Monday, April 7, 2014

Blu-ray Review: THE HOBBIT - THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG (2013) [Warner Brothers]

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013)

Buy the Blu-ray or DVD

The Movie

I’m going to be up front with you; Peter Jackson’s original LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy is easily one of my (if not my most) favorite film series of all-time. In my eyes, those films were captivating, excellently executed adaptations of some of the densest storytelling ever. People said that it couldn’t be done, yet Jackson and Company delivered something that, in my opinion, is even better than the source material, and even ten years later, the films still hold up. In fact, I revisit them on almost a yearly basis.

With that in mind, I have to admit that I was a tad underwhelmed by the first film in Jackson’s adaptation of THE HOBBIT (subtitled “An Unexpected Journey”), and I know I wasn’t alone. Still, I held out hope that the second of this latest trilogy of LOTR films would come closer to capturing that spark that made the original films so captivating. In other words, I approached THE HOBBIT: THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG with an open mind and a hopeful attitude, and I’m glad that I did because I found the film to be quite wonderful.

I’m not going to get into direct comparisons against the original source material, or discuss how this latest series hold up to the original films. Quite frankly, that ground has been trodden over many times already, and my thoughts on the matter wouldn’t add much to the discussion that hasn’t already been pored over by people more scholarly than me. Instead, I will tell you that THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG breezes by in a much more entertaining fashion than its immediate predecessor did. I think a good deal of that has to do with it not being hampered by having to establish characters and set up the (epically scoped) story line. We’ve already spent two-and-a-half in this world (three, if you’ve watched the Extended Edition of JOURNEY), and this time out, Jackson can drop us right into things; and boy does he ever.

THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG starts out with an even foot and simply ramps up consistently; until it reaches its final act, which not only introduces us to the gigantic titular dragon, but also sets up what is sure to be an action-packed finale to the HOBBIT series. As usual, the world of Middle Earth is immersive and wonderfully realized, and the special effects are top-notch and an improvement over some of the shakier work in the preceding film. 

I also loved the new editions to the cast here. Don't get me wrong, the returning players were a lot of fun, but Evangeline Lilly simply kicks ass here. It's nice to see a strong female heroine in the film, even if they do introduce a somewhat disposable romance side-story involving her character. Honestly, she steals every scene she's in, giving Orlando Bloom's Legolas a run for his money in the acrobatic battle scene department. Benedict Cumberbatch's voice acting for Smaug is also great. He's menacing and intriguing at the same time, and I can't wait to hear more of him in the final film.

Ultimately, THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG is an enchanting film. As expected, it is darker than AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY, but I think that just makes it even stronger. I had a lot of fun with the film in the theater, and I was happy to revisit it on Blu-ray. I can't wait for the Extended Edition later this year.

Movie Score


The Blu-ray

THE HOBBIT: THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG comes home in a Blu-ray/DVD/Digital Combo Pack, featuring a slipcover in the initial pressing. I love that Warner includes all formats in one convenient package, so you can watch the film anywhere you please. 

Video Quality (4.5/5)

The 1080p AVC-encoded transfer for DESOLATION OF SMAUG is almost reference quality. The stunning visuals work very well in hi-def, and there is a great amount of detail present on the screen. This looks just as good as the film did in the theater, and it is proof that Warner is one of the premier home video companies; when it comes to Blu-ray releases.

Audio Quality (5/5)

Simply put, the DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 Surround track on this disc is amazing. We're talking reference-quality here. Booming lows that will shake your house, and everything is clear as ever. I've always been in love with the audio design of these films, and this is no exception. You just can't get this kind of quality out of DVD. I love it.

Extra Features (3/5)

Jackson is obviously saving his onslaught of in-depth special features for the forthcoming Extended Edition of the film, but there are a good handful of worthwhile special features on the theatrical release of DESOLATION OF SMAUG. The best of the bunch are the set visit and production videos; though we don't get quite as much here as we did with the theatrical cut of AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY. Still, it's satisfying, and I honestly am in favor of using as much space for the film itself as possible, so I have no problem with saving the real goodies for the big release later.

  • Peter Jackson Invites You to the Set
  • Production Videos
  • Live Event: In the Cutting Room
  • New Zealand: Home of Middle-earth, Part 2
  • Trailers & Previews
  • Music Video - "I See Fire" by Ed Sheeran

Final Thoughts

If you liked the last HOBBIT film, you will probably really like the second installment. Even if you were lukewarm on AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY, you may find DESOLATION OF SMAUG will give you a reason to rethink your stance on this second set of films. Personally, I had a great time with both the movie and the Blu-ray. Warner Brothers has once again done a bang-up job at giving us a high quality Blu-ray disc, with a great transfer, an amazing audio track, and a decent handful of bonus features.

Highly Recommended.

Blu-ray Score


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