The journey continues in this second chapter of the hobbit along with those lovable (yet sometimes annoying) dwarfs. After the first part of this trilogy, An Unexpected Journey nearly bored me to tears, I actively avoided this second chapter in theaters for fear of the same thing. I just couldn’t bear another “Journey” to the theater. I figured this chapter would probably work better at home with the wonderful invention of the pause button on remote controls. OK I’ll stop, but in all fairness let’s not forget that middle chapters often fall into that uncomfortable middle zone that simply bridges the first and third film. This is a problem I had with the recent sequel to Hunger Games sequel. Second chapters rarely stand on their own when viewed in hindsight. This chapter, The Desolation of Smaug at least hits the ground running, so to speak. All of the familiar faces are here and even a few surprises along the way. Orlando Bloom shows up as Legolas and Ian Mckellen returns as Gandalf. Once again Martin Freeman leads the way as Bilbo Baggins. He posses the magical ring and continues along with the others to reclaim their homeland from Smaug (Voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch). They are fighting against the orcs. I won’t go through the long list of characters and their motivations as that would be quite a task for only a casual (I use that word loosely) fan and it would prove mundane.
Director Peter Jackson must’ve heard the cries from fans of the previous chapter as this does mark an improvement in many ways. For one thing; it’s paced much faster than the previous journey and does away with the lighter tone as well. It still comes with its share of problems, however. It’s still too long and drawn out and becomes repetitive after a while. The action is involving and in terms of visuals alone, the film is quite stunning. Bilbo does take a bit of a backseat here to the other characters and things build nicely as the climax has them battling the dragon, Smaug. I can’t say that this film won me over, but it is an improvement over the previous chapter and has more than enough action to keep things interesting. Fans should know by now that an extended cut is all but guaranteed to come out closer to the theatrical release of the third chapter, The Hobbit: There and Back Again. I feel perfectly fine with the theatrical cut, but I’m sure more die-hard fans will want to have that version as well.
Video: How’s it look?
Out of all the Blu-ray’s that came out last year, we ranked The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey as the best Blu-ray of the year. So with this year’s entry into the “Extended Edition” arena, the bar was set as high as could be for Desolation of Smaug. Sporting reference-quality audio and video, there was simply nothing wrong with the transfer. To say the bar was set high with this second installment is somewhat of an understatement and Warner has once again delivered the goods with The Desolation of Smaug. Simply put, there’s nothing wrong with this image. Even at 186 minutes, every frame looks flawless. The detail is immaculate, the color palette though dark, has no signs of compression errors. Contrast is bold and solid and flesh tones (and monster tones) look amazing. I could go on, but there’s no need – you’ll know what to expect when you pop this in the player.
Audio: How’s it sound?
If you’ve seen any of the Lord of the Rings films, or The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (or the standard Blu-ray version of this movie), you’ll know what to expect. Having said that -how many speakers are in your system? 7? 9? More? Doesn’t matter – you’ll use them all. Vocals are sharp and strong, but that’s just the beginning when it comes to this robust DTS HD Master Audio soundtrack. While the front stage is a heavy, the surrounds are almost constantly churning out something. The LFE are used in several scenes, sometimes offering up the (middle)earth-shattering effects. As with its predecessor, there’s simply nothing wrong with this soundtrack and it delivers on every level. I can guarantee that this will engage every speaker that’s connected to your receiver.
Supplements: What are the extras?
Another year has passed and we’re treated to another Extended Edition of a previously-released Blu-ray. However, we selected The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey as our Blu-ray of the year last year, so I was actually looking forward to this and was curious as to exactly how much supplemental material was on here. As it turns out, it took up most of a weekend day, but nevertheless let’s dive in.
Disc One – The Movie
New Zealand: Home of Middle-earth, Part 2 – Leftover from the previous Blu-ray and running a scant 7 minutes, we get some more views of the picturesque landscape that was home to the Hobbit films.
Disc Two – The Appendices Part 9: Into the Wilderland: The Chronicles of The Hobbit – Part 2
Opening – Peter Jackson, Philippa Boyens and some cast and crew give us the lowdown as to why The Hobbit was a three part film and give us some insight into the production. This is the shortest supplement running just over three minutes.
A Warm Welcome – Jackson, Bloom and several others give us a very in-depth look at Lake-town and everything associated with it, including various cameos as well as more technically-oriented things like stunts and shooting techniques.
Business of the State – “Politicians” Stephen Fry and Ryan Gage are shown together and we get a look at how Jackson accomplished some of their scenes.
Shelter on the Long Lake – Some more technical aspects of the film as we see the Bard’s house and two different sets they used for it. Also featured is Evangeline Lilly’s stunt double as well as a rather unforgettable entrance by the amazing Andy Serkis.
In the Halls of the Elvenking – The Woodland Realm is the focus of this segment with a few deleted scenes shown as well as some behind the scenes footage.
Flies and Spiders – Moving onto Mirkwood Forest, we see some of Jackson’s directorial antics as well as some rather interesting things done by the cast and crew to pass the time.
Queer Lodgings – We get a look at Beorn’s House as well as some of the technical trickery that was used to make everything appear in the appropriate scale.
On the Doorstep – Now in Erebor we get some more technical practical effects and some rather interesting looks at the construction of the secret entrance, the mountainside staircase and more.
Inside Information – In true Peter Jackson form, he even kept the identity of Smaug secret from the actors so we watch take after take with Martin Freeman as he’s trying to react to something in which he has no idea. We also get a look at some CGI work to boot.
Down the Swift Dark Stream – We get a look at the filming along the Pelorus River and how a seemingly simple scene had cast members in full makeup paddling. This is more of a light-hearted approach, but goes to show that the best laid plans…
Barrels Out of Bond – Remember the barrel ride? We get it here in all its glory from opening sequence to the full, CGI version. It really is remarkable how much thought, planning and wizardry (of the film sort, that is) goes into even the most innocuous segments of a film.
A Chance Meeting – The opening sequence was shot after it was decided the film would indeed be a trilogy. We get a walk down memory lane as Jackson and the gang head back to Bree, a location used for many of the Lord of the Rings scenes.
Erebor Rekindled – In addition to a new opening, there was also a new ending that was shot under a pretty strict time constraint.
Into the Fire – A glorified promo for a scene in the final Hobbit film.
Disc Three – The Appendices Part 10: The Journey to Erebor
Summoning Smaug: Last of the Fire-Drakes – Jackson said it best: “There are certain characters in movies where you just have this understanding going in that, unless you get this right, you’re actually jeopardizing the movie.” There are three shorter segments included here (all three run just over an hour) that show us what it took to make this segment so memorable.
The Last and First Dragon – All about dragons – that’s what this should be called. We see Tolkien’s fascination with the mythical creatures as well as what it took to bring it to the screen.
Conversations with Smaug – SPOILER: If you don’t want to know who plays Smaug (though I’m guessing you already do) don’t read further. That said, this segment focuses on the efforts that Benedict Cumberbatch had to put in with vocals, motion capture and the like.
Into the Dragon’s Lair – This is the final product, so to speak, as we see the dragon in all its might as well as the finalized CGI effects, Bilbo’s incorporation into the scene and so forth.
The Peoples and Denizens of Middle-earth – The last of the multi-part documentaries in which pretty much every aspect of the film is discussed (like it hasn’t been already) from casting to shoots and so on.
Beorn: The Shape-shifter – Though it would seem that this character has a larger part in the film, he really doesn’t. Still, we get a look at the casting, production and effects that went into this character and ultimately his influence in the Tolkien universe.
The Spawn of Ungoliant – We get a more in-depth look at the Spiders of Mirkwood, how their look and sound was formulated as well as some of the various voices and effects that were used to give their final, ultimate look.
The Men of Lake-town – The phrase “icing on the cake” comes to mind as Lake-town is explored in all its glory. We get a look at the cast, the “lived in” look and feel and I’m sure there could be a Lake-town film all in itself if need be.
Realms of the Third Age: From Beorn’s House to Lake-town – This is mostly a production design feature that gives us an all-inclusive look at the main segments of the film. We know these by name by now, but each of the four sections are once again featured and give us a look at how meticulous that Jackson and his crew actually were.
The Woodland Realm
The Music of The Hobbit – Wrapping things up is an hour-long look at composer Howard Shore and his amazing work on the score. Of course Shore is among the elite when it comes to composers and this documentary is broken down in to three very intricate segments that highlight the individual “moods” of the film: