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Blu-ray review: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey - Extended Edition

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Film: ★★★☆☆

Blu-ray Release: ★★★★★

Peter Jackson’s first instalment of his adaptation of The Hobbit was a bit of a long-winded, tedious affair to begin with, so it would be fair to wonder why it needed an extended edition.

And as we know, this is only the first part of three epic entries into a trilogy that would have very nicely fit into one film. There’s something a little sad about how a book as simple and charming as its title character has been twisted into this sprawling, extended pantomime of battles and set-pieces. But, as they say, that’s show business for you. I’m not sure what to make of this a current vogue of splitting single literary volumes up into several parts. But even though there is definitely a cynical side to this trend (involving money - and lots of it), it's encouraging to see filmmakers eager to explore exciting and imaginative worlds in a deeper and stronger way. 

Martin Freeman is superb as Bilbo Baggins, the mild-mannered, good natured little Hobbit who gets swept up into an adventure far bigger than him. The inspired casting continues with the Dwarves who accompany him. They are populated with family faces from British television, including Richard Armitage, Ken Stott and James Nesbitt. The powerful Wizard Gandalf is once again excellently brought to life by Ian McKellen, one of our country’s best actors and for me the life and soul of Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy.

The biggest problem I had with the film was its inability to leave The Lord of the Rings alone. I know it’s set in the same world with characters who wonder between the novels, but The Hobbit is a standalone text. It has links with the epic trilogy, but it is not part of it. Although the look of the film is very different, a lot of it plays out as if it were just another chapter in The Lord of the Rings. Characters who don’t appear in The Hobbit pop up for rather pointless cameos. Even Cate Blanchett’s Galadriel has a rather weird encounter with Gandalf; a couple between which I would never have expected to see a frisson of sexual tension blossom.

The additional scenes are, to be honest, rather weak, and include a weird song from the Goblin King that feels like it belongs to a different movie. There is also a painfully ill-judged joke involving one of the dwarves sexually objectifying an elf (who he believes to be female but actually turns out to be a man). Some have suggested this scene is homophobic in tone. I probably wouldn't go that far (there's nothing clearly malicious about it) but it's a shame Jackson and co felt the need to inject the ghost of gender-based prejudice into Middle-earth. 

Howard Shore’s music score, though very reminiscent of The Lord of the Rings (a lot of the old themes are recycled, but sensitively so), is absolutely wonderful. Some of the CGI animation looked a bit dodgy (the woodland animals could have wandered out of Disney's Tangled), but there are plenty of shots that have the power to take one’s breath away. Some of the battle scenes and the encounters with trolls are terrifically done.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, to give it its full title, is a watchable enough film, but it distorts Tolkien’s vision into something it never was. It smacks a little too much of The Lord of the Rings: The College Years to be truly great. It is never allowed to flourish into a story of its own.

As a home entertainment release, this set is a joy to behold. If you are a Hobbit-fan, this definitely deserves a place on your shelf if only for the sumptuous array of extras available. It's also beautifully packaged too. Whatever you feel about the movie, this is marvellous box set and offers a high definition transfer of the movie that is as close to flawless as a transfer can ever be. 

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey - Extended Edition, is released on Blu-ray and DVD by Warner Bros, Certificate 12. 


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