each Extended Edition will have a uniquely colored slipcase much like the DVD LOTR Trilogy Extended Editions, it would seem that they will also have a unique design for each one. Where THE HOBBIT: AUJ was meant to evoke the binder of Bilbo‘s book, and DESOLATION OF SMAUG‘s design evokes the Dwarven aesthetic designed by Weta Workshop, including an embossed replication of the carving of the Arkenstone that was over the interior of the secret entrance into Lonely Mountain.
Once more, each of the three discs in the set has its own spindle, which is always a good thing.
Unfortunately, for some unknown reason, once again there is no companion booklet mapping out the special features or noting the new, or extended, scenes. I was (as were other fans, from what I read of their reactions) very disappointed at this decision.

THE APPENDICES

As was the case with the previous Extended Edition release, disc one goes behind the scenes in a semi-linear fashion dealing with pre-production, filming, post-production and casting, using the Middle-earth locations and the dates they were filmed as the “organizational” subject. As I indicated in my cursory review of last year’s release, this is not a format that I am particularly fond of.

I would’ve much rather had the same format that the LOTR Extended Editions used for their Appendices, wherein the production design had its own featurette, as did the costumes, the music, the effects, etc.

Disc two, once more offers background on a number of the characters and races introduced in the second film. As opposed to last year’s release, this year’s had a lot of new territory to cover, where last year’s was really reacquainting viewers with parts of Middle-earth that were featured heavily in the previous trilogy such as The Shire and Rivendell.

There was also, of course, a lot of discussion about the fact that they went from making two films to three and the repercussions of that decision, such as having to call the majority of the cast back to film pickup scenes for this middle chapter as the production had wrapped previously.

I was a little disappointed that once again, the film only had the single commentary track with Jackson and Boyans. I’m figuring that this is due to the fact that post-production was underway at the time of the commentary’s recording. Jackson even acknowledged at the beginning of it that he was in the process of editing the third film and apologized in advance if he made any mistakes or omissions about the second film because he was still in “third film mode”. I’m hoping that for the Extended Edition of THE HOBBIT: THE BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES (which we get to see some footage from), we may get additional commentary tracks for the production crew, cast members and the designers as we did for the LOTR Extended Editions, as the production will have long since ended.

I suppose that – after a year’s reflection – I can accept that a possible reason for the Appendices of each Trilogy to differ so vastly, is because of the production differences between The Hobbit and the LOTR Trilogies. Think about it for a moment. For LOTR, Jackson and his crew had almost 5 years of pre-production and then 18 months of principal photography prior to the release of FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING. They had no such luxury with The Hobbit. As was documented in the first Hobbit Appendix, they lost almost 2 years worth of pre-production and design when Guillermo Del Toro had to pull out as Director after the ridiculously long delays brought about by the lack of agreement between MGM and Warner Bros. Jackson had to start from scratch on top of another six month delay after Del Toro’s departure when the studios finally reached an agreement. Because of this I suppose I can forgive the differences, even though I’m still not fond of them.

The twenty-five extra minutes does enhance the story this time around, as opposed to the almost negligible eleven minutes added into the last film. In fact, one of the new sequences is a scene right out of the book where Gandalf introduces Bilbo and The Dwarves to Beorn, as opposed to the theatrical release which has Beorn entering his house and finding them all there.

The video and audio quality is outstanding, as is expected. I’m also a little disappointed that there is still nothing in regards to the process of filming in 3-D and the 48 frames per second format, other than modifying one of the 3-D cameras to film underwater during the barrel sequence or seeing Peter Jackson wearing 3-D glasses while checking the takes.

One final note, and a bit of fun at that, is that we find out where some of the cameo shots of the crew and other “guest stars” take place such as Stephen Colbert as the “eyepatch” spy in Laketown and conceptual artists John Howe and Alan Lee as musicians serenading The Dwarves as they depart for Lonely Mountain. Apparently, Jack Black (who played Carl Denham in Jackson’s KING KONG) has a cameo during the prologue flashback to Gandalf and Thorin‘s meeting in The Prancing Pony. He’s shown giving Director of Photography Andrew Lesnie a big hug while exclaiming how much he missed everyone, but they must have put him in major prosthetics, as even when freeze framing I couldn’t pick him out.
Overall, another fine release.

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