The Hobbit Trilogy 3D Extended Edition review (Blu-ray)

If you thought the original version of The Hobbit Trilogy was a bit on the short side, prepare to feast your eyes – here in the Extended Edition is almost NINE hours of the original films, PLUS another TWENTY-TWO hours or so of bonus material, all spread across FIFTEEN Bluray discs. Phew!

Peter Jackson recently came out and said he didn’t know what the hell he was doing when he made The Hobbit. He said he began filming the trilogy without proper preparation, often shooting scenes without storyboards and finished scripts and was “making it up as I went along”. If that's the case, we would love to see what he can achieve when he IS properly prepared. The trilogy s a wonderful piece of work, an excellent companion to his Lord Of The Rings trilogy.

And sitting at home, watching The Hobbit Trilogy Extended Edition on 3D Blu-ray is probably THE best way to enjoy this saga – you can treat it much as you would a TV mini-series, and watch it at leisure over a couple of weeks, or binge it in a long-weekend session. And at home is probably the best way to enjoy the 3D, as well – it does seem to work much better on the small screen than it did in cinemas, which is probably down to the slight differences in the technology that is used. So before we examine the lengthy bonus material on offer, let's recap the three films themselves...

An Unexpected Journey
If you enjoyed Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy then An Unexpected Journey offers more of the same: swarms of CGI creatures, sweeping (and reassuringly familiar) New Zealand landscapes, epic battles, several returning characters (and actors), and one mysterious gold ring. True to its origin as a much-loved children’s book, The Hobbit is noticeably lighter in tone than its literary sequel, with much singing and slapstick in the earlier scenes; once we leave the Shire, however, things take a darker turn, with scenes of decapitations and mutilations that really push the boundaries of the film’s 12A certificate. Freeman is inspired casting as Bilbo Baggins, and makes for a more likeable protagonist than Wood’s Frodo. The band of dwarves suffers at times from looking largely interchangeable, though some personalities do manage to emerge, with Stott’s Balin, Nesbit’s Bofur and Adam Brown’s Ori providing the colour and Armitage the heroics as brooding leader Thorin, the King of the Mountain who wants his mountain back. But the film’s true highlight is Serkis and his mo-cap Gollum. In the midst of the huge action set-pieces and stunning vistas, Gollum’s emotive face in close-up is truly a sight to behold.

The Desolation of Smaug
This middle instalment of Jackson's gargantuan trilogy involves Bilbo and the dwarves finally encountering that dastardly, fire-breathing dragon Smaug (voiced by Cumberbatch). It's a splendid looking monster to be sure, slithering with menace as it taunts and terrifies the brave little heroes. The Desolation of Smaug is an entertaining adventure. Obviously it lacks the weight and significance of the original Lord of the Rings movies, but for the first couple of hours this action-filled romp is cheerfully diverting. Bilbo and the dwarves continue on their episodic journey to the Lonely Mountain, Jackson's swooping camera in constant motion giving us reliable panoramic shots of the terrain as they trundle on. En route they meet skin changer Beorn (Mikael Persbrandt), nasty spiders, and trusty Legolas. The best set piece is a rollicking battle with the dwarves in barrels racing through water as they are attacked by the Orcs while the Elves try to protect them. It's done with real verve and is giddily enjoyable – fast paced, funny and very exciting. Evans makes a strong showing as another new character, Bard, the bargee who helps them on their way, but with an ulterior motive for doing so. We take a detour to his Laketown, a bustling, overpopulated area governed by corrupt Master Fry. This dwelling place is depicted with impressive CGI flair, the old world abodes cluttered upon one another with a clever designer's eye. It's glorious to look at.

Battle of the Five Armies
And so Jackson’s Hobbit trilogy comes to an end. And, inevitably, it comes to an end in an extended battle scene that’s less “Five Armies”, more “Five Rival Animation Teams at WETA Throw Down”. We’ve commented before that certain films are less about genuine tension, more about what that bunch of pixels is going to do to that other bunch of pixels. For the bulk of this film’s 144 minutes that’s very much the case. It’s The Hobbit III – this time it’s impersonal. Part of the problem is that the second part was so damn good that this third one was always likely to suffer by comparison. When the characters you recognise are on screen, things are terrific. Freeman’s gruffly sensible Bilbo is a Hobbit clearly changed by what he’s gone through, and Armitage’s Thorin, self-absorbed and obsessed with power, is a very fine performance indeed, and the scenes between the two are what give this film its heart. It’s slick, well made, there’s some terrific acting and, if you’ve made it through the six hours that went before, you’ll probably want to complete the cycle.

EXTRAS ★★★★★ As with The Lord of the Rings trilogy, it's the special features that make this collection well worth buying. They provide a deep, lengthy and insightful journey through the film-making process. Before getting to the monus material itself, it's worth noting that the films themself are a little different here to their originallyreleased versions: An Unexpected Journey contains 13 minutes of additional footage; The Desolation of Smaug has 25 minutes of extra footage; and The Battle of the Five Armies has an added 20 minutes. The Trilogy box set also include digital versions of the movies on Digital HD with UltraViolet, for use on a tablet, phone or computer. Now to the special features themselves. An Unexpected Journey has: a Filmmakers' Commentary; the featurette New Zealand: Home of Middle-Earth Part 1; The Appendices Part 7: A Long Expected Journey, a multipart history of the filming, from pre-production through principal photography and postproduction; The Appendices Part 8: Return to Middle Earth, which explores the characters and backgrounds of the five families of dwarves along with Bilbo Baggins. The Desolation of Smaug features: a Filmakers’ Commentary; the featurette New Zealand: Home of Middle Earth Part 2; The Appendices Part 9, in which the cast and crew share their experiences making the second installment of the trilogy; The Appendices Part 10, which looks at the new characters and creatures in the story, plus a look at Howard Shore’s score. The Battle of the Five Armies includes: a Filmmakers Commentary; the featurette New-Zealand: Home of Middle-Earth Part 3; The Appendices Part 11, which has on-set stories from the cast and crew as they share their most essential, memorable and entertaining moments from production, plus stunts and effects being filmed; and The Appendices Part 12, which follows the filmmakers as they create one of the most complex cinematic battles ever filmed, plus an emotional farewell to Middle-Earth. It's a comprehensive collection, and if you don't alrady own The Hobbit Trilogy on 3D Blu-ray, then this is most definitely the set to buy. • Reportage and reviews by Stuart O'Connor, Neil Davey, Doug Cooper and Simon Williams

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