The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (Extended Edition) (Blu-ray + UltraViolet) (2013)

Actors: Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, James Nesbitt, Cate Blanchett
Director: Peter Jackson
Writers: Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Guillermo Del Toro
Producers: Peter Jackson, Carolynne Cunningham, Zane Weiner, Fran Walsh, Alan Horn
Format: Blu-ray, NTSC, Multiple Formats
Language: English
Region: A/1
Aspect Ratio: 1.77:1
Number of discs: 3
Rated: PG-13 (Parental Guidance Suggested)
Studio: New Line Home Video
DVD Release Date: November 5, 2013
Digital Copy Expiration Date: November 5, 2015
Run Time: 182 minutes




"They made it even longer?!"
You have to admire the producers of The Hobbit for doubling down on the single biggest complaint about their ambitious adaptation: its running time. Stretching one comparatively slim volume into three movies is pushing it to begin with. Rankin-Bass managed it in 76 minutes, and while director Peter Jackson still has oodles of goodwill from his magnificent Lord of the Rings trilogy, he’s playing with fire here.

But commerce will not be denied and Warner Bros - addicted to double-dipping - is more than happy to give us a newer, longer version of The Hobbit to coax another 40 bucks out of our wallets. Surprisingly enough, that's not a bad thing, though less for the film itself than for the truly incredible array of extra features that come with it.

And the film itself isn't bad by any means. Disappointing, yes, but mainly for its excessive flab rather than anything more fatal. Tolkien's original work certainly has enough going on in the corners to fill the space and if we longtime fans of the book are yearning for them to get the hell on with it, at least we're given plenty of interesting things to look at in the interim. Wonderful casting helps matters, topped by Martin Freeman's perfect turn as Bilbo Baggins: the "lucky number" coerced into helping thirteen dwarves reclaim their ancestral homeland from a very cranky dragon. Plenty of old friends show up to help him along, from Ian McKellan's irrepressible Gandalf to Andy Serkis's miraculous mo-cap Gollum.

It's enough to occupy us and if you're going to wander, there's no better place to do it than Middle-Earth. And yet wander we do: hither and yon, past incidents both beloved and unknown until you start to wonder whether they're ever going to find the point. The new material in this extended edition - some fifteen minutes give or take - doesn't help matters. Indeed, it makes a useful guide to demonstrating just why you shouldn’t treat The Hobbit the same way as The Lord of the Rings. The original trilogy needed to be cut down in order to fit even a ten-hour running time. The extended editions of those films gave Jackson a chance to put some of that material back in: enhancing and developing the world without breaking a sweat. Here, it just seems superfluous. We get some additional back story, more material in the goblin tunnels and a few new songs here and there, but nothing that feels like it adds anything new to the story. There's no version of the first trilogy’s Sackville-Baggginses for example. No expansion on the final fate of Saruman. Just more stuff elaborating on we've seen before and properly absorbed the first time.

Again, it's not entirely unpleasant, just supremely unnecessary. We're already suitably pumped for the second film, when we finally get Smaug and can revel in the dangers of Mirkwood (among other anticipated delights). This new version feels more like an elaborate promotion rather than something we needed for its own sake. It still works and Jackson is too good at his job to really let us down. We're simply made more aware that this Hobbit isn't quite what it could have been . . . and that sometimes, you really can have too much of a good thing.

THE DISC: If you need a reason to justify a purchase, however, the additional material on this Blu-ray will set you up. It comprises a whopping nine hours of material, covering everything from dwarf lineage to the new challenges of the production. Following the same format as the Lord of the Rings expanded editions helps it fit in neatly with Jackson's ongoing efforts to bring Tolkien to life, and the thoroughness of all the goodies helps you feel the richness and depth of the author's vision without the bloat that dogs the movie itself. The only criticism is a comparative lack of audio comments; we get just one track dominated by Jackson himself. Considering how many The Lord of the Rings had, it would have been nice to see (or hear) a few more. That's a very minor quibble for a very impressive set however.

WORTH IT? If you want the bells and whistles, absolutely. Just don't be surprised if the film itself elicits more of a shrug than you expected: like the theatrical release, it's a step down from The Lord of the Rings. Granted, that means going from cinematic immortality to merely a pretty good film, but it's still a move in the wrong direction.

RECOMMENDATION: If you're not a hard-core fan of this series, you don't need to double dip, but Tolkien fans will adore the bonus material, and anyone interested in the background of this series will find the Blu-ray an invaluable purchase.

- Rob Vaux



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