The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Other // PG-13 // $35.99 // March 19, 2013
Review by Neil Lumbard | posted March 22, 2013
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Highly Recommended
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The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey Blu-ray Review


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The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is Peter Jackson's return to the land of middle earth (also commonly referred to as New Zealand), and it's another epic adventure that is sure to delight moviegoers of all ages. The story of The Hobbit takes place before The Lord of the Rings. It connects some of the dots to Jackson's earlier trilogy and it's once again an adaption of the beloved writing of J.R.R. Tolkien as brought to cinematic life. This is one journey you are absolutely going to want to make because this is one of the most exciting motion pictures released in the fantasy genre since this film adventure began with The Lord of the Rings.

The story takes place before the events that unfold in The Lord of the Rings.  Things start to unfold in flashback style through the storytelling of a much older Bilbo Baggins (Ian Holm), reflecting upon his earlier adventures as he reminiscences with Frodo.

We learn about how a powerful dragon named Smaug destroyed much of the land where Dwarfs lived, and claimed their Dwarf Kingdom, leaving the dwarfs without a place to call home. Flash forward and onto the beginning encounter between young Bilbo (Martin Freeman) and Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellan) who informs the merry hobbit that he'll be going on an adventure and that he needs to prepare. Before the evening is even over with, Bilbo is joined at his quiet home with the presence of thirteen dwarves, including the warrior leader Thorin (Richard Armitage).

The company is quick to make themselves at home, feasting and celebrating, and all before Bilbo learns of their journey to reclaim the Dwarf kingdom known as Erebor. Reluctantly at first, Bilbo eventually joins the ranks of the team as their "thief" (a role they needed him to fill because his size was so small) and journeys with them on an adventure he never expected in the first place. Gandalf saw something in him that he couldn't even see for himself.


As the perilous journey continues, they face great danger against Trolls, Orcs, Goblins, and other obstacles on their way to Erebor. What no one expects is that Bilbo will accidentally stumble upon a small golden ring, and that there would be a chance encounter between Bilbo and a creature named Gollum. The rest of the history of Middle Earth waits from here.

There was so much anticipation for this film that it is nearly unparalleled in the history of film. It sounds like an exaggeration to state that there was that much hope and anticipation surrounding this film, but the fan-base surrounding this production is unlike anything else out there. The fan base is so dedicated and enthralled in the works of Tolkien and in director Jackson's vision for bringing these stories to life. There is a lot of dedication from the fans and from those who are involved with making the films happen.

How many big-budget films are given a prequel treatment that is massively enticing to loyal fans and the masses at large? The only film to compare it to (while seeming reasonable in making a comparison) is that of Star Wars's prequel The Phantom Menace. Unfortunately, we know the results of that prequel film and series was disappointing for many fans. So the question soon centers upon whether or not fans felt the same way about The Hobbit on film. Luckily, the comparisons can end there, because while some viewers may quibble over sentiments that express disappointment that The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey isn't exactly on the same precise level of filmmaking found in The Lord of the Rings trilogy it's clear this film isn't underwhelming, even if for some it failed to live up to the built-up anticipation.

It's clear that some audience members were disappointed in this film. Not everyone walked away with the results a happy part of the audience. Some fans expected this film to play out like a new journey into the Lord of the Rings. This film works in perfect unison with those films but unlike those stories it focuses on some of the more playful and comedic elements found in the original novel. I wouldn't call The Hobbit a book that had the same purpose for Tolkien's readers as he surely envisioned as a writer himself. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings saga was much darker, epic, sprawling, and ambitious. Peter Jackson has a few interesting cards up his sleeve nonetheless.


The Hobbit is also a revolutionary film that changes the game of filmmaking. This is the first production of films to be filmed with 48fps (frames per second) technology. The entire idea behind it was to make these films take full advantage of 3D technology so as to remove the effects of motion-blur commonly found and to increase the overall resolution and clarity. It wasn't something the studio had in mind. This was all a part of Jackson's vision for how to impact the future of filmmaking.

Theaters projecting The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey and future installments had to upgrade their theater equipment just to project these films in the best format possible and that still isn't realistic as a possibility for many theaters. Yet consider the fact that this is the first film ever produced with 48fps. And it was all because Jackson wanted to do something even greater; something audiences hadn't even had the opportunity to experience before.

The industry standard of 24fps won't disappear anytime soon (especially considering the higher costs associated with the technology of 48fps cameras) but at least it seems Jackson wasn't all alone in wanting to advance the filmmaking game as James Cameron has already announced plans to film his next motion-picture with the same 48fps frame-rate. This is really quite the accomplishment.

There are a few minor drawbacks to the film, though. The special effects could have been better. Some of the effects are immersive and beautiful to behold (such as the environmental shots) while other moment, such as when the Hobgoblin confrontation takes place, and when the onslaught of Orcs attack, it all seem somewhat simplified compared to the more hands-on approach with Jackson's Lord of the Rings efforts, with body-paint designs for Orcs and additional characterizations.

Makeup suffers somewhat and primarily in cases of the artists trying to make Elijah Wood and Ian Holm look younger in flashbacks that would have occurred during the opening part of The Fellowship of the Ring when following the film's timeline. Luckily, other actors fared better: Cate Blanchett looks as beautiful as always as Galadriel. Naturally, there are other cameos featured in this film for actors from The Lord of the Rings trilogy and most of the makeup seemed far better for these other actors than it did for Elijah Wood and Ian Holm. Certain drawbacks like this can pretty much be expected given how long it's been since visiting a magical place known as Middle Earth.

Almost everyone involved with The Lord of the Rings films creation in prominent roles came back to work with Peter Jackson in making The Hobbit films. This is perhaps one of the most notable elements of the entire production. Howard Shore has crafted another score that is just essential to the backbone of the film. Although it is highly enjoyable it is also a bit repetitive compared to earlier outings, with the greatest accomplishment in this entire outing being the stellar Misty Mountains song. Director of photography Andrew Lesnie is also back to being brilliant as the official photographer of Middle Earth and New Zealand. He's a brilliant and underused cinematographer but it's clear a lot of his passion resides with collaborating with Jackson.

Speaking of returning individuals, not only does Andy Serkis return to reprise his legendary performance of Gollum but he receives a promotion to second unit director. He continues to prove that he deserves a special Academy Award for outstanding acting in an uncomfortable outfit and suit thingymagig.  Of course, he's also brilliant all around and a real asset to these films (and now apparently in several ways).

Returning to the discussion of the film's story; I'd just like to remind everyone that this story was intended to be read by children. Jackson gets that aspect of the book's story. The Hobbit isn't meant to be as serous or overwhelming in themes as its related books: it carries a more lighthearted air of adventure and fun throughout most of the journey and for most of the big sprawling runtime that element is kept more akin to the roots of the book.

While Jackson also keeps things interesting for the adults in the audience (there's plenty of good old fashioned action in the film that adults won't feel left out) he clearly seems to keep in mind that the story needed to be a more jubilant one and the results are the funniest and most simply enjoyable film in the series to date. It's the kind of film you could simply put on and get lost within for a few joyful hours. The whole family can share in enjoying this adventure story.

Peter Jackson isn't just telling us the story of The Hobbit though, of course. He is a visionary who wanted to bridge the story into being not just an adaptation of Tolkien's novel, but he's clearly crafting it to be a full-fledged prequel trilogy to his beloved Rings films. Originally, Jackson was going to do one film. Then one film became two. And then somewhere after production wrapped on filming he realized he had so much footage that there could be an additional movie.

The concept then shifted to making this a trilogy. Not only that, but the decision was made to have the films contain elements of the appendixes of The Lord of the Rings, and that is quite clearly something that cements that idea of this being a perfectly united series for Jackson's vision of adapting Tolkien's material.  

Based on the results of the first film, following my enjoyment of this energetic and lively work, I'd say he made a good choice to make it a three part adventure. It's remarkable to be able to return to middle earth. It's like visiting old friends again, and if everything coming ahead for Jackson's new trilogy is as good - if not greater - than what we found here, I'd say this is the greatest time I've ever had returning to a series with any prequel outing. For some that might sound like I'm giving only slight praise, but I mean it as the highest praise of the filmmaking imaginable.

 

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is only unexpected in the sense that it's unexpectedly in existence at all following several years of talk and that it didn't disappoint most audiences the way many people seemed to expect for it to. Jackson did not seem keen on the idea of returning to Middle Earth as the director at the helm of The Hobbit for several years, and it was actually a disheartening bit of news to me (to small degree) when learning that Guillermo del Toro was going to direct initially, even if only because this is clearly Jackson's own visionary world to tinker around with some more.

Some viewers might consider it nothing more than a cash-grab that the film turned into two films and then turned into three films. I know there have been a lot of people decrying the decision. Well, all I can say is that I don't think it had anything to do with money for Jackson. This is something that was done out of his passion for filmmaking and the stories of Tolkien. He's making a trilogy again because of his love for the storytelling, the characters, and for his audience. Jackson's akin to a kid playing with all his toys when he makes a movie, and absolutely nothing about this bothers me because I love his sheer ambition and joy in filmmaking.

I'll tag along for whatever the unexpected journey is that he's planned for us.


The Blu-ray:


Video:

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey arrives on Blu-ray with a 1080p MPEG-4 AVC encoded 2.35:1 transfer retaining the original theatrical aspect ratio presentation. This is a lush encode that should manage to please any fan of the film.

The cinematography by Andrew Lesnie looks remarkable from beginning to end and with an array of colors that help to make this a beautiful visual feast throughout. The depth of it all is astonishing and the clarity is just as remarkable. There are no sign to be found of murky and distracting DNR, edge enhancement, and other ailments that could have affected the transfer. This is a beautifully pleasant transfer that doesn't disappoint.

Audio:

The 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio is an equal match for perfection in the presentation department. The clarity of the audio is so immense. The dialogue is clear and easy to understand and there's plenty of inventive sound effects which add an extra element of intrigue to the sound design and mix. Howard Shore's music sounds splendid on this release: the orchestration is something that sounds as good as one could hope with a lossless encoding.  

Subtitles are presented in English SDH (for the deaf and hard of hearing), Spanish, French, and Portuguese.


Additional Screenshots:

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Extras:

There aren't as many supplements on this release as fans were probably hoping to see included. It's obvious that we'll be seeing more supplements included on an extended edition release. It was the same way with the other Lord of the Rings films and their home-media releases. The bulk of content included here was also previously made available online. The upside is that everything is presented in 1080p High Definition and that it's included on a separate disc (providing greater breathing room for both the feature film presentation and for the solid supplements included).

One interesting supplement (can I call it that?) is that early purchasers receive an access-code providing an exclusive sneak peak of The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, which will be presented by Peter Jackson on March 24th, 2013 at 3 P.M. Eastern Standard Time & Noon Pacific Standard Time. I don't know about you, but I'll be tuning in for the preview. This certainly is something exciting for fans.

New Zealand: Home of Middle-Earth (7 min.) is a brief tour and/or commercial (kidding!) for the beautiful locale known as New Zealand, where The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey was filmed.

The main area of the supplemental section is devoted to video blogs previously released online. These featurettes focus on a variety of aspects: the beginning of production, location searching, early filming, work done for the 3D presentation, studio touring, photography, post-production, the comic-con visit, and the world premiere.

All told, there's over two hours of worthwhile and entertaining supplements included in this section. The filming was kept closely under-wraps of course, so you don't see much in that regard because of the nature of pre-release extras. It doesn't make them less fascinating or entertaining and informative. I'm glad that these were all included on this release. I really enjoyed seeing how enthusiastic Jackson was to return to Middle Earth. He was quite an entertaining person to behold on these featurettes.

Lastly, some trailers have also been included for The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey and several tie-in Hobbit games.


Final Thoughts:

Peter Jackson's return to Middle Earth was worth the wait. This is a lovingly made film with an amazing amount of adventure, action, comedy, and whimsy: enough to maybe fill three films! I'm only jokingly referring to the decision to split The Hobbit into three parts, of course. This adventure is one that I'm not keen on seeing end. I will miss it so much when it is over. It's been far too long since our last visit to Middle Earth happened before The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey arrived and for my money this is up there amongst the best fantasy films ever made.

Potential buyers should be forewarned that an Extended Edition awaits release in the future. Reportedly twenty or so minutes will be finished in post-production and added back into it. While that might be enough to stop some potential purchasers it won't stop me from enjoying a great adventure on Blu-ray in the meantime. I enjoy having both releases of these films anyway.

From a technical perspective, the Blu-ray PQ/AQ is superb. This is a demo-worthy disc. Supplements are a bit light on this release (even if still highly enjoyable) but there will undoubtedly be more included upon the release of the extended edition.

Highly Recommended.



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