Blu-ray Review: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

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Very exciting news today, folks, as our friends out at Warner Brothers sent over a copy of “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” for us to cover. This one will be hitting stores March 19, but has been available for early download since March 12. Chances are many of you are already planning to get in, but if not, you’ll want to. This is terrific stuff.

“The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” is the first of what is set to be three parts covering the original “The Hobbit” novel by J.R.R. Tolkien. Featuring fussy gentleman hobbit Bilbo Baggins, this first part will cover the meeting between the wizard Gandalf, the original party of 13 dwarves, and Bilbo, the “burglar” set to make the lucky 14th member of the adventuring party.

The dwarves are out to reclaim Erebor, a kingdom under a mountain that was taken by the dragon Smaug. Among the party is Thorin Oakenshield, grandson of the former king, so this is something of a personal quest. There are also unimaginable fortunes in gold and other treasures, so Bilbo’s got a big opportunity on his hands. But can this fussy gentleman hobbit turn burglar effectively? Or will Bilbo find himself on the wrong end of any of a dozen potential horrors?

Naturally, if you’ve already read the book, you’ve got a good idea what’s coming up. You also have an idea what’s coming up if you saw the first “Lord of the Rings” installment, and it’s definitely not a spoiler to say that under no circumstances will Bilbo be dying in this one. If he did, that would kick off a temporal paradox, or at least have outraged geeks everywhere interrogating director Peter Jackson every time he so much as showed his face at a convention. But the predictability of prequels aside, this is a downright charming affair. Funny, filled with action, and a general treat all around, this is orders of magnitude better than the first installment of “Lord of the Rings”. That one put me briefly to sleep. This one had me exalting all around.

Admittedly, some parts of this will be a little overbroad in the humor–frankly, I never imagined snot jokes in Tolkien–but still, the end results are very good indeed. The effects are everything you’d hope for, the overall pacing very Peter Jackson–there are shades of “The Frighteners” in here–and the whole thing is a plain and simple delight.

The special features on this combo pack are so patently massive they come with their own disc. Seriously, this is a three disc set–Blu-ray, DVD, and entire disc of special features. But to start with, you’ll have your choice of audio tracks, including English, Spanish, French, and Portuguese, and the same choices in subtitles as well. From there, we’ll step up to a whopping 10 different production videos, a set of video blogs, and multiple trailers related not only to “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey”–there’s actually six of those here–but also a set of games, including “The Hobbit: Kingdoms of Middle Earth,” “Guardians of Middle Earth,” and “Lego: The Lord of the Rings.”

“The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” is a terrific start, and if the rest of the trilogy is even half as good as this, it will ultimately be better than the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy was by a wide margin. This is fantastic filmmaking all around, storytelling at its zenith, and it’s been one journey that I was honored to take.

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