Warner Brothers Home Entertainment demonstrates mixed instincts regarding releasing the Blu-ray and Blu-ray 3D extended editions of the New Line Cinema and MGM production of the Peter Jackson masterpiece "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug" on November 4, 2014.
On one hand, watching the extended version on that date for shire (yeah; this review is laden with "Hobbit" puns) will provide therapeutic "unreal" escapism from the inevitable election day related desolation for people on both sides of the aisle. On the other hand, watching the BD version earlier this week allows asserting that watching this film roughly six weeks before the theatrical release of "The Hobbit: The Five Armies" causes desolation regarding that seeming interminable wait.
Regarding "Smaug" itself, one of the nicest things about it is that it avoids the trilogy curse that often results in the "middle child" being a dud. "Smaug" has a slightly faster pace and a little more humor than the excellent "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey." The 186 minutes in the extended version truly fly by and leaving you wanting oh so much more.
The following clip, courtesy of YouTube, of the trailer for the extended edition perfectly illustrates how watching "Smaug" will make you a hobbitual fan of the trilogy and leave you hungering for more. It will also evoke terrific thoughts of the better and more epic films in the "Star Trek" and "Harry Potter" series.
"Smaug" further is nice in that it is a true epic in an era in which studios and filmmakers do not produce many "big" films, and less frequently devote the artistry and sheer love of the project that "Smaug" oozes from every pore.
No one drools over mega-million super hero sagas more than your mild-mannered reviewer, but two hours of costumed heroes and villains flying around and devastating Manhattan is a far cry from creating a Middle Earth that which one can believe exists alongside the almost as well-created Narnia from that trilogy.
This awesomeness extends to the performances. The cast, who are introduced below, speak of dragons and other mythical creatures and races so naturally and sincerely that they draw you into the fantasy that such sentient beings exist.
For the benefit of folks who are not familiar with the "Hobbit" films or the Tolkien book on which they are based, our titular reluctant hero Bilbo Baggins (expertly portrayed by "Sherlock" and uber-awesome Britcom "The Robinsons" star Martin Freeman) is a small and skilled burglar whom wizard Gandalf the Grey (and later the White) recruits/coerces to accompany an intrepid group of dwarves, none of whom are sneezy or bashful, on a quest to Lonely Mountain to reclaim the dwarf kingdom of Erebor.
Gandalf chooses wisely in that Bilbo is a hard hobbit to break and is not short on courage.
"The Lord of the Rings" trilogy veteran Sir Ian McKellan returns to the "The Hobbit" trilogy to once again play Gandalf. Another cool thing about this casting is that this co-star of Freeman and "Sherlock" lead Benedict Cumberbatch in "Smaug" plays the titular Victorian detective in the upcoming film "Mr. Holmes." The game truly is afoot (yeah, this is another Hobbit pun) when this trio gets together.
Another awesome aspect of "Smaug" is that the flashback that opens the film establishes the complete nature of the task for which Bilbo is recruited. This gem of a reveal includes the reason that that task is so important and further sets the stage for notable events later in the film.
Once "Smaug" returns to the present, roughly the the first two hours are similar to "An Unexpected Journey" and the "Rings" films in that Bilbo and his fellow travelers must fight or otherwise struggle their way through the formidable obstacles in their path even when our hero finds himself over a barrel. The hindrances in "Smaug" include attacks by the evil ogre-like Orcs, an encounter with giant spiders, and confrontations with other assorted unfriendly creatures.
It is equally cool that "Smaug" establishes much of the lore around which the "Rings" trilogy is centered. The scenes that involve Bilbo in this regard are especially precious and support the theory "like uncle, like nephew."
Aside from the exceptional effects that look and sound fantabulous in the seemingly especially enhanced Blu-ray video and audio of the releases, the instincts of Peter Jackson regarding the length of action sequences seems perfect.
Most films in this era of tweets and vines frustratingly cut chase scenes and similar depictions of mayhem so short that you often feel that you will miss them if you blink. On the other hand, some segments in "Rings" films and other epics make you feel that you will either turn grey or go from grey to white yourself before they conclude.
The longer versions, which add 25 minutes to the film, in the extended BD and BD-3D editions of "Smaug" do even better than the theatrical offerings regarding drawing you into the action; there truly is not a dull moment from the opening scene to the final blackout three hours and six minutes later. Seeing this version of this masterpiece will almost certainly make watching it hobbit forming.
The following clip, courtesy of YouTube and Warner Brothers Home Entertainment, of an extended action sequence from "Smaug" nicely illustrates the instincts described above and the overall humor and style of the film. An additional memorable sequence is notable for the toilet humor to which Jackson makes the audience privy.
The equally epic nine hours of extras in the extended-edition versions include the "making-of" documentaries "Into the Wilderland" and "The Journey to Erebor." The former focuses on the process of creating the film, and the latter shows how the sausage is made regarding bringing Smaug and his fellow Middle Earth inhabitants to life.
Anyone with questions or comments regarding "Smaug" is strongly encouraged to email me; you can also connect on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.