Release: 30th November 2020
Bilbo Baggins, a hobbit, is persuaded into accompanying a wizard and a group of dwarves on a journey to reclaim the city of Erebor and all its riches from the dragon Smaug.
Ever since it first hit cinemas, The Hobbit trilogy has long been considered the red-haired stepchild of The Rings cinematic universe. Part product of Jackson’s desire to push technical boundaries and part bloated intemperance of a 3-part prequel; the truth is, Bilbo’s standalone story never really had a chance at escaping the gargantuan shadow of its predecessor. Given some time to ruminate, this absolutely stunning re-appearance of the trilogy in full 4K serves to give The Hobbit its own identity (for better and worse); and finally allows it distance from the misadventures and tribulations of The Fellowship.
In terms of the films that make up The Hobbit trilogy, the first in the series is by far the most enjoyable. Granted, the extended version does take a little while to get started, but it serves up a fulfilling 3+ hour excursion. In fact, one might argue that this is the only one of the three films that plays better in its extended form. This first of the three, An Unexpected Journey, plays much closer to the childish source material. It has a playful bounce in its step, with Martin Freeman and Ian McKellen developing a fast and easy chemistry as Bilbo and Gandalf. An Unexpected Journey may have enough exposition in it to sink a small island, but it also has songs, jokes, much ballyhoo, trolls, goblins and just the right amount of tricksy riddleseses.
Film two, The Desolation of Smaug is easily a game of two halves, with the second half feeling much more engaging as the story transitions into something more Tolkien-esque in spirit. Smaug proves to be a rather uninspiring villain, posing little threat, but ol’ Cumberbatch still chews through scenery like the beast he portrays. Sadly, it is at this point that Bombur, Bifur, Bofur, Bob, Beryl, Oin, Gloin, Albert and Jeff all begin to merge into one seemingly ever-present sidekick, while Thorin pushes the group forward as the only discernible three-dimensional character. Some fun is had, with a barrel chase and an itchy spider sequence holding ground. However, for all of its promise, The Desolation of Smaug is much more hit and miss than An Unexpected Journey, and definitely plays better in its Theatrical form.
As The Hobbit trilogy reaches its conclusion with The Battle of the Five Armies, Peter Jackson’s worst habits come out in droves. The heart of this chapter is the descent of Thorin; the seemingly bleak outlook of how power corrupts. Yet, Jackson continually finds himself drawn to world-building and spreading attention thinly across a myriad of characters. A love triangle between Legolas, Tauriel and Kili serves about as much sizzle as bacon cooking on a radiator, while seemingly endless hours of footage is dedicated to Luke Evans’ Bard politicking with various Looney Tunes. When the focus falls back on Thorin and Bilbo, the film comes to life, and Martin Freeman once again proves to be the emotional centre of a surprisingly tragic tale. We are, by this point, well beyond the confines of the source material, and Jackson finally decides to kick in with an epic battle…all rendered on someone’s hard drive. It’s a frustrating end to a story so desperate for humanity, in that almost all of the third act is just pixels and green screen.
So, to the presentation itself. Despite the many flaws that the trilogy serves up, this 4K scan is utterly faultless. It is easy to appreciate the level of artistry in the film’s production design when every stitch of clothing is so readily present in detail. Things like Hobbit feet look a little iffy, while some of the visual effects are actually improved (if you’ll believe it). Then there is grain…or lack there of. When scenes get a little too long or dull, try playing a game of spot the grain, because you will struggle to find a single spec. Shot in 5K and produced on a 4K intermediary, this is an utterly stunning set. The HDR colour grade is so rich and creamy you’d think Bob Ross were slapping it on with a pallete knife. Meanwhile, the film’s Atmos track balances dialogue and music with equal care.
The Hobbit trilogy is a fun yet frustrating watch. Unlike The Lord of the Rings trilogy, it benefits overall from theatrical rather than extended cuts. Where Rings had three huge books of folklore to draw on, The Hobbit comes mostly from a single 300+ page paperback. This is glaringly obvious in the plethora of make-shift characters, beefed up plot and forced easter eggs. But, when push comes to shove, these are still hugely enjoyable films, and in this gold standard presentation these are without a doubt the definitive versions…well at least until 2021 when they are released with all new special features.
An Unexpect Journey : A
An Unexpect Journey : B
An Unexpect Journey : B-
Special Features Grade: F
As lovely as it is to see The Hobbit come into its own, and in such a beautiful presentation, it is equally frustrating to see that this is in essence a vanilla placeholder until the REAL boxset comes in summer 2021