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Category:    Home > Reviews > Fantasy > Adventure > Swords > Battles > Sequel > Epic > Literature > The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013/Warner Blu-ray 2D w/DVD)

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013/Warner Blu-ray 2D w/DVD)

Picture: A Sound: A Extras: B Film: A

This review contains SPOILERS for the film:

The successful follow-up to director Peter Jackson's The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2013) is a must own Blu-ray for any collection. Warner Bros. has really outdone themselves with this transfer and I'm really excited for the inevitable release of an extended version later in the year. This disc is meant to merely appease the casual viewer and to whet the appetite for the hardcore fans like myself. Because of this factor, some reviewers may be harsh on this particular release but I am simply in love with it. Just for the record, you MUST see The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (preferably the extended version) before this film or you will be totally lost.

One may argue that this film isn't a sequel at all but more like one long nine-hour movie, similar to its predecessor Lord of the Rings. This installment gives us more orcs, more Gandalf, more action, and less silliness than An Unexpected Journey. In fact, the film's length doesn't phase me at all because from frame one we are thrust upon a journey that hardly stops. Beginning in the outskirts of the Shire, Bree, we are re-introduced to star dwarf and badass Thorin Oakenshield, who is meeting with Gandalf in secret about the hiring of Bilbo Baggins. This opening scene is great because chronologically it takes place before the events of the first film and re-introduces us to Bilbo and the gang in epic fashion.

A highlight in the first act are the scenes that take place in Mirkwood. A creepy woods full of giant scary spiders and a winding path designed to be a trap. The tone of the scene is a sense of alienation. The group begins to tire and lose track of where they are until Bilbo sees the sunlight poking through the trees. As he climbs to the top of the skyline he can see everything. He trips and falls right into a Giant Spider trap and must use the One Ring to save his cocooned comrades. Its also here we he comes up with the name of his trusty sword - Sting. The spiders look fantastic and tower over the Dwarfes and the Hobbit. However to the powerful clan of Elves led by Legolas and Tauriel, the giant spiders are simply sword practice.

We are given a different view of the Elves and the Elf kingdom in this film as both an honorable and a tyrannical force. When the party first encounters the elves, a screaming match ensues between Thorin and The Elf King. The result is imprisonment of the party, except for Biblo who is cleverly using the One Ring. This sets us up for a spectacular barrel chase sequence (which I read was directed by Gollum actor Andy Serkis), where we meet Elves and Orcs alike along with a spectacular display of butt kicking by Legolas. Though fun to watch, this sequence was panned by many critics as being too digital and cartoony to be believable. On a side note, it would easily be an awesome theme park ride at Universal Studios or Disney World!

Personally, I think if you are watching the film your suspension of disbelief is already stretched though I tend to agree that the reliance of digital effects is more evident in these films than they were in Lord of the Rings. The only digital characters that really bother me are the orcs, as one of the things I enjoyed about The Lord of the Rings trilogy was the makeup and costuming that went into them. I read online that Bolg (the new baddy orc) was originally a costume but was later changed to digital. Perhaps this is an effort to keep the film in a PG-13 rating I'm not sure, but I feel like the digital orcs are more cartoony and feel like less of a threat than the more realistic ones we say in The Fellowship of the Ring.

Gandalf starts to piece together that the nine Ring Wraiths have been summoned and thinks that the necromancer is to blame. Meanwhile, Bilbo, Thorin, and the rest of the dwarf party meet a mysterious character named Bard the Bowman who hides them into entry onto the floating Lake-Town which proves to be an unpleasant stay. They have to hide in barrels full of stinky fish and murky toilets to sneak by unnoticed at first - being that the town has such a tight knit community that doesn't smile upon newcomers. The sense of hiding and feeling unsafe is really evident in these scenes and at times pits you on the edge of your seat in anticipation! Once Thorin faces The Master of Lake-Town himself, he requests aide in an attempt to reclaim his title of King of the Mountain and face off with Smaug for the Arken Stone once and for all.

The journey to the lair of Smaug at the Lonely Mountain is not easy. After crossing the waters, the group finds themselves on a desperate search for a hidden door. Thorin has a key but must wait for the last light of Doren's day to shine upon the keyhole in order for them to pass through. Once the moon passes over, the group is granted access to the lost Dwarf city where deep inside is the hidden Arken Stone, the artifact that Bilbo must steal and will prove or disprove his worth of master burglar.

Meanwhile, Gandalf finds himself on enemy territory and comes to see the origin of the dastardly work of Sauron. He learns that the Orcs have formed a union with the dark lord and a spectacular sequence pits Gandalf in a desperate face to face battle with a mystical entity of Sauron that he battles with magic. When you know the context of what happens in the Fellowship of the Ring with the Orcs working in huge armies, you understand the importance of this scene as a precursor when Gandalf sees only a few of them starting to work and fight.

Bilbo searches deep within an unlimited stash of jewels and gold to find the sacred Arkan stone only to find it protected by the dragon SMAUG. The reveal for the dragon is epic in scope when you realize that he is massive - the entire length of the huge treasure room Bilbo has found himself in. Smaug himself is an incredible achievement and by far the most realistic and memorable dragon put to film to date. Though I will always have fond memories of Dragonheart). Voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch, Smaug is a menacing and towering force of pure evil. If you get a chance to see this film in 3D, you will see that Smaug is probably the best demonstration of the technology. The film concludes with more thrilling fight sequences with our leads and an ending that perfectly sets up the next installment - The Hobbit: There And Back Again.

Peter Jackson's extraordinary attention to detail is evident throughout the film. I think its great that he has come back Middle Earth to finish his take on the writings of JRR Tolkien and completed the full arc of the One Ring story. These productions will never be forgotten in film history and will have an impact on this generation and future generations to come, the way Star Wars had an effect on the generation before. It's rare that a filmmaker can translate a work of literature so well on screen while at the same time putting his own unique signature in every stylistic choice.

Special features on this release are spanned over two discs including NEW ZEALAND: HOME OF MIDDLE EARTH PART TWO which continues from the first Unexpected Journey release that provides us with in depth production videos and an invitation to the set with Peter Jackson where you get to experience a journey alongside the director into Mirkwood, Lake-Town, and Dale during production.

The film introduces some great new characters including Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly), Bolg the evil new orc, the skin changer Beorn (who is very similar to The Wolfman), the mysterious Bard the Bowman and more appearances from famous characters from The Lord of the Rings including Sauron himself and Legolas (what's with his eyes in this film?) and many of the same recurring characters from An Unexpected Journey.

In my opinion, this film was wrongfully overlooked at the Oscars last year. The film has incredible makeup and special effects, beautiful cinematography, and great performances. The release of Lord of the Rings in 1999 ushered in a huge market for Fantasy films and paved the way for Harry Potter, Game of Thrones, and Chronicles of Narnia to find their way to the screen. The Hobbit films may not quite match The Lord of The Rings in terms of box office revenue and classic status but serve as a wonderful companion and set a high bar for prequel filmmaking.

The 1080p 2.35 X 1 digital High Definition image (shot with a 5K RED EPIC HD Camera) and lossless DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 7.1 sound mix are as state-of-the-art as it gets, a stunning mixdown from its 11.1 Dolby Atmos presentations in select theaters equipped to deliver the film as such. A 3D Blu-ray edition is also available we will cover next.

- James Harland Lockhart V


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