WASHINGTON, (Reprint) April 8, 2014 — The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is the second part of Peter Jackson’s lengthy cinematic re-imagining of J.R.R. Tolkien’s legendary work. The film arrives on the Blu-ray format today and it is worth including into your video library. (Warner Home Video, rated PG: 13, $35.99)
Smaug is a beautifully filmed in HD bridge that seeks to entertain while preparing the audience for the film, There and Back Again, expected sometime around the holidays (2014).
In Smaug the brave burghlar Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellan) and a collection of determined dwarves quest to the Lonely Mountain in order to take back the dwarves’ homeland and riches from a hibernating, but still very much alive, dragon name Smaug.
Life gets complicated as Gandalf unexpectedly leaves and the fourteen pint sized associates led by dwarf Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) find some hostile receptions from spiders, elves, a werebear, water logged humans and, of course orcs who continue to hunt our band of merry…men as they travel across Middle-Earth.
My cherubic exuberance for the first part of this epic “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” (“I’m going on an adventure”) was quickly replaced by the moodier excitement of the second film.
The backstory of the Woodland Elves is told as the Dwarves are captured by King Thranduil and taken prisoner beneath the earth far from the scaryness of the outside world. The idea that those elves are creatures of kindness and light are quickly replaced by an alternate reality exhibitedby our twig-crown wearing elven king.
Where An Unexpected Journey relied on a compendium of creatures linke one might see in a Star Wars film, “Desolation of Smaug” gets down to quest-killing business delivering an action packed 161 minutes worth of dark foreshadowing, more about the brewing Battle of the Five Armies and less about cuddly characters primed as action figures.
Smaug eventually wakes up as Bilbo, seeking the Arkenstone, rummages amongst piles of gold which is one of the more gorgeous scenes in the movie (with a booming voice of Smaug delivered by Benedict Cumberpatch). Once awakened Smaug is treated to all sorts of David vs. Goliath merriment from the height challenged heroes that have a glimmering, rip-roaring treat in store for him.
However, the clear stars of the film are not the travelers nor dragon but the practical and computer generated fight sequences that star a rather grumpy Legolas (Orlando Bloom embracing the role once again), and the female elf named Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly, most familiar to fans of Lost as Kate Austen). Their combined jihad on the orc community is delightfully devastating to watch, especially during a river scene outside of the elf stronghold near the Mirkwood forest.
This series of orc attacking dwarves while battling elves scenes require multiple viewings to really appreciate the nuances of decapitation and multifunctional use of arrows. Some of the films funniest scenes are found here. And it is all presented in a gorgeous high resolution format that makes it all the more enjoyable.
Once again, despite the protest of Tolkien purists furious that Jackson has deviated from The Hobbit source material, the director delivers a great film. It was worth every penny in the theaters and is now a definite treat for fantasy lovers to appreciate over and over again in the confines of their entertainment rooms.
The movies final scenes preview the upcoming battle with the behemouth dragon that has so far been impossible to kill. But it will be kill or be killed. And this is a very resourceful group. It promises to be quite exciting. Having Smaug in your library to revisit will make There and Back that much more spectacular.
Best extras: Since every knows that this release is simply a money grab from Warner Home video between an extended version of the film to be released this holiday season, I was not expecting much in the way of bonus features on the separate Blu-ray disk.
As Ed McMahon might exuberantly reply to Johnny Carson, “You are correct, sir.”
A 40-minute documentary “Peter Jackson Invites You to the Set” leads the way offering a snapshot of a day shooting compiled from the Hobbit movies. We learn such “behind the scenes” fodder as during daily lunch breaks, actor elves and actor orcs tend to hang with their own (jeez, just like in high school), working in movies is often deadly tedious (dwarves are seen bored out of their minds waiting with even one sticking his head in an oven), costuming can make going to the bathroom very difficult and Peter Jackson is a really busy guy while shooting.
Next, another 70 minutes or so of featurettes looks at more moments during filming compiled from previously released production diaries (answering the searing question “how do designers make sure the poo on Ratagast’s hair looks exactly the same if he needs additional shots at a later time?”) and an archived live event that offered a tour of the studios by Peter Jackson that eventually ends up in his editing room.
Additionally, feel free to visually nibble on the assortment of trailers including one of the upcoming LEGO The Hobbit video game and a music video for the song “I See Fire.”