It’s not about Bilbo, it’s not about the journey – it’s all about the dragon
The Hobbit: The Desolution of Smaug Blu-ray Review
It’s not about Bilbo, it’s not about the journey – it’s all about the dragonAnd really it shouldn’t be. As Pete Jackson’s bloated (and unnecessary) three part Hobbit trilogy trundles on with characters and situations added to the plot to justify the purchase price, one thing struck me about this second instalment – it’s actually quite a good film! Yes it’s too long, yes it contains padding, yes it ends in the middle of a scene and yes the action scenes just seem too protracted to keep the momentum going, but overall I was entertained as he almost managed to recapture the magnificence that was the Lord of the Rings. The story of the Desolation of Smaug continues directly from An Unexpected Journey, in that Bilbo and the merry dwarves are still on the run from the orcs.In this instalment they meet and take refuge with a skin changer, are captured by wood elves (special guest appearance by Legolas and a made up for the film she-elf played by that girl from Lost), explore the floating city of Lake-town and eventually make it into the Dwarf city underneath the Lonely Mountain where they are menaced by the best character in the film, Smaug the dragon. Perhaps taking heed from the backlash that the first film received, Jackson has minimised the padding and added a good strong structure with plenty of action (shame it goes on a bit too long) to keep the pace high and the energy flowing. It even manages to work extremely well as the ‘middle’ film.
The Hobbit: The Desolution of Smaug Blu-ray Picture QualityThe disc presents a stunning theatrically correct 2.4:1 1080p transfer using the AVG codec and is Region Free.
As we’ve come to expect from this franchise the image is nothing short of reference in just about every respect. Detail is crisp and clean throughout, from skin texture to clothing weaves, to armour definition to tree bark, from barrel damage to vast expanses of forest or mountainous vistas or hills of gold coins – everything has pin point clarity and holds edges as far as you can see without softening unless it’s a desired filming technique. I did spot one instance of shimmering but only in one scene for a second or two, hardly worth mentioning. Of course all this does tend to show up the CGI in both green-screen and characters.
As we’ve come to expect from this franchise the image is nothing short of reference in just about every respect.
Colouring is sublime, the whole thing has been digitally colour graded meaning everything has a slightly other-worldly glow which is entirely in keeping with the style; greens come of particularly well, with reds being slightly toned down. This makes skin colour tend toward the brown but, again, this is in keeping with the style.
Working in tandem with the colour is the contrast and brightness level which are set to give deep, deep blacks that add some serious punch and depth to the picture, check out Smaug’s lair, or the Elven dungeon for just a few excellent examples.
Digitally there are no compression problems or edge enhancement, banding is not an issue and aside from that one instance of shimmering I spotted no other issues with the image – the original print is in pristine condition to. Reference all the way.
The Hobbit: The Desolution of Smaug Blu-ray Sound QualityI'll concentrate on the English dts-HD Master Audio 7.1 surround track, which, like the picture, is reference all over. Effects, as you might expect, are myriad and make use of all the speakers for pin point accuracy from flying arrows, spears, thunder, horse hooves etc. all of which conspire to place you in the centre of the action. The surround speakers are used throughout to add ambience to quieter scenes, chatter in inns or reverb in dungeons etc. as well as the effects listed above. Dialogue sounds very natural and is dominated by the frontal array, though there is directionality when called for, mirroring the on-screen action. The score makes full use of all the speakers and the dynamic range with bass being very well integrated into the mix. LF effects come thick and fast and really plumb the foundations of Middle Earth, with Smaug’s guttural speech threatening to shake roof tiles loose.
A stunning reference track that will have you, but maybe not your neighbours, grinning with joy.
The Hobbit: The Desolution of Smaug Blu-ray ExtrasIf there’s one thing that Pete Jackson knows how to do well, it’s extra features, though the best are to be found on disc two.
New Zealand: Home of Middle Earth, Part 2 (7:11) –This is a part film promo, part location feature and all New Zealand tourist board information. Plenty of comments from cast and crew still don’t make up for a soppy feature.
Peter Jackson Invites You to the Set (40:36) – Is actually two featurettes that can be watched all together with the play all function. Titled ‘In the Company of The Hobbit’ and ‘All in a Day’s Work’ both are similar in their construction and information concentrating as they do on what happens during a typical day (round the clock, if you will) of such a huge production. Comprises of plenty of behind the scenes footage interspersed with comments from just about every cast and crew member.
I See Fire Music Video (5:42) - Ed Sheeran records the song in the studio interspersed with production and film clips.
Live Event: In the Cutting Room (37:52) – Recorded on March 25 2013 this was a live broadcast that saw Jackson giving fans around the world a tour of his pre/post production facilities (including such delights as the motion capture stage, editorial and pre-visualization suites) before handing over to a Q&A session with the man himself by fans who submitted questions via various web formats. A shame this excellent little feature felt it needed to intersperse film clips within the commentary, though a justification could be argued that this was before the film’s release so was also acting as promotion.
Production Videos (36:42) – In what is fast becoming standard format, here we have four production videos which can be watched individually or all together with the play all function for half hour of behind the scenes material. Following on from those included with the theatrical release of An Unexpected Journey, videos 11-13 concentrate on the ten week ‘pick-up’ shoot (what was involved, why it was necessary etc.), while 14 looks at scoring the film with glimpses into Shore’s recording studios.
Trailers – Both theatrical, teaser and Lego
Is The Hobbit: The Desolution of Smaug Blu-ray Worth BuyingThe Desolation of Smaug is the second part of the Hobbit Trilogy; as unnecessary as a trilogy might be, this second part actually works a lot better than the padded out first film by being far more action orientated, having a stronger and more defined direction and a pace that keeps the momentum high and energy levels entertaining. Even the padding doesn’t really seem too much like padding, with only the overly long action set pieces beginning to drag (though that is becoming a Jackson trait). And for a film that doesn’t really have a beginning and finishes mid-scene it works surprisingly well as a film in its own right. There are flashes of the Lord of the Rings brilliance and the only thing that really lets the side down are all the foreshadowing elements shoehorned in to lead onto those monumental films. But on the whole this is a very enjoyable slice of Middle Earth.
Perhaps the biggest problem that this release faces is that we all know an extended version is coming...
Perhaps the biggest problem that this release faces is the release strategy itself – we all know that there is going to be an extended edition before Christmas, and then a full on deluxe box set a year later. So no matter that this release boasts reference picture and sound and a whole second disc of extras, perhaps this is only aimed at whetting the appetite for the bigger releases later in the year. As a set it is pretty good, but I wonder who will actually buy it?
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