We follow Part 1 of our The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey Extended Edition review with an in-depth look at the disc itself.
Warner Home Video bring this Extended Edition to Blu-ray in both 2D and 3D flavours (though no 48fps for you High Frame Rate lovers out there), as well as to video on-demand services iTunes and blinkbox. Let’s take a look at what exactly you get for your money…
Taking in the 3D version proves to be a real treat. Jackson’s love of landscapes and production design is a real boon, with the camera zooming over mountains or swirling around lavish sets, and the 3D transfer brings out a great deal of dimensionality and depth. Highlights include Rivendell’s beautiful expanses, which have never looked grander, and the Goblin kingdom, which has a vertiginous quality that appreciably adds to the peril the dwarves find themselves in.
This is a lack of things popping out of the screen. Instead, we are largely catered for by weather effects; this isn’t one of those novelty 3D experiences, but one that seeks to bring you into the film’s world and does so very well. (With Gravity re-stoking the 3D fire on the big screen at the moment, hopefully more attention will be paid to films such as this, which try to boost the visuals with 3D and not use it just as an afterthought.)
Sound is provided by a booming DTS-HD 7.1 track and is reference quality as expected. While we only watched it with a 5.1 set-up, the sound still engulfed the room with the sound mixing proving particularly impressive; dialogue is clear throughout, even when the action is at its most hectic. Bass is ever present in the more dynamic scenes and adds dynamic intensity. Surround directional effects are also plentiful, with the rear speakers getting something to work with throughout. It is truly a pleasure to hear.
The original The Lord of the Rings Extended Edition set is still one of the best Blu-ray sets out there, despite the fact that it originated on DVD. With four commentary tracks on each film and dozens of hours of documentary material, it’s hard to top. Add in the fact that as the film world turns digital, budgets for special feature sets just aren’t what they used to be and you’d be forgiven for thinking we would be underserved with the extras on The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.
Fear not, dear reader, as while the sheer weight of the material is slightly lacking, the quality remains high. With the four commentary tracks whittled down to one, we still get a chatty and informative time as Peter Jackson is joined by co-writer Phillpa Boyens to talk through the film, the challenges of returning to Middle Earth and adapting to changes in technology in the intervening decade. The two barely ever stop talking and make for very warm company.
Fitting perfectly in with the wealth of material available in documentary form in the previous discs, here we have over nine hours’ worth of material split across two discs and presented in full HD (in this regard, The Hobbit betters the material available in the previous sets). The quality here is of the level expected with making-of material focusing on virtually every single aspect of the filmmaking process with input from any cast and crew member you could want to hear from.
As the excellent ChinStroker vs Punter podcast put it, the set sums up the “film school in a box” phrase which could become increasingly rare in today’s digital focused landscape. It is pleasing, then, that the iTunes Extras with the digital copy of the film contain a very solid amount of material themselves, with the contents of both extras discs being included – a surprise given the sheer amount of material on-hand.
While the commentary is missing and the video and audio look to be of a smaller bitrate – and so won’t be quite as equal technically – it’s very good to see that some studios are willing to put their money where their mouth is in transitioning from a disc-based life to a digital landscape. It’s also a blessing that Warners haven’t indulged in the increasingly prevalent trend of sticking different extras in different editions, something the latest Star Trek release recently caused quite a stir about.
For many, which version they get will be down to personal choice. Digital releases offer an immediacy and convenience, which people do increasingly want, but there are still many who like the tactile ownership of a disc and to have it in as high a quality as possible. While digital copies are getting better and better, the sheer size of a Blu-ray disc means that video and audio can be presented at a far higher quality, at least for the moment.
In terms of the major studios, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey Extended Edition is probably the best release of the year – and, indeed, probably of the last few years. A real boon for fans with excellent video and audio and special features, which frankly make the eyes water, this is going to be a must-own for many – and deservedly so.