Written PostJosh Reviews the Extended Edition of The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Josh Reviews the Extended Edition of The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

I have written many times before on this site about how amazing Peter Jackson’s Extended Editions of the Lord of the Rings films were.  Mr. Jackson and his team reinvented the whole idea of both a director’s cut of a film, and DVD behind-the-scenes special features.  Both had existed before, but both were refined in a new way with the Extended Edition DVD sets.  Watching that first Extended Edition for The Fellowship of the Ring all those years ago was a revelation — a hugely different, more expansive cut of a film that I’d already loved, accompanied by exhaustively extensive behind-the-scenes features that took the viewer through every stage of the making of the film.  Through the years of the release of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, it quickly came to be that I didn’t feel the experience of enjoying each new film was complete until the release of the Extended Editions.  The theatrical version became just a rough draft of the final version, the Extended Edition DVD.  In the years since the release of The Return of the King, I have gone back to revisit those three LOTR films many times, but I have only watched the Extended Editions.  Those have become the definitive versions of the films for me.

With the first Hobbit film, An Unexpected Journey, I commented in my initial review that the lengthy theatrical version already felt like an Extended Edition, both because of its length and the way the film wasn’t focused so tightly on Bilbo, but rather filled with all sorts of digressions and expansions that I had come to associate with the Extended Editions of the LOTR films.  The Extended Edition of An Unexpected Journey was only twelve minutes longer than the theatrical version.  I liked the Extended Edition, but it wasn’t nearly the all-new experience that the three Extended LOTR films were for me.  But while I liked the Extended Edition of An Unexpected Journey, I was head-over-heels in LOVE with the behind-the-scenes features, the two discs-worth of Appendices.  Those two discs managed to surpass even the already amazing LOTR Extended Editions.  With a whopping NINE hours of special features, they were incredibly in-depth and yet never dull or boring.  Watching the Appendices, it I felt like I got to actually experience some of what it was like making the film.  Seeing the incredible love and effort that hundreds upon hundreds of men and women had put into the film made me love that first Hobbit film even more than I already did.  (Click here for my full thoughts on the Extended Edition of An Unexpected Journey.)

The Extended Edition of The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug feels much closer to the Extended Editions of the LOTR films.  There are quite a number of additions and expansions that have been made to the film, far more significant than the changes made to An Unexpected Journey.  I quite liked the theatrical version of The Desolation of Smaug, feeling that it was a good deal stronger than the first Hobbit film.  The Extended Edition of Smaug is even better, adding some wonderful depth and richness (to this admittedly already lengthy tale).  If you hate that Peter Jackson and his team have turned a fairly simplistic book into three very long films, then this Extended Edition will not make you happy.  But for me, while I don’t think the first two Hobbit films have been nearly as successful as any of the three LOTR films (they lack those films’ emotional depth), I’ve quite enjoyed them and am delighted to spend some extra time in the worlds created by Mr. Jackson and his amazing team of collaborators.

I of course don’t want to ruin all of the surprises to be found in the Extended Edition of The Desolation of Smaug, but I can share some info.  One of the most major changes to the film involves the inclusion of a lot more material about Thorin Oakenshield’s father Thrain.  Thrain was glimpsed briefly in the flashback to the Orc battle at the Moria gates in the first Hobbit film.  In the Extended Smaug’s opening scene, when Gandalf meets Thorin at Bree, we now see Gandalf and Thorin talk about Thrain and we get another flashback to Thrain at the Moria battle.  Then, later in the film, in the most dramatic and surprising change from the theatrical version, we discover that Gandalf found Thrain still alive and imprisoned at Dol Goldur!  Now, during all of Gandalf’s scenes in Dol Goldur, we see that old Thrain is with him!  This is a HUGE change to the narrative from that of the theatrical version.  For all of those scenes when Gandalf used to be alone in Dol Goldur, now Thrain is with him!

There are quite a number of small moments here and there throughout this Extended Edition of Smaug that have to do with RINGS.  This was all cut out of the theatrical version, but now we see that Gandalf, who already suspects that Sauron has returned, has become very concerned with regards to the whereabouts of all of the rings created by the Dark Lord.  The question of what happened to the ring that Thrain used to wear is a big part of this restored Thrain story-line.  Because much of the focus Peter Jackson & co.’s expansion of the story of The Hobbit into these three films has to do with connecting the story more closely to the events of The Lord of the Rings (something, by the way, that I really like — I love that these films have given the story of Bilbo & the Dwarves’ quest more weight and consequence by giving those events context within the changing face of Middle Earth and the return of Sauron), it’s very cool and logical for this rings material to now be added back in.

One of my biggest complaints about the theatrical version of Smaug was how truncated the Beorn scenes were at the start of the film.  In the theatrical version, there didn’t seem to be any purpose for the Beorn scenes to be in the film at all!  It was all so quick and perfunctory.  I hoped that the Extended Edition would give us a better version of these Beorn scenes, and I was not disappointed.  This sequence has been completely re-worked and extended.  Now, thankfully, we get to see the wonderful sequence from the book in which Gandalf nervously introduces his large troupe of Dwarves to Beorn, two-by-two.  (“Bombur, you count as two.”)  We also get a great bit at the end of the Beorn scenes that is new to the film, not really from the book, in which Gandalf and Beorn discuss the larger situation and the changes happening to the world.  It’s a great scene that does more of connecting this story to the larger fabric of the LOTR saga, something I was just discussing in the paragraph above.

This Extended Edition has also, thankfully, restored some of the great bits from the book that took place during the Dwarves’ perilous journey through Mirkwood.  Despite the length of the theatrical version of Smaug, I was bummed by how little of the great stuff in Mirkwood from the book made it into the film.  Now we get to see the enchanted stream, we get to see Bombur’s falling into the water (thus forcing his fellow Dwarves to carry his huge, unconscious body) and more good stuff like that. Between these scenes and the vastly-improved Beorn sequence, I am very happy that the Extended Edition has brought back so much great stuff from the book.

Oh, and also there’s a delightfully gross new scene of the Master of Laketown chowing down on a meal of, well, bollocks.  So there’s that!

As with the Extended Edition of An Unexpected Journey, the very best part of this Extended Edition blu-ray set isn’t the Extended film itself, but rather the exhaustive Appendices.  I believe these features total something approaching TEN hours, thus they are even more lengthy than the amazing Appendices from An Unexpected Journey.  I’ve had this blu-ray set for a week-and-a-half, and I still haven’t quite finished watching all of the behind-the-scenes material.  This stuff is incredible, exhaustively in-depth but so carefully edited and put together that it never gets boring.  These features are incredibly fun and absolutely fascinating to watch.  To call these in-depth would be an incredible understatement.  We get to see interview footage with scores upon scores of the men and women involved with the making of this film, from Peter Jackson to all the actors to all of the behind-the-scenes crew-members, from the people who work in the art department to the visual effects folks to the camera operators to the grips to the caterers.  It’s amazing.  And all of this, of course, is interspersed with incredible fly-on-the-wall behind-the scenes footage.  So if someone is telling a story of an event from filming one day, you can bet we’ll cut to the actual behind-the-scenes footage of whatever that person was talking about.  These “making-of” features are truly incredible, head-and-shoulders beyond what anyone else is doing.  I can’t think of a recent high-profile film that has had behind-the-scenes documentaries that were HALF as in-depth.  No other DVD/blu-ray set for any film I can think of comes even close.  Peter Jackson and his team were ahead-of-the pack a decade ago when they unleashed that very first Extended Edition of The Fellowship of the Ring, and they are still way ahead of the curve more than a decade later.  It’s amazing.

If you’re a fan of these films, this is a must-have.