The box set reviewed here is the standard set that features the movies only. There is a collectors issue available which includes all the special features found in the Blu-ray box set should you have the pocket for it.
“I’m looking for someone to share in an adventure”
Lord of the Rings is without a doubt one of the greatest movie trilogies in history, if not the greatest! Peter Jackson released his magnum opus nearly twenty years ago and once the dust settled, all eyes looked to the east to see if the original middle earth story “The Hobbit” would get a similar treatment and be adapted to the big screen. It took nearly fifteen years with a lot of production turmoil and last-minute changes but fans eventually got the big-budget production of The Hobbit that they had been waiting for. Unlike LOTR, The Hobbit was not a straight adaptation of the much-loved children’s book, but a much more elaborate and sprawling tale featuring stories and characters from Tolkiens extended works to pad out the adventure and bring the experience more in line with the epic saga that preceded it.
Fans had mixed feelings about this approach by Jackson, stretching a book that was half the size of one LOTR book into a trilogy of movies each running over three hours apiece left some viewers feeling thin, sort of stretched like, butter scraped over too much bread. For this Hobbit shaped fan, however, the movies delivered a great middle earth adventure that despite its bloat and overreliance on CGI, still delivered a great experience that is better than ever thanks to the recent 4K release.
Each year my precious and I like to watch the six movie saga over the Christmas period so the 4K releases came at just the right time, the box set features 4K upgrades of both versions of each movie (Theatrical and Extended) however, extended is the best way to experience these movies in my humble opinion so these will be the versions I will be discussing. I won’t spend too much time focusing on the plot of each movie as chances are anyone who is reading this is likely a fan already and debating whether to make the upgrade to the 4K collections. So stuff some old toby in your pipe, pour a large ale and put your feet up as we go on an adventure into middle earth.
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
My favourite entry in The Hobbit trilogy is the first, a bright and engaging adventure that introduces us to the Dwarves of Erebor, lead by Thorin Oakenshield. A memorable and ragtag group of characters who are on a quest to reclaim their homeland from Smaug the Dragon, chiefest and greatest calamity of our time! In order to sneak into Erebor, they are going to need a burglar, this is where Gandalf (reprised by Ian McKellen) decides that one Bilbo Baggins would be an ideal candidate to share in the adventure and reluctantly, the Hobbit joins the company of Thorin and together they set off across middle earth.
For those who have not seen the extended version of The Hobbit, you are in for a treat. The additional scenes add much more levity and lightheartedness to the movie that brings it more in line with the almost fairytale style of the book. It also provides some much needed back story to certain relationships, such as the cause of the animosity between the Elves of the Woodland Realm and the Dwarves of Erebor which makes the engagement between Thorin and Thranduil carry much more weight in the second movie. We also get more time with the company of Thorin as a whole with some hilarious interactions and dialogue to flesh out certain members of the troop that felt overlooked in the theatrical cut.
Upon pressing play and starting the movie I was instantly blown away by the picture quality, vibrant and detailed arent even the words to describe how colourful and vivid the presentation was with great detail on every piece of scenery and costume. From the opening scenes in the shire, where we see old Bilbo (reprised by the late Ian Holm) telling his story, the sprawling fields and rural landscapes of the shire look incredible with vibrant greens complemented by lush yellows and blues, the shire has never looked better. The flashback story of how Smaug took Erebor is a great action sequence to get things moving early with HDR really showing what it can do as the town of Dale is destroyed by dragon fire. Instantly the picture quality stands up as one of the most impressive 4K upgrades on the market, even with more subtle scenes like Thorin’s many L’Oreal poses emphasising every strand of hair and a remarkably well-kept beard, but it is not all razzle-dazzle, other improvements were greatly welcomed as the film rolled on.
One thing that irritated me about the original release (and a lot of modern movies in general for that matter) was just how much CGI was on display. Granted the scenery and landscapes of middle earth always looked great and now they look more dreamlike and beautiful than ever, but certain characters such as the three trolls, the goblin king and of course the villain of the piece, Azog the Defiler have all had some treatment from Peter Jackson and the team that really stands out. The skin tones and details now look less like an oversaturated video game cutscene and much more balanced with the surrounding scenery meaning they don’t pop on the screen like a copy and paste job. Azog looks particularly impressive with his skin having a much more leathery appearance, this stands out particularly during the closing battle as he faces off against Thorin, the light of the fire mixed with the starlight above highlights him really well and although it still doesn’t impress quite as much as the use of practical effects and costumes that featured in LOTR, it looks much better on-screen and less jarring on the eyes.
Thankfully one scene that remains untouched as in my opinion it is dam near perfect is “Riddles in the Dark” where Bilbo first encounters Gollum (reprised by Andy Serkis) everything about this scene is spot on and even in the original cut Gollum look strikingly lifelike but now he looks better than ever. The chemistry between Martin Freeman and Andy Serkis really shows here as the fateful meeting between Bilbo and Gollum is, in essence, the crux of the story even though it was only a somewhat minor event when first published.
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
We pick up almost immediately after the events of the first movie with Thorin and company on the run from Azog and his orcs. This chapter introduces a large number of new characters and locations from the shape-shifting Beorn, to the Woodland Elves featuring a return of Legolas (reprised by Orlando Bloom), Lake Town and it’s inhabitants and of course, the big cheese himself, Smaug the Dragon. As the Dwarves draw closer to Erebor to face Smaug the reality and potential consequences of their quest start to loom and take shape with many eyes, both good and evil, looking towards the mountain that is destined to play a larger part in the fate of middle earth.
As with all good sequels, Desolation of Smaug up’s the ante and the action but in this case, we also see much more additional content added to the movie that isn’t in the book as Jackson plays his fiddle with the extended works. Some of these scenes are very welcomed and do succeed in fleshing out the lore of middle earth that comes into play in LOTR. Early on we are given an extended sequence in Beorn’s house which gives him some much-needed screen time as he felt like a flash in the pan entry in the theatrical cut and also adds some more levity to what is otherwise a dark and dramatic movie in its second half (not that that’s a bad thing)
A particularly great scene sees Gandalf and Radaghast visiting the tomb of Angmar that now lays empty, once the resting place of the nine. Impressively the reactions from Gandalf, Elrond (reprised by Hugo Weaving) and Galadriel (reprised by Cate Blanchett) when discussing this element in the first two movies really drives home how terrified they all are at the prospect of The Witch King and his riders now being on the loose and linked to the suspected return of Sauron which makes their presence in LOTR movies even more forbidding. We also get a much more extended sequence with Gandalf in Dol Guldur as he meets Thorin’s father and faces off against Azog and the Necromancer, this is especially entertaining as we get to see Gandalf kicking ass with some magic and really showing what he is capable of with the HDR and 4K rendering once again showing it’s quality.
Unfortunately, not all the additional scenes are quite as welcomed, there is plenty of padding particularly in Laketown. Though the character of Bard is only briefly mentioned in the books he is given a good amount of screen time which is not an issue due to his importance in a later event, but other characters such as the master of lake town and his assistant Alfrid just get a bit too tedious and feel like unnecessary elements.
Picture wise, well what can I say, nothing short of spectacular! The stand out scene (and arguable the best scene in the movie anyway) is Smaugs awakening. The details on every piece of gold and treasure in the great hall sparkles and stands out beautifully. As Smaug wakes up and rises from under the treasure menacingly the colours and lighting look gorgeous as his red scales glisten with the reflections of the gold, as the shot widens the details and scale of the vast dwarven hall looks mindblowing (if only the government would hire dwarves to build council houses) everything just stands out so well and there’s an added breadth of scale and details that were somehow lost in the Blu Ray cut.
Additional sequences that really highlight the picture quality are the introduction to lake town, as Bard ferries the dwarves into town we see a wide shot of the town emerging from the fog on the lake with the sunlight shining through the mountain ranges beyond. Mirkwood is a much-enhanced scene, not only for its extended sequences but the HDR really helps emphasis how depressing and enclosed the forest has become, it’s almost like a night and day difference as Bilbo climbs to the top and emerges through the treetops into vibrant sunlight with the colours of the sky illuminating the screen in stark contrast to the deep shadows of the forest below.
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies
The third and final entry in the trilogy is pretty much full-on action, opening with Smaug unleashing hell on Laketown as punishment for Bilbo and the Dwarves pissing him off. Left homeless, the survivors of Laketown seek refuge in Erebor but a crazed Thorin refuses them entry. Things escalate more as armies of Elves, Dwarves, Men, Orcs and even Beasts all clash in a fierce battle for control of Erebor.
The first thing to mention about the extended cut here is how violent and bloody it is, going as far as to receive a 15 rating (R rating for our American friends) when the battle kicks off the whole sequence is enhanced and much different from the theatrical cut with a confrontation between Elves and Dwarves taking place long before the Orcs arrive on the scene. Limbs are severed left right and centre with heads being torn off in a shower of gore. Siege machines and trolls that wouldn’t look out of place in a Clive Barker movie enter the fray that was completely absent from the theatrical version.
The battle is exciting to watch but it also highlights Jacksons stretch to pad this movie out and add almost ridiculous amounts of action, especially considering the battle is barely present in the book as Bilbo gets knocked out right at the start and awakens to be told a couple of highlights. The extended scenes don’t always flow together here either, during the battle Alfrid (disguised as a woman) flees only to suddenly be found hiding in the sling of a trebuchet, it makes no sense how he would have managed to get in there or why he would even be in there at this stage in the first place.
The picture quality remains top-notch despite the whole movie near enough being a CGI fest with HDR working overtime across the landscapes of the battle. From the baron land outside Erebor to the frosty mountain ranges and the stone city of Dale, there is a great range of scenery to drink in. We also get more time in Dol Guldur and Angmar to break things up. The fight sequence that features Elrond, Galadriel and Saruman (reprised by the late Christopher Lee) fighting against the nine to save Gandalf is by far the stand out sequence of this movie. The menacing glow of the decaying fortress mixed with the uncloaked versions of the nine really contrast with the heroes clad in lighter robes and armour and once again we get to see some wizarding combat as Saruman kicks some serious arse before declaring “leave Sauron to me…” (not the best idea anyone in middle earth has ever had but what can you do)
Battle of the Five Armies may pale in comparison to The Return of the King and does stand out as a movie built on too much padding but there is still fun to be had and I love the way the ending goes straight into the start of Fellowship of the Ring. The added focus on the three rings of the Elves and not just The One Ring is welcomed and does open up the wider lore but I feel like this could have seen a much more screen time instead of an unnecessarily long battle just to fill up running time.
As an adaptation of a much loved and infamous book, The Hobbit falls short due to Peter Jackson wanting to enhance the story to fit the wider cinematic story and world he had created while dealing with rushed production. It is a shame we will never get to see the original version that was going to be helmed by Guillermo Del Toro but despite its flaws and padding I still really enjoy these movies. Some great casting choices for young Bilbo and Thorin really carry this movie and it’s also amazing that Ian McKellen, Cate Blanchett, Hugo Weaving and Christopher Lee don’t seem to have aged at all during the fifteen-year filming gap.
Focusing purely on the 4K upgrade for this review rating, it is nothing short of mind-blowing. Not many modern movies have really blown me away in 4K but The Hobbit trilogy is an absolute knock out. Whether it’s taking in the wide shots of amazing landscapes, enjoying Gandalfs fireworks or watching Smaug burn Laketown to ash, every element is just vibrant and jumps right off the screen, coupled with the rerendering of some characters to balance them with the scenery and lighting of the movie just enhances this series to a definitive level. Whether you are a fan of The Hobbit series or if you just want something that is going to wow the senses in your home cinema set up, you can’t go wrong here!
TBG Score: 8.5/10
Director – Peter Jackson
Cast – Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Richard Armatage
Release Date – 30th November 2020
Number of Discs – 6
Price (RRP) – £74.99
Extended Edition Runtime – The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey – 182:29. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug – 186:19. The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies – 163:49
Aspect Ratio – 16×9 LB 2.39
Audio – Dolby Atmos TrueHD