Blu-ray and DVD Reviews

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Reviewed by: Silas Lesnick
Movie Rating:
8 out of 10
Extras Rating:
8 out of 10
Movie Details:
View here

Rating: PG-13

Starring:
Ian McKellen as Gandalf
Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins
Richard Armitage as Thorin
Ken Stott as Balin
Graham McTavish as Dwalin
William Kircher as Bifur
James Nesbitt as Bofur
Stephen Hunter as Bombur
Dean O'Gorman as Fili
Aidan Turner as Kili
John Callen as Oin
Peter Hambleton as Gloin
Jed Brophy as Nori
Mark Hadlow as Dori
Adam Brown as Ori
Barry Humphries as Great Goblin
Cate Blanchett as Galadriel
Ian Holm as Bilbo Baggins
Christopher Lee as Saruman
Hugo Weaving as Elrond
Elijah Wood as Frodo
Andy Serkis as Gollum
Sylvester McCoy as Radagast
Lee Pace as Thranduil

Special Features:
"New Zealand: Home of Middle-earth" Featurette (7 minutes)

10 Video Blogs (127 minutes)

6 "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" Trailers (16 minutes)

"Kingdoms of Middle-earth," "Guardians of Middle-earth" and "LEGO Lord of the Rings" Video Game Trailers (2 minutes)

Code For a Sneak Peek at "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug"

Other Info:
Widescreen (2.35:1)
DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1
French: Dolby Digital 5.1
Portuguese: Dolby Digital 5.1
Spanish: Dolby Digital 5.1
Subtitles include English SDH, French, Portuguese and Spanish
Running Time: 169 Minutes

Synopsis:
Written before J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy, "The Hobbit" was the author's introduction to the world of Middle-earth. Decidedly more fanciful in tone, the film follows the story of Bilbo Baggins, a young Hobbit (a race of diminutive, peace-loving people) who is tricked by a wizard, Gandalf, into becoming a burglar with plans to rob the horde of a fearsome dragon on behalf of a caravan of Dwarves (Thorin, Balin, Dwalin, Fili, Kili, Oin, Goin, Bifur, Bofur, Bombur, Dori, Nori and Ori. If you need help keeping track of who is who, check out the infographic at the bottom of this page.)

Along the way, Bilbo, Gandalf and the 13 Dwarves face fearsome trolls, armies of Goblins and a face very familiar to fans of Peter Jackson's first trilogy, the twisted creature known as Gollum.

The Movie:
When "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" hit theaters in December, some of the criticism amongst detractors was flanked by thoughts on optional increased frame rate screenings and on the decision to release "The Hobbit" as, rather than the two films initially announced, a full trilogy. As far as home releases go, the first discussion no longer applies (48fps was a theater-only format) and, with the ability of a home viewer to pause and take a break whenever they need it, the dust has largely settled on the second.

What's left is a thoroughly pleasing fantasy adventure that somehow manages the incredible balancing act that is faithfully telling Tolkien's more childish tale while not disappointing those looking for something more like "Lord of the Rings." It's truly impressive that Peter Jackson is able to characterize each of the Dwarves (who are, in the novel, effectively "Thorin and his 12 friends") and have them convincingly move from slapstick musical number to epic battle. What's more, Jackson somehow manages the nigh-impossible job of fitting his take on "The Hobbit" into the same world he established in "The Lord of the Rings," right down to connecting the "It's Mr. Bilbo's trolls!" line from "Fellowship of the Ring."

While complaints about the film's pacing are, as anything, subject to taste, it's hard to deny that "An Unexpected Journey" contains some bursts of pure cinematic magic. The confrontation between Bilbo and Gollum as they tell "riddles in the dark," carries with it, thanks to some incredible acting and the flawless detailing of WETA, the pulse-pounding real-time thrill of an expertly-acted stage play. Moments like that, especially with a top rate Blu-ray presentation, make "The Hobbit" one of the more impressive visual presentations to hit the format in a while.

As wonderful a technical presentation as "An Unexpected Journey" turns out to be on the format, fans should be aware that an Extended Edition is being planned for release later this year. It's likely that, as was the case with the regular versus extended "Lord of the Rings" releases, the special features will compliment one another and won't overlap. Depending on the brand of collector you are, you may ultimately want to own both.

The Extras:
When it comes to special features, this release is somewhat lacking with the primary focus being Peter Jackson's video blogs. Released online throughout the production, they're fascinating and well worth a watch (they can even be treated as their own two-hour mini-feature). While it's certainly nice that they're included in HD, the fact that all of the blogs originated online and are, to this day, readily (legally) available for free, doesn't make the extras something that should sway anyone one way or another.

That being said, the release does contain a special code for a sneak preview at the next film, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, on March 24th at 3 p.m. Eastern/ 12 p.m. Pacific at TheHobbit.com/Sneak.

The Bottom Line:
Since fans have been told that the Extended Edition is coming, there's no duplicity here and no one should have any trouble figuring out which version (or versions) they want in their collection. Whether you're getting it now or later, it's a good bet that "The Hobbit" is going to be a disc that gets played for a long, long time to come.



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