Release: 23rd November 2015
Format: BR / DVD / DGTL
Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) lives a simple life with his fellow hobbits in the shire, until the wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen) arrives and convinces him to join a group of dwarves on a quest to reclaim the kingdom of Erebor. The journey takes Bilbo on a path through treacherous lands swarming with orcs, goblins and other dangers, not the least of which is an encounter with Gollum (Andy Serkis) and a simple gold ring that is tied to the fate of Middle Earth in ways Bilbo cannot even fathom.
In case Peter Jackson’s take on The Hobbit wasn’t enough Middle Earth for you first time around, here comes an extended version of the entire trilogy.
An Unexpected Journey was always accused of being the most ‘kiddie’ of this new trilogy. But that was always the point; this is a film based on a child’s book. The extended version is still as fun as its theatrical counterpart, but comes with something you least expected; singing Goblins. This alone is worth a view, as music was so integral to the source material. And it is also bloody hilarious. The further additions add little to the overall film, but it feels like a very complete package. I’d still maintain that An Unexpected Journey is still great for Tolkien fans and the disinterested alike.
The Desolation of Smaug is easily the best film in the trilogy. It has a perfect mixture of comedy, horror, action and suspense. Lake Town is one of the most original sets in the whole of Jackson’s Middle Earth, and Erebor is just beautiful. Smaug himself is a terrific entry into the cinema villain cannon; but we’d expect no less of the great Cumberbatch.
Jackson obviously agrees that TDOS is already at its best, because the extended edition has involved very little tinkering to the overall film. There are some flashbacks from Thorin and a little bit of extra time with bear man Beorn. There is the famous white stag scene and a little exchange between Gandalf and Thorin’s poppa.
Battle of the Five Armies could have gone one of two ways. As a few pages of the book, having it extended into its own movie would either mean some serious padding or being a stroke of genius. As the weakest entry into the trilogy, it benefits some from the additional footage offered in its extended form. The battles are bloodier and a certain weasel-like character gets his just desserts.
It is counter intuitive that a film which felt too long first time around is actually more enjoyable in an even longer form. But Jackson, Walsh, Boyens and their team have always been masters at making these characters feel real. It seems the more time he is afforded with these extended editions, the better job he does of making The Hobbit a worthy grandparent to Lord of the Rings.
An Unexpected Journey: A-
The Desolation of Smaug: A
The Battle of the Five Armies: B+
Short of a limited edition stool sample and Thranduil’s dental records, there is literally nothing else Jackson and his team could have packed into these special features. For completists, this is the closest one could ever get to a film’s development and production without actually being the director. What makes things even better is that nothing is sugar coated. These films were a bitch to get made, and Jackson makes no bones about exploring that. Each film comes with special feature so vast, they have to go on multiple discs!
The highlight of An Unexpected Journey’s features is A Short Rest, which looks at the process of bringing Ian Holm and Christopher Lee back into the fold. It is utter geek fodder, and is certified to bring a tear to your eye now that Lee is gone from this earth.
Desolation of Smaug gets its laughing gear around the process of creating the titular dragon, and the Commentaries are actually a real treat.
And, if you are still able to stomach a further 7 hours of special features at the end of all this, then Battle of the Five Armies has a host of lovely little segments in its doc The Gathering Storm. One particualr highlight is a section titled In the Wake of a Dragon.
Special Features Grade: A+
Honestly, there isn’t really much more anyone could ask for. This is real hardcore stuff. If you know your Roäc from your Rohan, and give a frig who was on the call sheet for the first day of reshoots, then this really is all you will ever need to know about the films and their production. These are as complete as the films can ever hope to be. And although The Hobbit doesn’t quite reach the heights of its predecessor / spinoff, it is still outstanding stuff. Tolkien has had a right result here.