With great picture and sound, as well as some good extras, the DVD/Blu-ray combo pack, 3D DVD/Blu-ray combo pack, and limited edition 3D DVD/Blu-ray combo pack of The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug are all a good way to watch this fantasy film in the comfort of your own home. But if you want a more complete version of the movie, or the trilogy of which is part two, you might want to wait.
For those who missed it in theaters, The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug follows Bilbo Baggins, Gandalf, and the dwarves as they continue their walk to The Lonely Mountain. Which, as you may recall, was the dwarves’ home until they were driven out by the titular dragon.
As with the previous installment, 2012’s The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, the film is based on both J.R.R. Tolkien’s classic 1937 novel The Hobbit, the appendices from Tolkien’s equally iconic 1955 Hobbit sequel The Lord Of The Rings, and a couple things made up by writer/director Peter Jackson and co-screenwriter Fran Walsh.
These expansions to the story will obviously not sit well with purists (y’know, the ones who didn’t like that Jackson’s Rings movies cut stuff from books). Though while the inclusion of an unrequited love triangle, an invention of Jackson and Walsh, is awkward and unnecessary, most of the new parts work well, especially the stuff that sets The Hobbit up as even more of a prequel to The Lord Of The Rings movies.
What’s far more worrisome is that, during a certain action scene I won’t spoil, the movie’s CGI effects and blue screen work takes a noticeable downturn, and actually look…unfinished, for lack of a better word. And this hasn’t changed in the move to the small screen, one I hoped would minimize the effect (though I’d also hoped that Jackson would’ve fixed them by now as well). Granted, it doesn’t last enough last long enough to ruin the movie, or even that scene, but it is rather odd given that there are other, equally-energetic parts of the film (which, again, I won’t spoil) where the CGI and blue screen effects are both visually stimulation and finished-looking.
The version of The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug presented on the three DVD/Blu-ray combo packs also have an audio issue that is, sadly, far too common with movie DVDs and Blu-rays. Because its audio mix is the one that was done for theaters, and not made with stereos or TVs in mind, the disparity between the loudest and softest moments is too great (though it’s not as bad as some movies I’ve heard). As a result, you’ll sometimes find yourself reaching for the remote when it’s too soft to hear what someone is saying, and other times turning it down when the music swells in tune with the action so you don’t annoy your neighbors.
Even with the ropey visual bit and the need to constantly fiddle with the volume, though, The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug is still an grand adventure. While this isn’t as epic as The Lord Of The Rings, and the stakes aren’t as high as they were in those films, and while this isn’t as consistent as An Unexpected Journey, this is still a high fantasy tale with some impressive action. It also has a solid cast that includes both familiar faces and new characters — such as the spry warrior elf Tauriel, played by Evangeline Lilly (Lost), and the oily Master of Lake-town, played by Stephen Fry (V For Vendetta) — both of who fit in well with the rest of the film’s accomplished and perfectly cast ensemble.
Along with the movie, all three DVD/Blu-ray combo packs of The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug come with the usual compliment of extras. And as you’d hope, most are engaging and informative, but don’t overstay their welcome.
For instance, “New Zealand: Home Of Middle-earth, Part 2” spends seven minutes talking to the cast about filming the movie in that island nation, the four production videos take eight to ten minutes each to show how the movie was made, while “Peter Jackson Invites You To The Set: In The Company Of The Hobbit” and “Peter Jackson Invites You To The Set: All In A Days Work” each present around twenty minutes of behind-the-scenes footage showing what life is like, well, on the set.
Unless you’ve never watched the making-of or behind-the-scenes videos on a DVD before, none of the ones here will surprise you, they’re the usual stuff. But because this was such an elaborate shoot, because these videos were put together by people who know how to make these things engaging, and because the cast and crew are rather personable, these featurettes are a bit more entertaining than most. Though it is odd that they didn’t do anything on Benedict Cumberbatch doing the voice of Smaug.
In addition, both of the 3D DVD/Blu-ray combo packs have the 3D version of the film (obviously), though this added dimension doesn’t add much. Well, unless you like watching big bees fly around in front of your TV. Though please note: You can’t squash the 3D bees with the nice bookends included in the Limited Edition version.
Sadly, not all of the extras are as nice. The footage from a live event, where fans got to ask questions, gets a bit tedious after a while, while the music video for Ed Sheeran’s “I See Fire,” the song that plays over the credits, is as rote as the song itself. Seriously, was Robert Plant not available? Or Leonard Nimoy?
The collection also includes the original trailers, as well as those for the LEGO The Hobbit video game, which I always appreciate. But as someone who likes to watch a film’s trailer before they watch said movie, I do wish they’d put them on the same disc as the movie. Especially since the “New Zealand: Home Of Middle-earth, Part 2” is on that disc, and actually would’ve fit in better on the one with the other featurettes.
This also doesn’t have any deleted scenes. Granted, I don’t know for sure that any exist, but given that the Journey had an extended cut, as did all three Rings films, it’s safe to assume The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug will too, which means there are deleted scenes available. Sure, they’re being saved for that extended cut, but it would’ve been nice if they were included here as well.
Which actually brings up the biggest problem with the DVD/Blu-ray combo packs of The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug: that inevitable extended cut, which makes it hard (though not impossible) to recommend these versions. If the previous extended cuts are any indication, the one for Smaug is worth waiting for.
Even if you don’t want the longer versions of all three Hobbit films, there’s also the inevitable boxed set of all three movies to consider, since it may also add even more extras. Heck, there may even be a massive boxed set collecting the Hobbit and Rings movies, which may have its own extras as well.
Then again, if you don’t care about the extras, think the ones on this edition are more than enough, or just don’t want to wait, then by all means get these versions of The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug. Well, one of them, anyway. With both the picture and sound up to snuff, and a good compliment of extras, this has more than enough to satisfy fans of this epic fantasy film.