Starring: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Richard Armitage
Box Set contains: 3D Extended Edition, Blu-ray Extended Edition, Digital Extended Edition, Special Feature Discs
It’s almost that time of year again, folks. Yep, the nights are drawing in, small skeletons and ghouls will have knocked on your door, pestering you for E numbers, and the great big festival of materialism – I mean, peace and goodwill – is just around the corner. Which can only mean one thing; we’re due another visit to Middle Earth, fast. Those of you who cannot wait until mid-December to rejoin Bilbo’s quest can satiate your thirst for dwarves, adventure and miniature burglars by investing in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug Extended Edition on 3D and common/garden Blu-ray. The cool kids all have 3D TVs these days, do keep up. Even if you’ve only just transferred from VHS to Digital Versatile Disc, invest in this box set anyway. £20 doesn’t buy much these days, but when it can buy you a rip-snorting film in three mediums, nine hours of special features and 25 minutes of never-before-seen footage, it does seem a bit of a no-brainer, even if you’re a Hobbit-hating Nazgûl. In my opinion, this extended edition represents one of the best value for money box sets ever.
From the jazzy lenticular cover to the weird box actually containing your discs, you can’t help but be impressed by the packaging. Hors d’ouevres out the way, let’s get our teeth into the 3D. I was trepidatious about this; having neglected to see this instalment in 3D in theatres, I was wondering exactly how much of a gimmick seeing it in 3D on television would be. A few hours later, having nipped round to a friend’s house and commandeered her snazzy 3D telly and Playstation for the best part of an afternoon, I stood corrected. All the footage is in 3D, not just certain aspects, and although the jerky nature of the HFR RED camera shots has been criticised, when it works, it works brilliantly. Static scenes, when the camera is fixed, are much better than those in which the camera follows the action around. Naturally, the barrel scene was pretty good, though not as nausea-inducing as I was expecting; Mirkwood was great too, particularly when Bilbo (the ever magnificent Martin Freeman), broke free of the tree canopy, or got stuck in the spiders’ webs. It was with the little things, however, that really benefited from that extra dimension; no matter how many times they loom out in front of you, suddenly seeing branches, bees and butterflies in your living room is thrilling. I wouldn’t advocate rushing out to buy a 3D TV, Blu-ray player or Playstation for this box set – not unless you find the arkenstone down the back of your sofa – but it’s encouraging to see the progress already made by this technology.
The box set gives a brilliant nod to the fans thanks to also including the film on Digital HD Ultraviolet; in other words, a digital copy of the film which you can watch anywhere on compatible devices, even if you’re hiking up The Lonely Mountain or camping in Minas Tirith. The jerkiness of the camera work was even more apparent when watching the film on this platform, however. Maybe by the time the Extended Edition of The Battle of the Five Armies is released, a digital version of all the extras will be included, too; it’d be one way to while away the commute.
In terms of the film itself, you’re only getting 25 minutes of extra footage, which is either manna from heaven or much of a muchness to you, depending on whether you’re a causal Hobbit fan or a Tolkien mega-nerd. The title menu cleverly highlights which scenes are new, and which are extended (much to this reviewer’s appreciation); it has to be said the navigation of the box-set as a whole is very intuitive. The main Blu-ray movie disc also contains a commentary by Jackson and Boyens, offering an appraisal of the filming and the storytelling, rather than a lowdown of on-set gossip. Disappointingly, the New Zealand: Home of Middle Earth Part 2 feature only clocked in at a paltry 7 minutes. In my mind, this is a missed opportunity, but it seems churlish to labour the point when the final two discs in the box set contain such a wealth of material between them.
The Appendices Part 9: Into The Wilderland: The Chronicles of The Hobbit – Part 2 may be a bloody mouthful but it is amazing. My jaw cartoon-dropped past my sofa when I saw the disc contained 5 hours of footage. Picking one of around a dozen or so half-hour behind-the-scenes-docs of certain sections of the film, I plumped for a closer look at the Woodland Realm, and wasn’t disappointed. A sense of the day-to-day shenanigans of set life transpired, with the camaraderie of the entire cast and crew apparent. Those interested in the technical aspect of the films will not be disappointed, and Into The Wilderland is where the box set comes closest to a blooper reel. With enough footage to please everyone, this is a real treat, and something to dip into at your leisure.
The second special features disc contains three more in-depth examinations of various aspects of the film, namely Smaug himself, the different worlds in the film, and the beautiful music underpinning Thorin and Bilbo’s journey. It was impossible after watching this feature not to be in awe of Jackson’s all-encompassing vision, plus the collaborative process of film itself. The work put into the score by composer Howard Shore, conductor Conrad Pope and the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra was just phenomenal; it was a real honour to have this process explained more thoroughly.
Overall, The Hobbit 2 is excellent value for money, obviously made by fans, for fans. This is a box set to savour; like a fine Elvish wine, cherish every last second. Whether you’re purchasing as a Christmas present or a treat for yourself, there’ll be no better way to spend those cold winter nights this year than back in Middle Earth.