Blu-Ray Review: The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug: Extended Cut (2013, Dir, Peter Jackson)

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Own It On Blu-ray November 4! 

If it wasn’t obvious before it’s pretty damn obvious now Greed is the primary sin slowly killing our society. As sins go, it’s an awful one too because it destroys any morality you may have had and any prejudices you might carry, thus making sure you think of nothing else but it. Greed has even found it’s way into the fantasy world of Middle Earth. Barring any “special rings” among the various beings that inhabit the realm, it appears Dwarves are more susceptible than most to its corruption. They used to live in this great mountain called, Erebor (aka The Lonely Mountain), where they forged huge amounts of gold.

The problem with Greed is there’s always someone greedier and in Middle Earth that “someone “turned out to be a sentient dragon named, Smaug. The dwarves gold finally caught his attention. first laying siege to a small town near the bottom of the mountain and then taking over the mountain itself. And for the past 150 years Smaug has lain slumbering underneath a sea of gold and jewels ever since. This account is recollected in the opening scene of the second chapter of The Hobbit, subtitled, The Desolation Of Smaug, as Gandalf (Ian McKellen) encounters the would-be Dwarven King of Erebor, Thorin (Richard Armitage), in an Inn in the town of Bree.

Gandalf wants Thorin to get a band together that’ll venture to Erebor, sneak in and steal the Arkenstone (the Dwarves’ family heirloom) out from under the slumbering Smaug, so Thorin can use it to reunite the Dwarven families and then formally return to kick Smaug’s ass to the curb and retake their home. Gandalf thinks a hobbit would make the best burglar in this matter. Now we cut to 12 months later where the movie catches up with itself.

Woven into this plot is the subplot of Sauron whom in the sequel trilogy, Lord Of The Rings, was a main player. This being a prequel we get to see how the Dark Lord set up the events seen in the Rings sequel and how Gandalf learned of his impossible return to “life.”

I saw the Theatrical Version of The Desolation Of Smaug on cable and seeing the extended cut (25 minutes of extended scenes and restored footage pushing the running time to a whopping 3 hours and six minutes) last night in high definition widescreen there is no comparison; this version is much better and preferably the better way to watch this film. In the Scene Selections you can see the shots that are new and/or extended as denoted by asterisks. Most of the new footage is in the beginning and middle; once you hit the 53 minute mark where Smaug finally takes center stage the two versions from here on out are the same.

And I have to say every extended cut I’ve ever seen of the Lord Of The Rings movies makes for a much better viewing experience, this new trilogy is no different. Without giving all the new stuff away I will mention a couple of them starting with a formal introduction of the skin-changer, Beorn, that had gotten cut, now restored and fairly lengthy after Gandalf and the dwarves take refuge in his house. You also get a new scene with him and Gandalf, just before he and the dwarves depart, discussing Sauron in a roundabout way. It’s a nice scene that partly explains Gandalf’s sudden departure from accompanying the dwarves into Mirkwood, coupled with that scene and ar newly restored one when he ventures partly into the accursed woods finally gives us a full reason why he needs to leave.

Also you get some scene extensions inside Mirkwood that simply adds to the insidious enchantment that woods puts on all unprepared adventurers within its tangled horrors. I thought those made that entire portion of the movie creepier.

Good dragon movies are few and far between, so much so the only really great one is 1981’s Dragonslayer. There have been many after that, Reign Of Fire (2002) came close but ultimately drops the ball. Talking dragons are never menacing or impressive in my eyes. I used to like Dragonheart (1996) but not anymore, besides the talking dragon in that movie was a good one. Jackon’s interpretation of Smaug is the best of both worlds, he’s got the menace of the non-sentient dragon in Dragonslayer, with the evil sentience of what Dragonheart could have been had it been something a lot darker, which in the end makes this second chapter of The Hobbit the second best dragon movie in existence, if you want to look at it that way. The last hour or so is all Smaug and stunning in its execution. In fact I’d say Smaug comes off ten times more lethal than the dragon Peter McNichol fought in his 1981 movie.

My next favorite portion of this movie was the journey through Mirkwood and the eventual encounter with the giant spiders, which are rendered beautifully and realistically in CGI just like Shelob was in The Return Of The King (2003), the third and final chapter of The Lord Of The Rings trilogy.

I have only seen the theatrical cut of The Hobbit (2013), which I’ll need to rectify someday with it’s extended version, but so far I’m loving this prequel trilogy as much as I loved the Lord Of The Rings one.

On November 4th MGM releases the Extended Cut of The Desolation Of Smaug in three separate editions: the Blu-ray/Digital Copy version, the Blu-ray 3D/Blu-ray/Digital Copy and the DVD (5 discs)/Digital Copy, which as I understand is at the moment a Wal-Mart exclusive only release.

This review covers the Blu-ray 3D/Blu-ray/Digital Copy, which consists of 5 discs. Discs #1 & #2 are the 3D version spread out, Disc #3 is the regular blu-ray with commentary and Discs #4 & #5 are The Appendices, Parts 9 &10.

Video/Audio/Subtitles: 1080p 2.35:1 high definition widescreen—English 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, French 5.1 Dolby Digital & Spanish 5.1Dolby Digital—English SHH, French & Spanish.

I don’t own a 3D television so I can’t comment on how the 3D version looks, but the 2D blu-ray looked gorgeous, plain and simple and the audio was just as good.

For extras on this version, and on this disc, which is #3, you get a commentary with Director/Writer/Producer Peter Jackson and Writer/Co-producer Philippa Boyens. You also get the extra, New Zealand: Home Of Middle Earth (7:11), which in case you didn’t know is one scenic continent, and you get 7 minutes of seeing portions of it where it relates to the filming of this movie.

All other extras are spread out on Discs #4 & #5, which are The Appendices, Parts 9 &10. On The Appendices, Part 9: The Chronicles Of The Hobbit, you get 13 featurettes (A Warm Welcome, Business Of The State, Shelter On The Long Lake, In The Halls Of The Elvenking, Flies And Spiders, Queer Lodgings, On The Doorstep, Inside Information, Down The Swift Dark Stream, Barrels Out Of Bond, A Chance Meeting, Erebor Rekindled, . . . Into The Fire) that can be played separately or all at once with a total run time of 5:00:26. Incidentally, the last one,  . . . Into The Fire, is a look at the next movie, The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies (2014).

All them are dated so you’ll know when they were filmed and you can see Peter Jackson gain weight throughout filming. He looked his thinnest in the 2010 ones.

Here’s a funny exchange between  Jackson and Martin Freeman (Bilbo):

Jackson, discovering Freeman is on the wrong set: “You’re on the wrong set, old bean.”

Freeman: “You fuckin’ serious?”

On disc #5, The Appendices, Part 10: The Journey To Erebor, you get four documentaries that can either be played all together for a total run time of 5:05:51 or separately:

  • Summoning Smaug: Last Of The Fire-Drakes (1:16:31)
  • The People And The Denizens Of Middle Earth (1:11:48)
  • Realms Of The Third Age: From Beorn’s House To Lake-Town (26:40)
  • The Music Of The Hobbit (1:00:54)

The Smaug doc covers the history of dragons; the history of Smaug, his design for the movie and Benedict Cumberbatch’s acting that was the icing on the cake. With the People & Denizens one who also get the history, design and acting that went into Beorn’s character, how the spiders of Mirkwood were designed/voice acted and the deconstruction of the men of Lake-town (i.e. costumes, actor chosen). In the Realms Of The Third Age you see how the architecture and landscape was created for Beorn’s house, Mirkwood Forest, The Woodland Realm and Lake-town. The Music Of The Hobbit is quite self-explanatory.

As most of the home video releases go for the J.R.R. Tolkien’s adaptations this one is just as comprehensive and worth every penny.

Check out the official site here: The Hobbit Blog

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