It has become an expected excitement for fans of Peter Jackson’s Middle Earth films, based on the tales of J.R.R Tolkien, that we see an extended edition release of each film, complete with extra scenes and a ton of new and fancy special features, every time a new movie is released, or some months later anyway. The Lord of the Rings trilogy began this with the wonderfully deep and interesting extended editions, and the suit has followed with The Hobbit films, first with “An Unexpected Journey” and now with the second installment in the series, “The Desolation of Smaug”.
The film itself contains around 25 extra minutes of footage, scenes that didn’t make it into the theatrical cut of the movie. These moments, some of them mere seconds, some of them lengthier scenes, offer extra detail and insight into moments, characters, places and scenes, bringing a little extra richness to an already meticulous film.
For those who don’t know what the film is about, well, I’ll fill you in. We meet up with our dwarven protagonists, led by Thorin Oakenshield, Gandalf, and our brave hobbit friend, Bilbo, who have just escaped Azog the Defiler at the end of “An Unexpected Journey”. They seek refuge, march through enchanting and bizarre forests, find themselves captured by Wood Elves, fleeing more Orc enemies and entering the realm of men, all in order to reach their desired destination. The Lonely Mountain, their lost home, taken by the fire breathing heathen known as Smaug. Once they reach their stolen land, it is up to their burglar, Bilbo, to try to retrieve a precious stone, but when the dragon is awakened, the Dwarves of Erebor must fight for their lives, and their home, against the gigantic tyrant with wings that fill their ancient walls.
The extra scenes in the extended edition include some cool little details that didn’t make the theatrical cut. We get to learn more about Thorin’s father, Thrain, and we even get his story of being found by Gandalf in Dol Guldur. Another scene which I was happy to see more of in the extended edition was the Mirkwood scene where our dwarves and Bilbo struggle through the claustrophobic forest, surrounded by spiders. The trippy sequences were really cool to see in more depth. I also enjoyed spending some more time in Laketown, my personal favourite place in “The Desolation of Smaug”, and see the details that lurk in the background of each scene. We also get some extra moments with our Laketown villain-of-sorts, the greedy and sleazy politician, The Master of Laketown, played by English entertainment royalty, Stephen Fry. These are only a few of the many scenes that we get to see prolonged, and it only adds to the experience, much-like it did in the previous Middle Earth films.
The extras is where the true worth of this release comes into play. Sure, the extra moments of film we get are wonderful, but it’s the fantastic behind the scenes special features that fans of the films are buying this release for. Nine hours of extras we get here, nine hours. That’s The Godfather Trilogy back-to-back. That’s like watching the theatrical cuts of The Lord of the Rings trilogy. What I’m trying to say is… you get your money’s worth, yet again, with the extras on this release.
If you’re familiar with the previous extras on the last Extended Edition, then you’ll know what to expect here. You get to see how they made the film through a variety of in depth looks at different areas of film production. The science behind the movie magic, if you will. Seeing how they shoot these scenes, for me, really shows how much love was put into the films by the actors, the writers and Peter Jackson himself, showing that they’re not merely after a quick Hollywood payday, but rather provide a film that will please fans, not upset Tolkien purists too deeply, and deliver as an entertaining flick for movie goers too, after all… that’s kind of important.
The nine hours include behind the scenes footage of shooting in each location, including Mirkwood, Laketown and Erebor, among others, with departments like the scale-doubles, stunt coordinators, food designers, weapons experts and others going into details and telling stories about the experience of working on the film, but it’s the clips of seeing the actors and Jackson bonding and playing around on set which are often the most fun. Interviews with the actors, department heads, stunt doubles, producers and others also offer insight into how things were created, shot and put together to create the final film.
I could talk about the various things that are included on this release until the proverbial cows come home, and that’s kind of the point of what I’m saying here. I’m a fan of the film, and of Peter Jackson’s Middle Earth films in general, so I enjoy hearing and learning about the ins and outs of how things were done, but I’m not sure that casual viewers will get the same enjoyment out of this release. The extras are the reason to buy this, and if you don’t have an interest in watching almost ten hours of special features then I’d stick to the cheaper theatrical release. Still, this was a fantastic addition to the other extended editions, and the quality in the release has not dipped at all from the previous ones. If only all movies put this much care and effort into their DVD/Blu-ray extras, we’d have lots of hours of interesting material to sink our teeth into in various genres. This, though, is worth paying twice for, and I’ll buy the next one too. Bloody brilliant.
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug – Extended Edition, is out now on DVD and Blu-ray.