Review: The Hobbit – An Unexpected Journey Extended Edition / Cert: 12A / Director: Peter Jackson / Screenplay: Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson, Guillermo del Toro / Starring: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Richard Armitage, Ken Stott, Graham McTavish, William Kircher, James Nesbitt, Stephen Hunter / Release Date: Out Now (Blu-Ray and Download), November 4th (DVD)
Given the enormous success of the Rings trilogy, a follow-up was inevitable and of course it had to The Hobbit – An Unexpected Journey. The story of the young hobbit, Bilbo Baggins, being dragged into the most dangerous adventures by the wandering wizard Gandalf the Grey and a team of dwarves is considered a classic by most, and this is the first time an attempt has been made to tell the story as a proper live action feature. The result is a star-studded, lavishly produced movie, filled with action, excitement and breathtaking scenery, as well as the odd song or two. And to many people’s surprise, this slim book has been stretched out into a trilogy.
Splitting the story into three movies looks like it will pay off. Jackson has combed through the original text of both The Hobbit and the LotR books in order to create a complete world and tell the full story. The lack of the rights to the rest of the Tolkien estate does lead to some nice work-arounds, but overall we have a deep fantasy action movie that, though it takes a while to start, gathers momentum and does not stop until the end.
Despite all of the production and legal difficulties that led to it taking over a decade for the LotR prequel to made, it’s now hard to imagine The Hobbit - An Unexpected Journey being made by anyone but Peter Jackson. The visual references from the previous movies and the amazing sense of consistency and all-round feel to the feature could have only been achieved through Jackson’s dedication and attention to detail. Still, the fingerprints of the previous director, Guillermo del Toro, can be seen in more than one or two scenes.
The Hobbit - An Unexpected Journey Extended Edition includes added scenes which are interesting, but neither add to or take away anything from the quality of the piece. In most cases you can see why they were cut from the original list, as 13 minutes is a lot of extra footage. The Goblin King’s song and dance number is especially interesting, and though it works and is quite amusing, it does stretch the movie out a little bit too much and gets in the way of one of the movie's significant set-pieces, the riddles in the dark.
The commentary is very good. Director Peter Jackson and screenwriter Philippa Boyens are both blessed with an engaging manner and as you would expect, they provide fascinating insights into the production of the movie. It’s interesting to hear them talk about scenes that have been left out of the extended version, and the reasons why. Boyens is especially fascinating; as screenwriter she’s well aware of the difference between Tolkien’s original text and what happens in the movie, and she takes the time to explain how and why the changes had to be made. This feature is also packed with all sorts of nice trivia and tantalising hints as to what the next two movies will be like.
The extras are vast and very well done. The New Zealand: Home of Middle-earth feature does feel more like an advert for New Zealand, but the appendixes are marvelous. The Company of Thorin gives the viewer a real feel for what it takes to bring dwarves to life and has some great little touches and insights, and include a comedy '70s style movie trailer that will bring a big grin to your face, as will Peter Jackson’s pet name for the dwarves. Bilbo/Martin Freeman gets his own feature in The 14th Member, and it’s charming to see the process that made Bilbo appear so utterly enchanting on the screen. The bulk of the features walk the viewer through the ins and outs of the production, from the initial proposal and associated issues, to the set design and special effects. It’s in-depth, but also inspirational.
Including features, the set is over 12 hours long, which should keep most fans going for some time, or at least keep you distracted on a long flight to New Zealand. The second part of The Hobbit series, The Desolation of Smaug will be out in early December, so if you need to revise the events of the last movie, now would be the time to pick this collection up and get yourself ready for part two.
Extras: See above