‘The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey' (Blu-ray + DVD + Ultraviolet)
As surely everyone within range of Smaug's fiery breath knows by now, Peter Jackson's adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien's “The Hobbit” is being expanded to three movies, each approximately the length of one of Jackson's “Lord of the Rings” films. The most recent paperback edition of “The Hobbit” is 320 pages long, but “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey,” the first installment, is not strictly an adaptation of the first 106 pages of the novel. In order to bring along viewers whose first exposure to Tolkien was through the “Rings” trilogy, Jackson pads the front end with background and preamble — the first page of “The Hobbit” does not show up until 15 minutes into this film's running time.
Fans of both Jackson and Tolkien will want to imagine that the best intentions were always at the fore, but “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” feels stretched and extended like a mid-1980s dance mix. This section of the story should move along about an hour quicker than it does here. That said, casting Martin Freeman (“Sherlock” and the U.K. version of “The Office”) as the young Bilbo Baggins was a masterful choice — his projection of naivete and wonder seems natural and effortless in a film where nearly every detail, from the Kingdom of Erebor to the face of Gandalf (Ian McKellen), feels digitally worked over. “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” honors the source material but quite nearly consumes it with ponderous pacing.
The Blu-ray transfer achieves startling clarity and includes stellar production videos in which Jackson acts as a guide through the making of “An Unexpected Journey.” A treatment worthy of a true technical achievement, the film itself can be arduous and fans of the novel will get stuck on the obvious fats and extenders in the script, a not-so-special effect employed to make this road go ever, ever on.
— George Lang