The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Thorin, heir to the dwarf throne, is on a quest to reclaim his homeland and unite his people. But to do so, he’ll need to survive an onslaught of murderous Orcs, steal a vital stone back from an insanely powerful talking dragon, and overcome all manner of treachery along the way. Fortunately, he makes new allies in his travels, but while there’s certainly no shortage of characters in this middle chapter of Tolkien’s Middle-Earth epic, it dawned on me that none of them are especially compelling. With their numbers growing, we don’t really have the chance to get to know any of them. It’s a make-believe world, so we have a hard time relating to them, and ultimately we just don’t care that much about them, which is a serious liability in a tale of this length. Even the titular Hobbit is marginalized in his own movie this time! I will, however, concede that Desolation serves up some of filmmaker Peter Jackson’s biggest and most dynamic action set pieces to date, which is saying something. An Unexpected Journey before it, this movie was shot in 3D on digital video and displays a perfectly natural filmic look. For optimal quality, the 161-minute movie is spread across two platters (with a rather abrupt disc break), and the high bitrate yields razor-sharp clarity. The inherent loss of brightness from the current 3D technology is not really a problem for the sublimely lit and hued image—this is largely a story about darkness, after all—and shadow detail is tremendous. The 2.4:1 frame is frequently composed with clever layers and foreground objects that lend ample opportunity for effective stereoscopic illusion, and the sheer breadth and depth of Smaug’s lair is awe-inspiring.

Yes, this is a sprawling fantasy yarn, with an ambitious DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 soundtrack to match. Surround channel usage is lively, with immersive shouts and footsteps plus interesting bits like a group of scurrying, muttering spiders. That’s in addition to some clean, hard surround effects. Bass is more than ample, contrasted against the airy trebles, as for the ping of a certain golden ring.

Curiously, disc one contains a 2D mini-documentary about the New Zealand shooting location, which is repeated on Disc Three, a single-platter 2D Blu-ray presentation of the movie. Disc four carries most of the lazy, lackluster extras we should be used to by now. (DVD and UltraViolet Digital Copy also included.) Once again, looks like we have to wait for the Extended Edition if we want the good stuff.

Blu-Ray 3D
Studio: Warner Bros., 2013
Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1
Audio Format: DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1
Length: 161 mins.
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Director: Peter Jackson
Starring: Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage