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The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug Blu-ray 3D Combo Pack Review

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013) movie poster The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Theatrical Release: December 13, 2013 / Running Time: 161 Minutes / Rating: PG-13

Director: Peter Jackson / Writers: J.R.R. Tolkien (novel); Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson, Guillermo del Toro (screenplay)

Cast: Ian McKellen (Gandalf), Martin Freeman (Bilbo Baggins), Richard Armitage (Thorin), Ken Stott (Balin), Graham McTavish (Dwalin), William Kircher (Bifur), James Nesbitt (Bofur), Stephen Hunter (Bombur), Dean O'Gorman (Fili), Aidan Turner (Kili), John Callen (Oin), Peter Hambleton (Gloin), Jed Brophy (Nori), Mark Hadlow (Dori), Adam Brown (Ori), Orlando Bloom (Legolas), Evangeline Lilly (Tauriel), Lee Pace (Thranduil), Cate Blanchett (Galadriel), Benedict Cumberlatch (Smaug, Necromancer), Mikael Persbrandt (Beorn), Sylvester McCoy (Radagast), Luke Evans (Bard), Stephen Fry (Master of Laketown), Ryan Gage (Alfrid), John Bell (Bain), Peggy Nesbitt (Sigrid), Mary Nesbitt (Tilda), Manu Bennett (Azog), Lawrence Makoare (Bolg)

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Blu-ray 3D Combo pack, Blu-ray Combo pack, 2-disc DVD special edition, and Digital HD on 4/8

Buy from Amazon.com: Blu-ray 3D Combo • Blu-ray Combo • 2-Disc DVD • Limited Collector's Edition Blu-ray 3D • Instant Video

Anyone who has seen the need for tighter editing in the films of Peter Jackson has to find some bemusement in the director's current venture: adapting the 300-page children's novel
The Hobbit into an epic trilogy of nearly 3-hour films, each likely running over 3 hours in his obligatory Extended Editions.

Having mined the three Lord of the Rings books similarly, Jackson knows and clearly loves author J.R.R. Tolkien and large-scale fantasy filmmaking. But this latest franchise has felt less like a long-awaited cultural phenomenon and more like going back for seconds in search of certain profit. Despite a decade of inflation and the premium prices of 3D, IMAX, and HFR, the domestic box office is down from Rings. So too are the reviews, as they would almost have to be. Whereas the Rings films competed for Best Picture and many other Oscars (culminating with a record-tying 11 wins for the third installment), these Hobbit films have been lucky to pick up a handful of technical award nominations, none of which it seems likely to win after consecutive shutouts.

We've already been to Middle-Earth (played as always by Jackson's native New Zealand) and spent time in the company of assorted characters with funny names and facial hair. And yet, many moviegoers around the globe are enjoying going back there in these prequels, the first two of which have each grossed around a billion dollars worldwide.

Gandalf (Ian McKellen) recognizes a symbol that gives him pause while out journeying with the dwarves and Bilbo. Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) finds himself face to face with a giant sleeping dragon.

As far as sequels go, The Desolation of Smaug feels rather self-contained. We're not really introduced or reintroduced to its large cast of characters, but what's done is done and nobody is looking back. At the film's start, the wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen) contacts Thorin (Richard Armitage), the broody dwarf leader of royal blood, about reclaiming a stolen jewel. The Arkenstone seems to have great significance, but its function here is comparable to one of Alfred Hitchcock's MacGuffins. Nonetheless, Thorin reunites with the dozen or so dwarves and with young Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), whose services as a master burglar are needed.

With ugly beasts in pursuit, Gandalf and the large group take refuge in the house of Beorn, a "skin-changer" who takes different forms at different times. The party passes through a treacherous forest before running into giant spiders who weave them up in webs. After an escape, the group is taken prisoner by Legolas (Orlando Bloom) and his fellow Elves. The historical mutual resentment between Dwarves and Elves comes to a head, at the same time when an unlikely romance seems to be blossoming between Kili (Aidan Turner), the tallest and least beardy dwarf, and Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly), a daring elf Legolas likes but is of too low status for Legolas' father (Lee Pace) to condone a pairing.

Smaug, the titular dragon, finally appears just before the two-hour mark, awoken by Bilbo as he searches for the Arkenstone. Their arresting showdown of words (Smaug speaks English with the voice of Benedict Cumberbatch) recalls but improves upon the first film's comparable encounter between Bilbo and Gollum. Alas, it gives way to an overload of action that makes you eager for the long end credits scroll to begin.

The dragon Smaug is awakened and, naturally, desolated in "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug."

Though it's sharper in a number of places, Desolation ends up being on the same order as An Unexpected Journey. This being the second film, we've moved past the establishment stage and into the main course,
more episodic odyssey reminiscent of Rings and the first Hobbit. The biggest problem may simply be that this is too long. Not enough occurs to justify the runtime, which is too vast for the film to keep viewers entertained from start to finish. To some degree, every one of Jackson's films has suffered from excess. I'm not opposed to long films. Plenty of great ones have run well over two hours. But there's got to be a reason we're being asked to spend that much time watching one thing.

With Jackson's Hobbit films, you're essentially spending that much time watching one-third of a thing. It adds up to an overwhelming experience that doesn't seem to suit the story being told. How much of this is invention or elaboration from Jackson and his three fellow screenwriters (wife Fran Walsh, Rings alumnus Philippa Boyens, and originally hired director Guillermo del Toro), I can't tell you. What I can say is that there are so many opportunities to trim this.

Instead of showing reaction shots from six characters, why not just pick three? Instead of lingering on establishing shots, why not keep the story moving? I'm not asking for Jackson to become Michael Bay, who assembles countless short shots into a somehow even more bloated and far less watchable mess. And I guess my opinion means a great deal less than the masses who pay to see these films (sometimes multiple times) and then vote them into the IMDb's Top 250. But these films could be much more fulfilling and enjoyable by Jackson doing less and being willing to part with inessential moments that add little of note to the experience.

Until growing interminable at its end, Desolation stays fairly engaging throughout. It features less comedy and more action than its predecessor. Beheadings abound for a film that families flock to at the holiday season. In content, it moves closer to the bulk of Rings than Journey did.

As always, Jackson's films are technically sound. The production design and visual effects are good, although increasingly virtual/digital in nature. Obviously, you can't expect fantastic worlds to be built for real, but some of Middle Earth's greatest delights have been practical. One misfire is Bloom's plastic look, presumably the result of CGI performed to remove the ten years he's aged since portraying an older Legolas. There is surprisingly little power to Bloom reprising the part whose promised to launch a major career has faded since he got off the sinking ship that is Pirates of the Caribbean.

Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly) senses attraction from both an elf above her and a dwarf beneath her. The widower Bard (Luke Evans) towers above his guests as a man among dwarves.

The film does an admirable job of infusing set pieces with creativity. The dwarves are rolled out of prison in barrels, which they then ride into rapids. Smaug's introduction, sleeping in what resembles Scrooge McDuck's money vault, makes immediate and a lasting impact. There's also a compelling arc in which a young widowed family man (Luke Evans) gives this odd gang a ride in his barge, hiding them in their barrels under caught fish.

In a different era or a world without the Rings trilogy, this film could easily have been a spectacular event akin to an Indiana Jones or Star Wars episode. But it is not, suffering from comparisons to Rings and the many recent and ongoing tentpole franchises. Desolation only ranked 8th among 2013 releases at the domestic box office, placing it between Monsters University and Fast & Furious 6, popular but hardly revolutionary fare. It seems most improbable for this series to rise in stature with its final installment as the Rings trilogy did.

Warner brings Desolation of Smaug to disc in time for Easter in a two-disc DVD and three different Blu-ray/Blu-ray 3D combo pack editions. If it follows the pattern established by the first Hobbit (and the three Rings movies before it), you can expect an Extended Edition with further bonus features to hit Blu-ray and DVD in November, not long before There and Back Again wraps up this saga.

Reviewed here is a 5-disc Blu-ray 3D + Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD UltraViolet combo pack, which splits the movie into two discs for Blu-ray 3D, fits it all on one Blu-ray and DVD, and adds another Blu-ray of bonus features.

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The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug: Blu-ray 3D + Blu-ray + DVD + UltraViolet combo pack cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray & DVD Details

2.40:1 Widescreen (DVD Anamorphic)
Blu-ray: 7.1 DTS-HD MA (English), Dolby Digital 5.1 (French, Spanish, Portuguese)
DVD: Dolby Digital 5.1 (English); Both: Dolby Digital 5.1 (French, Spanish)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, French, Spanish; Blu-ray only: Portuguese
Not Closed Captioned; Extras Subtitled
Release Date: March 19, 2013 / Suggested Retail Price: $35.99
Five single-sided discs (3 BD-50, 1 BD-25 & 1 DVD-9)
Blue Keepcase with Lenticular Cardboard Slipcover
Also available as Blu-ray Combo ($35.99 SRP), Limited Collector's Edition 3D Combo ($105.45 SRP), Two-Disc Special Edition DVD ($28.98 SRP), and on Amazon Instant Video


You're right to expect dynamite picture and sound from The Desolation of Smaug on Blu-ray. Both the 2.40:1 video and the 7.1 DTS-HD master audio can withstand some of the toughest comparisons out there. The picture leaves a smidge of room for improvement, perhaps because compression is tighter than it needs to be on such a spaced-out set. The sound, the source of two of the film's three Oscar nominations, impresses thoroughly, at times rising to great heights you can't ignore. The sensory thrills complement the film and maybe pick up a little slack in moments when the overlong action isn't cutting it on its own.

The beauty of New Zealand, home of Middle-Earth, is celebrated in a Disc 1 featurette sponsored by the nation's tourism board. Ed Sheeran gets into his end credits song "I See Fire" in his black and white portions of its music video.


For the most part, bonus features are relegated to the two standard Blu-ray discs. The first of them,
"New Zealand: Home of Middle-Earth, Part 2" (7:11), lets cast and crew again testify to the beauty of Jackson's homeland, which again houses the entirety of the location shooting.

The bonus Blu-ray's extras begin with "Peter Jackson Invites You to the Set" (40:36), two listings that function as an all-purpose making-of documentary. They grant you unfettered access to the film's creation, giving you a true sense of the scope and nature of production. While I have no doubt that Extended Edition features will expound on it, this content enlightens, entertains, and should satisfy the typical viewer.

Ed Sheeran's "I See Fire" music video (5:42) is a black and white look at the Satellite Awards-nominated end credits song's passionate recording, jazzed up by the occasional color film clip.

Peter Jackson answers hashtagged Twitter questions and video submissions in this recording of a live March 2013 Internet stream. Hydraulics make it easy for Orlando Bloom and Evangeline Lilly to pretend to ride a horse together against green screen.

Next comes a recording of a live March 2013 stream (37:52) in which Peter Jackson and actor Jed Brophy take us around the studio while editing Desolation. Twitter questions and hashtagged phrases scroll across the screen, some of which get answered, as are questions submitted by video from international fans (including Stephen Colbert and LOTR's Billy Boyd). The responses are complemented by some raw and behind-the-scenes footage. Special guests via video include Luke Evans, Stephen Fry, Orlando Bloom, Lee Pace, Evangeline Lilly, and Dominic Monaghan. It's a cool, fun, and atypical bonus feature.

Four Production Videos (36:41) take us inside the processes of pick-up shots and scoring the film. They have a sense of humor, capturing a playful side of post-production with costume parties and dwarves exercising, but also give us an understanding of production with glimpses at such tasks as the guy who spots and reports on approaching planes overhead that could ruin takes.

A Trailers section holds three theatrical Desolation of Smaug previews (7:45). Many studios, including Warner, neglect to include trailers these days, so these are welcome company.

The set's only trailers advertise either "Hobbit" or its direct tie-ins, like this LEGO: The Hobbit video game. Thorin (Richard Armitage) gets hunky on the DVD's main menu montage.

Related promotion comes in the form of trailers for The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey's Extended Edition (1:34),
LEGO: The Hobbit video game (1:44), and The Hobbit: Kingdoms of Middle-Earth video game (1:07).

Though Warner has become one of the best studios at not withholding bonus features from DVD customers, only Disc 1 of Desolation's two-disc DVD makes it here, so future-proofing buyers who get this edition without a Blu-ray player will only be able to watch the New Zealand featurette in the way of bonus features. (In addition, a Truth anti-tobacco spot follows playback of the film on that format.)

The rare title big enough for Warner to make animated menus, each disc features a montage of 2.40:1 film clips, which is scored some of the time. The Blu-ray resumes playback but does not support bookmarking. The bonus disc's menu is little more than a list of extras, some of which bring up an image when highlighted.

The slightly thicker than usual keepcase is topped by a lenticular-faced slipcover featuring Richard Armitage as the hunky Thorin. Joining the plainly-labeled discs inside are a booklet advertising The Noble Collection's pricey Hobbit merch and an insert supplying your Digital HD UltraViolet code and a code to unlock a special in-game item in the LEGO Hobbit video game.

Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), Thorin (Richard Armitage), and another dwarf take in the sights of their grand journey.


The Desolation of Smaug falls in line with my feelings toward Peter Jackson's past Middle-Earth films. It's a technically impressive piece of cinema which nonetheless lags in places. Jackson can't sustain the wonderment he personally finds in the material. Though there are plenty of nice moments, the whole thing never quite adds up to something outstanding or entirely captivating. It's still a good time, just not one I'm likely to remember or itch to revisit often.

Warner's Blu-ray 3D combo pack delivers the goods in terms of picture and sound. It's no slouch supplementally, either, packing over two hours of substantial and well-produced making-of content. This time, there's no way you can be surprised by the release of an Extended Edition in the near-future.

Buy The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug from Amazon.com:
Blu-ray 3D Combo / Blu-ray Combo / 2-Disc DVD / 3D Limited Collector's Edition / Instant Video

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Related Reviews:
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey • Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest • Indiana Jones: The Complete Adventures
Visual Effects Oscar Nominees: Gravity • Star Trek Into Darkness • Iron Man 3 • The Lone Ranger
2013 Tentpoles: Man of Steel • Pacific Rim • Oz the Great and Powerful • Fast & Furious 6
Martin Freeman: The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy • The Pirates! Band of Misfits | Ian McKellen: Stardust
Richard Armitage: Captain America: The First Avenger | Evangeline Lilly: Real Steel
New: The Hunger Games: Catching Fire • Frozen • Saving Mr. Banks • The Invisible Woman

Official Merchandise for The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug at HobbitShop.com!

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Reviewed April 8, 2014.

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