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As of this review, Peter Jackson’s “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” has made $1 billion worldwide. That’s dollars. It’s way more impressive if you read that line while imagining me doing a Dr. Evil impersonation. I gotta admit, I kind of doubted that a return to Middle Earth would be nearly as lucrative as the previous three journeys, but boy was I ever wrong. But don’t take my word for it. Discover for yourself what all the fuss is about when “The Hobbit”, the first part of a new trilogy, arrives this March 19th from Warner Home Video. For those of you who prefer to hold your movies in your hand, the film will be available in Blu-ray Combo Pack, Blu-ray 3D Combo Pack and 2-Disc DVD Special Edition.
The adventure follows the journey of title character Bilbo Baggins, who is swept into an epic quest to reclaim the lost Dwarf Kingdom of Erebor from the fearsome Dragon Smaug. Approached out of the blue by the Wizard Gandalf the Grey, Bilbo finds himself joining a company of 13 Dwarves led by the legendary warrior, Thorin Oakenshield. Their journey will take them into the Wild, through treacherous lands swarming with Goblins, Orcs and deadly Wargs, as well as a mysterious and sinister figure known only as the Necromancer. Although their goal lies to the East and the wastelands of the Lonely Mountain, first they must escape the Goblin tunnels, where Bilbo meets the creature that will change his life forever…Gollum. Here, alone with Gollum, on the shores of an underground lake, the unassuming Bilbo Baggins not only discovers depths of ingenuity and courage that surprise even him, he also gains possession of Gollum’s “precious” ring that holds unexpected and useful qualities…A simple, gold ring that is tied to the fate of all Middle-earth in ways Bilbo cannot begin to know.
Based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Hobbit”, I couldn’t tell you if Peter Jackson’s movie is faithful to the book or not, though to hear most fans tell it, it stretches certain plot points beyond what was described in the book. Which isn’t a surprise, considering that Jackson is squeezing three movies out of a 310-page book. For non-readers like myself, “The Hobbit” is a pretty good, very entertaining trip back to Middle Earth, though I wouldn’t really put it up there with any of the “Lord of the Rings” movies. There’s a whimsical sense of fun here, even when Bilbo (Martin Freeman) is on the verge of death, which happens quite a bit in the movie, though you never really get the sense that very much is at stake.
The last adaptation of “The Hobbit” was a 1977 animated movie, but I think it’s safe to say that that movie has nothing on Jackson’s film. Mixing up actual locations with lots of warehouse-shot stuff, “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” features spectacular set designs and seamless CGI to render the world of Middle Earth as real as possible. This is a rollicking action-adventure, and although there are some potentially scary scenes for younger viewers (those trolls and goblins are damn ugly), things generally work out for Bilbo and his companion Dwarves. Even so, Gollum can be quite a disturbing character, so parents should keep that in mind.The film is a huge undertaking, and for fans of the three “Lord of the Rings” movies, it will be like jumping right back into an old familiar pair of shoes. It shouldn’t take non-fans too long to get into the swing of things, though, and “The Hobbit” doesn’t really require that you’ve seen the “Lord of the Rings” films to get it, though obviously there are scenes, especially in the middle sections, that winks and nods at things to come. (I could be wrong, but I think that Saruman fella might be up to no good.) Ian McKellen, Cate Blanchett, and Hugo Weaving all hop right back into the swing of things, though McKellen looks might, mighty tired throughout the film. I don’t blame the guy. After all, he’s not 61 anymore (when he shot the first “Lord of the Rings” film).
The Blu-ray Combo Pack offers up three discs, the movie on a Blu-ray disc and DVD, plus a third disc just for special features (also for Blu-ray). You also get a 12-digit code that allows you to join a live online chat event hosted by director Peter Jackson on March 24th. During the event, those logged in will be able to catch an “Exclusive Worldwide Sneak Peek” of the second movie in the series, “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug”.
A lot has been made about Jackson shooting “The Hobbit” in 48 frames per second, and let me say that I didn’t do any adjusting of my HD TV or Blu-ray player before tossing the Blu-ray disc in there. On “regular” Blu-ray settings, “The Hobbit” still looked spectacular, with gorgeous visuals and crisp sounds. This is the kind of movie Blu-ray was made for. And those trolls and goblins in HD? Absolutely (and gorgeously) disgusting.
As for special features, if you’re expecting mountains of deleted scenes, extended sequences, and multiple endings, you’re probably going to have to wait for the Extended Editions in a few years, because the first wave of DVD/Blu-rays come with pretty standard bonus content. You get the 6-minute doc “New Zealand: Home of Middle Earth”, a behind-the-scenes look at all the places that the film used for its Middle Earth locations; ten video blogs from the film’s shoot and promotional tours, many of which you probably already saw if you kept up with the film throughout production on its Facebook page or, hell, on our site (they total over 2 hours); and finally, you get trailers for the movie, as well as the games based on the property. For those still rocking standard DVD players, sorry, all you get is the movie on your DVD disc. Maybe it’s time to upgrade, huh?