Blu-ray Review: The Hobbit – An Unexpected Journey

Director Peter Jackson has returned to Middle Earth with co-writers Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens to bring J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit to the big screen over the course of three films. Certainly, the question of whether a 310 page novel needs three films is a fair one, as we consider the first offering in the proposed trilogy, The Hobbit: An unexpected Journey. While no one can question Jackson’s love and commitment to the material and Middle Earth, unfortunately, it’s mostly the new elements that he and his crew brought to the table that results in The Hobbit being overly long, and lacking any real emotion or sense of urgency.

The story follows the young hobbit Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), happily living among his garden and his books in Bag End. One day, Gandalf (Ian McKellen) shows up at his house unannounced, with a band of dwarfs in tow. He wants Bilbo to join a special mission fraught with danger. The dragon Smaug is on the prowl. Years earlier, he took over The Lonely Mountain, killing the inhabitants of the dwarf kingdom and enjoyed its vast riches. Initially reluctant, Bilbo eventually agrees to take up the challenge, heading out into an Orc-infested world to reclaim their land. Along the way, Bilbo learns about courage, the threat they face from Gollum (Andy Serkis) and the power of the One Ring.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected JourneyThe slow pace is most noticeable during the film’s first half, when things often feel like they move at turtle speed. The dinner party at Bilbo’s home feels like it’s happening in real time, as the dwarves are slowly introduced and Bilbo just takes it all in. And then, of course, the dwarfs have to sing! There are other scenes that took Tolkien only a couple of pages to cover in the novel, but have been drawn out in a misguided attempt at comedy. Obviously, the snot and fart jokes are aimed at the youngsters in the audience, but they just don’t fit, given the other things going on in the story. This is especially true since audiences have seen similar things play out more unsympathetically in the earlier trilogy. Fans have come to expect a far more serious and emotional response from the characters.

All that being said, Freeman is a pleasure to watch as Bilbo, and there’s no doubt that he brings a real charm to the role. As one might expect, there’s great CGI work along the way as well. Gollum was brilliant in the original trilogy, but he looks even better here. And as has become customary, Andy Serkis delivers a brilliant performance, full of danger and insanity.

There are a few action beats that thankfully break up the monotony—the opening provides a look at an epic battle between the dwarves and the orcs, which is a recurring threat—it’s almost a case of too little, too late. The theme of what it means to have a proper home is well executed in the film’s final minutes, but it’s a long slog getting there.

In the final analysis, while far from a terrible film, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey simply lacks the emotion and excitement of The Lord of the Rings Trilogy. Overlong, and lacking any new, interesting characters, we’ll have to see if Peter Jackson’s decision to turn The Hobbit into three film was a wise one.

Stunning to look at, Warner Brothers transfer is framed at 2.40:1. The colors, particularly in The Shire, are lush and vibrant. Depth and shadow detail is simply remarkable. Overall, this is a simply gorgeous presentation. We were only able to get a 2D copy for review, but 3D fans might prefer the Blu-ray 3D combo pack, which is also now available.

Every bit as solid as the video presentation, the 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack is a great listen. Dialogue is crystal clear, and the surround channels are engaged throughout. The experience is totally immersive when called upon, and the bass is top notch.

A Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 track is included, as are English SDH and Spanish subtitles.

Much of the two and a half hours of special features have been available online for some time. My guess is, there will be an Extended Edition in the future that will offer the cornucopia of goodies we’re used to when it comes to a Peter Jackson offering. That said, these features do get their own Blu-ray disc.

  • The Desolation of Smaug Sneak Peek Access Code: Copies of The Hobbit come with a 12-digit access code for an exclusive online sneak peek at The Desolation of Smaug, which was hosted live by Peter Jackson on March 24th at 3pm EST/12pm PST.
  • New Zealand: Home of Middle Earth (HD, 6:35) Jackson and his team give a tour of the New Zealand countryside, revealing locations used in the film.
  • Video Blogs (HD, 127:07) Ten Jackson-helmed online video blogs are available, which primarily serve as teasers for the film, but are also informative and entertaining: Start of Production (April 14, 2011), Location Scouting (July 9, 2011), Shooting Block One (July 21, 2011), Filming in 3D (November 4, 2011), Locations Part I (December 24, 2011) Locations Part II (March 2, 2012), Stone St. Studios Tour (June 6, 2012), Wrap of Principal Photography (July 24, 2012), Post-Production Overview (November 24, 2012), Wellington World Premiere (December 14, 2012).
  • Trailers (HD, 16:16) Six full and alternate Unexpected Journey trailers.
  • Game Trailers (HD, 2:05) Kingdoms of Middle-Earth, Guardians of Middle-Earth and LEGO LOTR.
  • DVD Copy of the film.
  • Ultraviolet Copy of the film.

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