March 22, 2013

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012)
Warner Home Video

169 mins. · PG-13
16x9 · 2.35:1

Format
Blu-Ray

Audio
English - DTS 7.1 HD Master Audio
French - DD 5.1
Spanish - DD 5.1

Subtitles
English, French, Spanish

Extras
Production Featurettes, Ultraviolet

Starring
Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, James Nesbitt, Cate Blanchet, Andy Serkis

Review by
Guido Henkel


Rating



(2012)

I've always been a fan of J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Lord of the Rings" novels, as well as "The Hobbit." Not in a sense that I am familiar with every little detail of Middle Earth's history, or total trivia, but in a sense that I enjoy the books and love the setting and characters. As such, Peter Jackson's "The Lord of the Rings" movies were truly a revelation to me that I enjoyed every bit as much as the books. It is hardly surprising that I equally enjoyed "The Hobbit" when it arrived in theaters. Now, it is available on Blu-Ray Disc and I revisited the movie for pure entertainment and to see how the release turned out.

"The Hobbit" is set before the story of "The Lord of the Rings" takes place. It tells the story of Bilbo Baggins' (Martin Freeman) adventures when he was a young man, adventures that were hinted at in "The Lord of the Rings" movies. Gandalf (Ian McKellen) sees a lot more in Bilbo than the little halfling knows himself, and so he decides to make him part of an adventure.

A group of dwarves, led by Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) is one a quest to reclaim their proper kingdom and the riches that go with it. It has been taken from them many years ago when the dragon Smaug appeared and drove the dwarves out of the Lonely Mountain where they lived. Incinerating everyone in his path and with brutal ferocity guarding the riches the dwarves had accumulated, everything had been lost to the dwarves and they had been a homeless tribe ever since. But Smaug has not been seen in many years. Perhaps he is dead? Thorin and his men decide it is time to go and check, and reclaim their property before someone else does. But in order to get into the mountain, they need to open a secret door, and for that they need a burglar. This is where Bilbo comes in.

Reluctant at first, the hobbit joins the dwarves and soon learns that adventures are a whole lot more dangerous than he had ever imagined. Facing off with goblins, dwarves, trolls and other creatures, it seems that Bilbo is completely out of his depth and even the dwarves' confidence in him begins to dwindle.

It becomes very clear from the beginning of the movie that on the one hand, Peter Jackson instantly reconnects with the magnificent look and feel of the "Lord of the Rings" movies. On the other hand, the tone has changed quite a bit - in accordance with the book. "The Hobbit" is a much more lighthearted read than "The Lord of the Rings" and the movie reflects that with a good number of funny moments and dialogues that are truly entertaining. Never silly for their own sake, it is a humor that is almost mischievous and definitely hearkens back to Peter Jackson's earlier movies. It gives the film a tone overall that is more adventurous as opposed to the doom and gloom scenario that was "The Lord of the Rings," and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

The cast of the film is once again magnificent with Martin Freeman being the central character, bringing Bilbo to life with his little peccadillos, showing perfectly how the little hobbit is torn between the comforts of his home and the ease of his life, and the lure of an adventure of a lifetime. As he discovers his own inner strengths, Bilbo grows as a character throughout the film, making him more and more likable, giving us a hint of what to expect in the sequel.

The dwarves are equally great. With absolutely astounding prosthetic make-ups, the dwarves are a lively bunch and it would be easy to get lost in the jumble of characters, were it not for the clearly defined character traits that make it into every line they say, into every action and into every facial expression. It is here that we see Peter Jackson's mastery at work, because not once will you confuse or forget any of the dwarves, asking yourself, which one is he? You meet, them, you know them and you remember them throughout the film. considering that many movies have identity problems with much smaller casts, this is a major achievement of "The Hobbit" that is overlooked all too easily.

And then comes the scene-stealer - Gollum (Andy Serkis). I think we all thought that Gollum was as good as it could be, when fouled his way through "The Return of the King," talking to himself, trapping Frodo in Shelob's lair. Far from it. It is amazing to see how the technology and artistry has advanced in these past few years, because Gollum is better than ever. With even more expression and more realistic details, Gollum is a true highlight of the film. When he throws himself to the ground in dismay, you never doubt that he is a real character, and when his eyes begin to show the signs of his madness, you remember all too well the deception he is capable of heaping upon people.

When I saw "The hobbit" in theaters, I watched it in the 48-frame 3D presentation - top of the line. Sadly, I found the experience every bit as disappointing as all other 3D movies - perhaps even more so, because the clarity of the image often gave it a horribly artificial feel. Just like it was the case the "The Adventures of Tintin," "The Hobbit" is a case where I feel the 2D presentation is countless times better than the 3D version. When watching the regular 2D version of the film, it feels cohesive and allows you to sink into the world, whereas the 3D version was constantly jarring and pulling me out of the experience, reminding me that I was, in fact, watching a movie with 3D effects that didn't really work all that well.

Without a doubt, "The Hobbit" is the single-best-looking Blu-Ray transfer in the market today. You would not believe the amount of detail this transfer is brining to the party. It is almost as if you're re-experiencing high definition all over again. High definition transfers have had a tendency to sort of downgrade over the past years, many of them simply not going the extra mile to maximize the amount of information in the picture, particularly when it comes to smaller and/or older films. suddenly something like "The Hobbit" and we are instantly reminded, just how great Blu-Ray can look if it s done properly. With colors that are so rich it boggles the mind, with details and edges so sharp and defined you feel like you're in the picture, and with black levels so deep that it adds an entirely different dimension to the picture, "The Hobbit" is truly a marvel to behold.

Needless to say that the DTS 7.1 HD Master Audio will also blow your mind. It is a powerful and very aggressive mix that will mesmerize you and drag you into the action like few audio tracks can.

The release also contains a good number of extras. Since this is, quite evidently, the first release of the film on home video, with many more incarnations to come, no doubt, do not expect the full treatment we got in some of the spectacular "Lord of the Rings" Special Editions. Nonetheless, there is a good bunch of material here to be explored, including ten production videos, giving you a look behind the scenes as to how the movie was made. These personal video blogs hosted by Peter Jackson are once again testament to the director's skill and dedication, and his ability to connect with his fans.

The movie's DVD version and an Ultraviolet version are also enclosed in this release. Sadly, a Digital Copy is missing.

"The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" is an entertainment powerhouse. People can argue whether Peter Jackson artificially stretched the material when he decided to turn the book into three movies, but quite frankly, I could not care less. I enjoy the movie and I am exceedingly happy that I will have two more opportunities to see Middle Earth magic come to life.

To make a long story short, you have to get "The Hobbit" now!

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