The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (Extended Edition)
While translating the three volumes of The Lord of the Rings—The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and The Return of the King—into three films made perfect sense, being the only way to try and bring J.R.R. Tolkien’s epic fantasy to the screen with any semblance of being faithful to its beloved source material, turning The Hobbit, or There and Back Again into a movie trilogy—An Unexpected Journey (reviewed here), The Desolation of Smaug, and The Battle of the Five Armies—seemed more like an effort to re-cash-in on the massive success of Peter Jackson’s initial trilogy. Especially when you consider that the Hobbit was only about 300 pages.
Yes, the Hobbit trilogy feels a bit long and plodding in parts, with the relatively straightforward story from the book heavily padded and expanded by weaving in bits from Tolkien’s later writings, as well as fabricating completely non-canon subplots
and a love triangle at the studio’s insistence, and returning popular characters from the Rings trilogy to appeal to fans and to more closely tie the two trilogies together. And, yes, the Hobbit trilogy relies far more heavily on CGI effects and trickery than the practical effects of the Rings films. And, yes, it pales in comparison to the spectacular achievement Jackson achieved with his Rings trilogy.
And yet, I so loved the world of Middle Earth that Jackson brought to the big screen that I am happy to let him take me on another journey—or three, as the case may be. And with the incredible box office success of the Hobbit films—out-earning Rings—it’s clear many others were also happy to be able to spend more time in Middle Earth.
Plus, if you have agreed to follow Jackson on the nearly eight-hour journey of completing The Hobbit trilogy, why would you not just go all-in and watch the nine hours of the Extended Editions, which flesh out scenes and add a
JOURNEY AT A GLANCE
A bit of a forced exercise, The Hobbit trilogy still represents a satisfying return to Middle Earth for fans of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings films.
An Unexpected Journey translates well to 4K HDR, with crisp, detail-filled images and an HDR grade that adds warm and depth to candle and firelight scenes.
An incredibly active and dynamic Dolby TrueHD Atmos mix that will put a smile on your face and reinforce why you decided to upgrade to Atmos.
bit more to the storytelling? Granted, these Extended Editions don’t add nearly as much as the Rings versions, where Two Towers got an extra 44 minutes and Return of the King a whopping 51 extra minutes. But still the added footage expands some scenes and gives us a more complete look at the characters and the story. With An Unexpected Journey, Jackson restored only 13 minutes to the theatrical release, giving us a run time of just over three hours.
Journey’s opening 10 minutes set up the quest the party is about to undertake. Sixty years ago, the Dwarves of Erebor lived in Lonely Mountain, led by Thrór (Jeffrey Thomas), the King under the Mountain. These dwarves were legendary miners and grew incredibly wealthy off gold and diamonds. However, those mountains of gold and riches attract the fire-breathing dragon
Smaug, who destroys the nearby town of Dale and drives the Dwarves from their mountain and takes their treasure.
Through signs and portents, Thrór’s grandson, Thorin (Richard Armitage), determines it is time to retake the mountain and reclaim the treasure for his people. From his people, Thorin forms a company of 13—an unlucky number—and Great Wizard Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellen) arranges for Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), a simple stay-at-home Hobbit from Hobbiton, to join their company as the 14th member . . . and also as their burglar.
But this comes as a complete surprise to Bilbo, especially when 13 Dwarves arrive one night unannounced and eat and drink him out of house and home. Bilbo is reluctant at first—especially when hearing about Smaug—but ultimately the call of adventure is too much and he joins the quest.
Since we are in Middle Earth, there is constant danger and peril along the way. The company encounters Trolls, Orcs, Goblins, and Wargs intent on killing them—and eating them—before they get anywhere near the Lonely Mountain. The group also gets help from the Elves of Rivendell, including Lord Elrond (Hugo Weaving) and Lady Galadriel (Cate Blanchett), some giant eagles, and another wizard, Radagast the Brown (Sylvester McCoy).
Unexpected Journey also delivers the pivotal moment that sets up the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy: When Bilbo happens to discover a certain magical ring forged in the fires of Mount Doom and thought to be lost forever after it is accidentally dropped by Gollum (Andy Serkis).
While entertaining on its own, Journey definitely doesn’t feel complete and is clearly meant as just the beginning of the quest, ending with our characters in sight of their goal and giving a tease of the events that are to come in the (more exciting and entertaining, in my opinion) second part, The Desolation of Smaug.
Shot digitally and using modern color-correction techniques, The Hobbit didn’t require the lengthy restoration of the
Rings films, but it definitely still benefits from the enhanced 4K resolution, HDR grading, and new Dolby Atmos sound mix.
The film looks fantastic, with reference-quality video throughout. Images are clean, sharp, detailed, and noise-free. Closeups reveal all of the fine detail you could ask for, from the wispy, single strands of hair in Gandalf’s beard to the scratches, wear, and engraving on swords and axes to the texture, layering, and detail in the costumes. You can really appreciate the beautifully smooth complexion and perfect texture of Elven skin (“All high cheekbones and creamy skin. Not enough facial hair,” according to Dwarf Kili) compared to all the other characters. And I never noticed the delicate blue and silver flecks in Gandalf’s grey robes or the fine detail and patterns in Saruman’s (Christopher Lee) silvery-white robes until now.
Beyond delivering bright highlights, the new HDR grading adds depth and realism to dark and lowlight scenes lit by candle- or firelight. Early on in Bilbo’s house, the interior glows in rich, warm, golden lighting and shadows from candles. We also get glorious, vibrant shades of green throughout the Shire, as well as gleaming piles of gold, bright white moonbeams, a rich palette of fiery reds, and the ethereal glow of the Arkenstone. Blacks are also deep, and we get terrific shadow depth and detail.
Journey also has an incredibly active and dynamic Dolby TrueHD Atmos sound mix that will put a smile on your face and reinforce why you decided to make that Atmos speaker upgrade. The height speakers are almost constantly in use playing some bit of ambient sound like birds singing and trees blowing, or filling the room with music or other sounds of Middle Earth.
The mixers seemed to take every opportunity to create an immersive experience, placing sounds overhead and all around the room whenever appropriate. During the opening, we are immersed in the mining operations of the Dwarves, with hammering and the pulleys moving gold whirring all about and up overhead. The surrounds and height speakers are also frequently engaged for dialogue, either to locate a character behind you or overhead, or to give a booming “Thou shall obey!” quality to Gandalf’s voice. Gollum’s home is filled with all kinds of reverb and echo, with water drips, and noises around. And you can hear spiders scuttling up overhead and just outside of Radagast’s house.
When action is called for, the mix gets kicked up another level. From the opening we hear Smaug swooping and flying around, the rustling of winds whipping
through the room, and Smaug spewing fire and carnage into every corner with couch-rattling bass. A fight between Stone Giants during a pouring thunderstorm also has boulders smashing around, with appropriately massive low end.
I don’t recall having any dialogue issues with An Unexpected Journey, so I can’t say that the new Atmos mix improves on this, but I can say that dialogue comes through loud and clear—even when not emanating from the center channel speaker.
They say that time heals all wounds, and maybe the eight years since The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey was released is enough for you to give it another chance if you weren’t impressed the first time. Regardless of your initial theatrical impressions—or thoughts on the film itself—I can say it looks and sounds fantastic, and certainly completes and fills out Peter Jackson’s vision of Middle Earth, giving us the backstory of events that led to Frodo taking on his quest to destroy The One True Ring.
Probably the most experienced writer on custom installation in the industry, John Sciacca is co-owner of Custom Theater & Audio in Murrells Inlet, South Carolina, & is known for his writing for such publications as Residential Systems and Sound & Vision. Follow him on Twitter at @SciaccaTweets and at johnsciacca.com.