Peter Jackson | 183 mins | Blu-ray | 2.40:1 | USA & New Zealand / English | 12 / PG-13
Few would deny that Peter Jackson’s extended versions of The Lord of the Rings trilogy are the definitive cuts of those films, restoring passages initially cut purely for time. Naturally he’s pulling the same trick with The Hobbit trilogy; but whereas Rings had condensed huge tomes, leaving material on the cutting room floor (or never filmed) even after the extended cuts, The Hobbit is a much slighter work; one that has already been stretched to breaking point by adapting it across three movies. In fact, as I noted in my review of the theatrical version, that already felt like the extended cut — how much more do we need?
Jackson thinks 12 minutes and 53 seconds, to be precise. That’s an extension of 7.6% — not very much, really, but is what’s there significant? The short answer is: not really. While watching I spotted one all-new scene, a few extra bits here and there, and there was at least one part that the Blu-ray’s scene selection says is new but I thought I remembered.
Fortunately, this Amazon review has us covered with a full list of 10 extensions. A couple of bits contribute to where things will go in The Desolation of Smaug, which seems moderately essential to me, though I suppose only if you’re managing to follow every subplot across all eight or nine hours (unlikely when watching once a year at the cinema, perhaps). There’s a couple of character-building extensions, a couple of extra songs, and more of the dwarves having fun (much to the elves’ displeasure) at Rivendell. There’s not as much extra time with the dwarves as I expected, though, with most of the character time still going to Bilbo.
I’ve read at least one review that says the longer version makes the film lesser; that the theatrical cut is definitely superior. I don’t hold any stock in that opinion. Extended, An Unexpected Journey is not a better film, it’s not a worse film, there’s just slightly more of it. I know some people think the first version was too long as it was, but an extra 13 minutes on something already that length is almost neither here nor there. That said, looking back over what was added in the wake of seeing the second film, I can’t help but feel that, when viewed as a trilogy, the little extensions that feed into events of The Desolation of Smaug (and presumably this December’s third film too) make the extended edition a marginally preferable version.
Also, I think that a second viewing improves the experience of the film, whichever cut you watch. I liked An Unexpected Journey the first time round, of course, but I felt even more at peace with it on the second— I was able to just enjoy it, rather than constantly be comparing its scope and style to Lord of the Rings, or trying to assess how well it measured up as a decade-later return to a beloved world. I was also able to appreciate just how good the performances are. Series stalwarts Ian McKellen and Andy Serkis are as good as ever (even with McKellen’s widely-cited unhappiness at having to work alone on a green screen for many of his scenes with the smaller characters), but newcomers Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage and James Nesbitt shine too. This is Freeman’s film to be the centre of attention, but Armitage and Nesbitt will have much more to do in the follow-ups, and the groundwork is nicely laid here.
For those who hated An Unexpected Journey, watching again in any form might not be enough to bring about a conversion; but for the less sure… well, I wouldn’t go so far as to say watching it again can be revelatory, but I think it could be pleasantly surprising. Whether you have the patience for an extra 13 minutes of it is down to personal preference. I think that, in the scope of the entire trilogy, several of those few short moments will ultimately pay off.
In case you missed it, my review of the theatrical cut can be read here.
The second part of the trilogy, The Desolation of Smaug, is released on DVD and Blu-ray in the UK next Monday, April 7th, and in the US on Tuesday 8th. I’ll have a review soon.