The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, the second film in Peter Jackson’s prequel to The Lord of the Rings, is beginning to show the strain of the director’s determination to stretch the adventure into three books. While still enjoyable, Smaug has difficulty maintaining the fantasy for its 161 minute runtime, finding it necessary to resort to what feels like a lot of filler.
Picking up where An Unexpected Journey left off, just after their escape from a pack of Orcs, Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), Gandalf the Grey (Sir Ian McKellen), and a band of dwarves led by Thorin (Richard Armitage) continue their quest to reclaim land in the Lonely Mountain. While there are untold riches to be had, they must first face a number of dangers, including a fire-breathing dragon named Smaug (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch) who claims both riches and fortress as his own.
When Gandolf is forced to investigate the threat of the Necromancer, the dwarfs find themselves battling giant spiders, only to find themselves captured by wood elves. Using the invisibility powers of the Ring, Bilbo is able to slip past the elves and free the dwarves, but the orcs are soon hot on their tail again. To break away from the Orcs, the group makes a deal with shipman Bard (Luke Evans), who smuggles them into the human-populated Lake-town so they can fulfill the prophecy and take back what is theirs. Smaug, however, is not inclined to go quietly into the night.
Smaug, a major focus of the film, dominates the conclusion, and there’s no denying he’s a wonder to behold. The last third of the movie is a study in visual excellence, mixed with overindulgence. The story leaves plenty of loose ends for Peter Jackson to (hopefully tie up in the third installment. The Desolation of Smaug is certainly more engaging than not, but we are reaching a point where Jackson’s desire to squeeze more out of the story threatens to bury ejat was once one of the most imaginative film franchises in history.
Presented in the 2.40:1 aspect ratio, Warner’s 1080p transfer is much darker and oppressive than Unexpected Journey, but no less flawless. Color fidelity and black levels are perfect throughout, and a sense of depth is evident. Skintones are perfectly saturated and distractions are minimal. Clarity is first rate, and detail levels remarkable.
Warner’s DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 surround track is fabulous. The soundfield projects all the varied soundscapes of Middle Earth perfectly. Howard Shore’s sweeping orchestral score delivers the proper emotional punch, and atmospherics and sound effects are well supported throughout. This is truly one of those rare reference quality Blu-rays to show off your home theater system.
English SDH, French, Spanish, and Portuguese subtitles are included.
The following extras are available:
- Peter Jackson Invites You to the Set (HD, 40:36) Divided into two parts—“In the Company of The Hobbit” and “All in a Day’s Work,” Jackson provides details on the cast and crew’s day, from pre-dawn calls to scene blocking, shooting, lunchtime, choreographing and end-of-day revelry.
- Production Videos (HD, 36:48) Four production featurettes: “Introduction to Pick-Ups Shooting,” “Recap of Pick-Ups, Part 1,” “Recap of Pick-Ups, Part 2” and “Music Scoring.” The first three visit Stone Street Studios for bits of filming and post-production, while the fourth visits composer Howard Shore in his studio and the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra at Wellington Town Hall.
- Live Event: In the Cutting Room (HD, 37:52) An archived version of the March 2013 worldwide live event in which Jackson fielded fan questions and offered a tour of his production facilities.
- New Zealand: Home of Middle-earth, Part 2 (HD, 7:11) A brief overview of the New Zealand locations and countrysides that stand in for Middle Earth.
- Trailers & Previews (HD, 11:45) Three Desolation of Smaug trailers are joined by three additional promos for The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey: Extended Edition, The Hobbit LEGO videogame and The Hobbit: Kingdoms of Middle-earth videogame.
- Music Video (HD, 5:42) “I See Fire” by Ed Sheeran.
- DVD Copy of film.
- UV Digital Copy
- Digital Copy