Middle Earth: The Hobbit Trilogy - 4K Blu-ray Review

Michael Scott

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Middle Earth: The Hobbit Trilogy


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Movie: :4stars:
4K Video: :4.5stars:
Video: :4.5stars:
Audio: :5stars:
Extras: :N/A
Final Score: :4stars:


WARNING: THE SCORES ABOVE ARE A COMBINED SCORE FROM ALL THREE FILMS, THE INDIVIDUAL SCORES ARE CONTAINED BELOW IN THE INDIVIDUAL SECTIONS OF THE REVIEW​




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Movie

Well, back in December of 2020 fans FINALLY got The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogies out on 4K UHD in a rather bare bones set. However, Warner actually announced ahead of time that they were going going to be releasing this 31 disc special edition Middle Earth boxset with both the 4K UHDs of the Theatrical and Extended Editions for BOTH trilogies + a host of extras. But since I wasn’t able to review those two 4K UHD sets a year ago, I got more than a little excited by the release of the massive Middle Earth set and got to dig into the 4K goodies for the first time.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey : :4.5stars:
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey was probably the freshest of the Hobbit movies made, and also the most interesting. It takes place decades before the Lord of the Rings would take place, back when Bilbo Baggins (played by Martin Freeman) was roped into heading off into an “adventure” with Gandalf (Ian McKellen) along with a cadre of dwarves looking to reclaim their home land in the mountains. It seems simple at first. Head out to a mountain fortress miles away, use Bilbo Baggins skill as a tiny hobbit to sneak their way into the mountain, pick up a stone known as “The Arkenstone”, and voila, the Dwarven King is back in the mountain. Bilbo can go back home with an adventure under his belt, and the world would be right again.

However, dark forces are at work that even Gandalf the grey are unaware of. A mysterious force of Orcs headed by Azog the Defiler (Manu Bennett) is hot on their heels, and soon Gandalf starts to realize that an ancient enemy long since thought defeated just may be behind it all. After getting shifted out of the way by Azog, the party runs up against trolls, goblin kings, and soon the monstrous Azog himself before barely escaping with their lives thanks to the help of a little creature known as gollum (and of course an acquisition of an artifact that we all know TOO well).

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey IS the freshest and quickest moving of the series despite clocking in at 2 hours and 40+ minutes for the theatrical cut (and about 3 hours with the extended that is also included). It’s fast paced, has just enough of that magical whimsy that made the book so great, and actually ends over halfway through the book, making it the one film that doesn’t feel bloated out of the trilogy.

Personally I feel that the extended cut is sort of a net wash between the two. There are about 11 minutes of added footage with some nifty scenes in the Goblin realm, but also a few dragging scenes as well. As a result I feel that it’s really no better or worse than the theatrical edition, but rather just a “different” cut of the film with the same score for the film itself. A solid film, and easily my favorite of the trilogy

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug :4stars:
The Desolation of Smaug is a snappier and more fast paced film than even An Unexpected Journey. Being the second act of a trilogy it has zero of the hindrances and slower paced moments needed to set up the character development. It's all done for us with the previous film and we can get into it with the introduction of our intrepid band of dwarves (and a hobbit) head into Mirkwood forest, where they run head on into a forest full of elves. Amusingly we get to run into Legolas (Orlando Bloom), who is another non book addition that Jackson chose to use as a bridge between this series and The Lord of the Rings, but it is still a nice addition as Bloom hasn't lost his touch at all. However, the big addition is Tauriel (Evangeline Lily), who is one of the few elves who thinks that the marauding dwarves should be let through. Though her king Thranduil (Lee Pace) sees otherwise, she helps the dwarves escape where they come to their final stop along the way. A fishing town known as Laketown (very clever) where they have to get in and out of before heading into the mountain itself that they're just under.

Naturally the mountain itself also causes a bit of a snag for the group, as it is home to monster they new they would face. Smaug the Dragon (Benedict Cumberbatch), who has been napping for decades after taking over the gigantic kingdom under the mount. All the while they are doing this, Gandalf pays a visit to find out about the Morgul blade they found in the previous film. Heading to the world of of darkness he visits the tombs of the Wring Wraiths, only to find their tomb's blown wide open, and the evil within escaped, once and for all confirming that Sauron is behind all of these machinations of orcs and monsters standing in the way of the Dwarves.

and of course being that we have the EXTENDED edition I’m sure you’d like me to expound upon the extended scenes. Much like the 1st movie, the extended scenes take a large chunk out of the first 90 minutes of the movie, mainly dealing with the talk between Gandalf and Thorin, the travel through Mirkwood forest and adding a good chunk of time with Beorn, the skin changer. The opening scene with Gandalf and Thorin is the most unique as it delves into the storyline that Thrain, Father of Thorin is still alive out there and the possibility of his return. Peter Jackson isn’t shy about adding in things to the movie that weren’t in the novels and with this added plotline I’m wondering if he’s going to go anywhere with it in the third movie, or whether it will just serve as filler. I guess the only way to really know is wait another few months and find out in the theaters. The scenes with Beorn are a bit half and half, as some of the time it actually worsened the impact of the encounter, but at the same time, Peter Jackson further solidifies his reigning theme of Sauron being the underlying villain that all the world is preparing for. The same goes for the Mirkwood sequences, as the euphoric confusion that happens both enhances and detracts from the film. In some ways the sequence felt a little bit out of place, but at the same time you can tell that there was a lot left on the cutting room floor that made a lot of sense when put back in, especially with Bilbo climbing up to the top to find their bearings.

The Rest of the added scenes are just little bits here and there, some of little importance, such as the eating of bollocks with the Master of Lake town, and others that are of great importance like the encounter at Dul Gudor, which actually is shockingly different from the theatrical release as you get to see a HUGE addition to Gandalf and his encounter with the necromancer. That, in particular, is my favorite added scene of the whole movie, and really makes you wonder why it was cut in the beginning. Besides that sequence most of the rest of the added scenes didn’t really do much for the story wise, but rather had little impact overall. They were nice to see and some were really cool, but don’t feel bad if you got the theatrical cut, as it flows a little nicer in my opinion.

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The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies :3.5stars:
Peter Jackson’s final installment into The Hobbit franchise very obviously proves the old saying “more isn’t always better”. It was understandable to have an award winning series like The Lord of the Rings”, which is over 1200 pages of material, turned into a trilogy of VERY extended movies. It was an epic series of novels that was just FILLED to the brim with material that couldn’t be put into the movie without turning it into a 900 hour movie. Color people surprised when the 400 page “The Hobbit” was announced to be turned into not one movie, not two movies, but a full blown trilogy. An Unexpected Journey was quite fun, and certainly is very entertaining, but it shows some filler as Jackson tried so hard to make it into a movie just as epic as his previous three. Desolation of Smaug did much of the same thing, but Peter Jackson added in a lot of stuff that wasn’t in the book to fill out the runtime, but still manages to make a fun movie. Now with “The Battle of Five Armies” Jackson goes all out with the film, cutting character development and turning in a few pages of a novel into a 2.5 hour epic. An epic which has over half of the run time devoted to ONE SINGLE BATTLE.

We left off last time with Smaug (Benedict Cumbmerbatch as the voice) heading off to Lake Town to unleash his unholy vengeance on the poor city folks due to the dwarves stealing his plunder. “Battle of Five Armies” picks up right there with Smaug going full bore for Lake Town. Destroying much of the city, Smaug turns it into a desolate pile of ash, and is only stopped by Bard (Luke Evans) and his famed dragon killing “black arrows”. With everything they hold dear destroyed, the people of Lake Town, now led by Bard after the death of their magistrate (Stephen Fry), trudge up the mountain towards Smaug’s plunder heap in an effort to get enough gold to start a new life. There they encounter the Elf lord Thranduil (Lee Pace) who is also looking for long lost Elven artifacts in the mountains. Low and behold they find out that Thorin (Richard Armitage) and his band of dwarves are still alive and kicking. The only bad thing is that Thorin is suffering from dragon sickness. His greed and avarice so powerful that he is willing to throw away the bargain he struck with the city of Lake Town only days before. Now his insatiable rage has overpowered his sense and the lust for war is born.

Meanwhile, back in the forbidden fortress, Gandalf and Radagast are held prisoner by the dark lord’s Orc minions. Rescued in the nick of time by Galadriel (Kate Blanchet), Sauruman (Christopher Lee) and Elrond himself (Hugo Weaing), the powers of Middle Earth once again vanguish Sauron (who strangely was only HINTED at in the novel, vs. being fully revealed here as a bridge to The Lord of the Rings). It’s a bit rough and feels poorly edited, but this sequence was pure fantasy by Peter Jackson, used as a jumping off point to kind of bridge the happenings of “The Hobbit” to the rise of Sauron in “The Lord of the Rings”. It almost feels shoehorned in, as it really serves no purpose in THIS movie, other than to explain why Gandalf (Ian McKellen) doesn’t show up till the battle in front of the mountain begins.

All of this happens within the first hour of the film, initiating the famed battle of five armies, with the Dwarves and their Dwarven reinforcements on one side, and the Humans and Elves on the other. This battle is short lived as they are rudely interrupted by a legion of Orcs helmed by Azog the Defiler (Manu Bennett) himself. Dwarves, Humans and Elves have to put aside their differences and come together to fend off the enormous Orc army, but soon realize they are outnumbered. To make matters worse, another Orc army is marching in from the north to flank the outnumbered heroes. Realizing they have nothing left to lose. Thorin, Kili, Fili and Bwalin head up the mountains on war goats (yes you read that correctly, war goats), in an effort to cut the head off the snake and silence Azog once and for all.

As I mentioned in the opening of the review. The Battle of Five Armies proves that more isn’t always better. The majority of the movie is spent in a giant hour and half battle that doesn’t stop once. The movie itself feels like it’s on speed, as it doesn’t just start. It explodes into action and pretty much stays in high gear the entire time. By this time in the novel we’re just wrapping up the majority of the book and ready to finish it off with the battle. Peter Jackson forgoes character development here, as the film barely even touches on the characters themselves. It almost feels as if they are in the background the entire time. Besides Thorin’s stint with Dragon sickness, we really just see them roaring and hitting things with axes and swords (which isn’t always a bad thing). The movie just blurs buy as it spends over 90 minutes of its run time constantly whacking and hitting things. Once the niceties of the broken treaties is over with you just have to sit back and accept that we’re watching a Michael Bay level of spectacle.

Now don’t get me wrong. The spectacle is a LOT of fun. Every bit of the battle reeks of Peter Jackson’s love of Middle Earth, with the little details and fight scenes beautifully choreographed. I did notice that he REALLY went overboard on the CGI this time around. There were times I was pulled out of the story watching a CGI rider that was JUST fake enough to have my eyes drawn to it, or the ridiculousness of having Billy Connolly’s character, Dain, be COMPLETELY CGI for no apparent reason. I have to say that Peter Jackson seems to have lost sight of the original book. “The Hobbit” was fun adventure story, much in the line of Rudyard Kipling’s books. Books meant for boys to have fun with instead of being as dark and dreary as “The Lord of the Rings”. His lack of understanding comes through very obviously as you can tell he loves Middle Earth, but his love of the source material leads him to drastically change the outcome. It works in some ways, but in other ways it’s very saddening.

Now as for the added material. I’m not of the persuasion that they really add anything to the movie. An Unexpected Journey was a wee bit better than the theatrical while Desolation of Smaug was an even wash. Even though there is an extra 20 minutes of extra footage in The Battle of the 5 Armies it really doesn’t add or detract from the overall story. There’s a cool bit of added footage for the battle between the wring wraiths and the cadre of wizards at Dol Guldur, but the rest of the footage is almost all just added blood and battle scenes during the actual battel. There’s some blood and a few more severed heads making it rated R (which was a big controversy with it being the ONLY R-rated Middle Earth film). Unfortunately making it rated R did nothing besides alienate a few audience members with a couple of decapitations? The extra battle scenes served no other purpose but for Peter Jackson to play with the special effects that he’s obviously become so enamored with. Now, at the same time the extra scenes didn’t detract either. Unless you know what you’re looking for you probably couldn’t have told the difference due to there being SO much chaos in the battle to begin with.




Rated PG-13 for extended sequences of Intense Fantasy violence and frightening images (all 3) / Rated R for Violence (The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies extended cut)




4K Video: :4.5stars: Video: :4.5stars:
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Well now, let’s dig into the goodies of the video. Being that they are all produced and shot nearly back to back, all 3 films share a VERY similar video score and look. I did notice that An Unexpected Journey looks to have had the color timing tweaked on 4K to look more like Desolation of Smaug and The Battle of the Five Armies. It’s not massive, but the honey colored highlights are a little bit tweaked and blended with that blue/gray look just a little more. The taming of the those blasted out honey highlights tends to give it a more somber look although those wheat and sunny looking outdoor shots are still intact.

One thing I MUST make mentions is is that The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit have ALWAYS had some DNR baked into their masters. Not so much with this trilogy vs. his previous trilogy, but Jackson has judiciously used some DNR to make the films ever so slightly smoother. It’s something I noticed in the theaters, the Blu-ray editions and now this 4K UHD as well. It’s nothing wild, but just something to make note of, as it’s more of a thing with The Lord of the Rings Trilogy (which I’ll discuss over there)

The films are glossy and shiny, with brilliantly lit outdoor shots that showcase honey, wheat and an overblasted white level that almost halos at times. However, the films also live in the dark shadows of the forests and caves, so those darker shots are deep and inky, with tons of blue/gray tinting to the image that gives it a grittier and darker look. Comparing against the Blu-rays it’s obvious that the noise has been tamed a bit, with this edition, although part of me wonders if we’re seeing more DNR on the 4K discs than the Blu-ray discs, but I have no proof that the 4K UHD discs of all the Hobbit films didn’t come from the SAME master as the Blu-rays did in 2013-2015. All in all these are some excellent transfers if you can get over Peter Jackson's use of DNR and digital tweaking to make the 1st movie look more like the other two.









Audio: :4.5stars:
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All of The Hobbit films showcased really great DTS-HD MA mixes, but Warner has gone and re-done all the tracks in Dolby Atmos, and the upgrade is REALLY nice. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that the tracks are night and day different from each other, but the Atmos tracks feels more expansive and light to the touch, if you know what I mean. The score and mountain travels really open up with the overheads, and the use of LFE is just soul crushing at times. I still think there is a mild high pass filter put in place as I really didn’t detect a ton of sub 20hz activity, but it’s still a fantastic audio experience nonetheless. And the bigger treat is that all of the Blu-rays included also have the same Atmos track instead of their old DTS-HD MA mixes, so if you haven’t upgraded to 4K yet, you can still get the benefits of the next gen audio.





Extras: N/A
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Discussed in the Full Boxset review













Final Score: :4stars:


While I will say a bit more in the main Boxset summary, this is a very nice 4K UHD set of some of the last decade's more solid fantasy films. It's great to return to middle earth once more, even if Peter Jackson really DIDN'T need to make a single short book into 3 films. It is what it is, and if you like the new transfers with Peter Jackson's tweaking, then it's a solid set, even if the extras (or lack there of) will disappoint a lot of fans who were hoping for something more substantial.

Technical Specifications:

Starring: Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, Cate Blanchett, Ken Stott, Cate Blanchett, William Kircher, Graham McTavish, Orlando Bloom, Evangeline Lilly
Directed by: Peter Jackson
Written by: Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens
Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1 HEVC
Audio: English: Dolby Atmos (Dolby TrueHD 7.1 Core), French, Spanish DTS-HD MA 5.1, Spanish DD 5.1 (Theatrical only)
Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish, Dutch (English SDH, French, Italian SDH, Spanish, Czech, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, Korean, Mandarin (Traditional), Norwegian, Polish, Swedish, Thai for An Unexpected Journey)
Studio: Warner Brothers
Rated: PG-13 (R for The Battle of the Five Armies extended cut)
Runtime: 1006 Minutes
Blu-ray Release Date: November 16th, 2021
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Recommendation: Great Buy (Whole Set)

 
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