The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug – Extended Edition (2013/2014)

2015 #35a
Peter Jackson | 187 mins | Blu-ray | 2.40:1 | USA & New Zealand / English | 12 / PG-13

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug - Extended EditionAt the start of their audio commentary on The Desolation of Smaug, co-screenwriters Peter Jackson and Philippa Boyens note that, when the decision was made to extend the already-shot Hobbit duology to a trilogy, it wasn’t a third movie that need to be created but a second. That is to say, it was the middle instalment that required the most extra material, including a new prologue and climax. The theatrical version rather felt like that had happened, too, and now we have a cut with 16% more again.

Fortunately for new-stuff spotters, most of these additions come in the form of whole scenes, rather than tiny extensions here and there. In total, there’s almost 27 minutes of new material, plus a little over 90 seconds removed (all of it moments that seem to have been added to the theatrical edition to cover for now-reinserted scenes). That’s a pretty significant amount, and it does impact on some facets of the story, but not enough to change the overall feel. That said, I did like the film a little better, but I’d attribute that as much to simply watching it again: things that bugged me last time felt less irksome, like how long was spent on Legolas fighting orcs at the end, for instance.

One thing I never had a problem with, unlike some others, is the film’s proportion of Bilbo: some say the titular hero is sidelined, with too much focus on Thorin and Gandalf as a result. Two things: one, despite the title, this is clearly structured as an ensemble movie — of course other characters are going to get some of the focus. Second, there’s actually loads of Bilbo! He saves everyone from spiders in Mirkwood, he saves everyone from imprisonment by the wood elves, he’s the one who finds the keyhole at Erebor, he goes into the mountain and has a long confrontation with Smaug, he’s the first face we see after the prologue and the last we see before the credits. And those are just the highlights. Better BilboThe extended cut amps him up even more, with an extra part in Mirkwood and a moment where he stands up for Thorin in Laketown. In fairness, he doesn’t have as much character development in this film as the first, while Thorin is on a definite arc and Gandalf is off on his own side-plot, but he’s undoubtedly a key character. I really don’t understand that complaint.

Of the new stuff, however, the best addition is more Beorn, authoritatively played by Mikael Persbrandt. He felt underused and half-arsed in the theatrical version, like they’d cut out a book character to make way for more film-added stuff later on. I have no idea how big his role is in the novel, but Tauriel and her dwarven love triangle aren’t in there at all, so I can well imagine some would rather have more of the skin-changer (whether from the novel or not) than the interspecies romance. Here, we get more of a sense of him as a character, with two whole worthwhile scenes supplementing his sole one from the other cut.

Other notable additions include an extended bit in Mirkwood, where the party have to cross a river; some more of Stephen Fry as the Master of Laketown; and a whole additional character encountered by Gandalf at Dol Guldur, played by renowned actor Sir Antony Sher, under so much make-up you’d never even know. There are more bits and bobs, including additional lines that set up some of the aforementioned new scenes, but nothing as significant as these. Some build on storylines first included in the extended cut of An Unexpected Journey, others are just on the level of “we shot this so here it is”.

Beorn againEven if some of the additions are worthless, on balance this is a better version of the film: more Beorn, more of the atmospheric Mirkwood, an additional character whose appearance will hopefully pay off in the extended Battle of the Five Armies (presuming it can’t have done in the theatrical version); plus simply watching the film for a second time helps iron out some of the pacing and emphasis problems I had on my first viewing. It’s still the weakest of Jackson’s Middle-earth films, and there are many issues with splitting one film in two (which I expect to rear their head again in the third film, with how some of the decisions pan out), but it isn’t all bad.

4 out of 5

In case you missed it, my review of the theatrical cut can be read here.

The concluding part of the trilogy, The Battle of the Five Armies, is 2015’s #36. It’s released on DVD and Blu-ray in the US tomorrow and in the UK on 20th April. I’ll have a review nearer that time.

8 thoughts on “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug – Extended Edition (2013/2014)

  1. Not sure I agree regards the additional material. Some of the added stuff with Beorn, such as when Gandalf is talking to him ‘softening him up’ or something while the Dwarves troop out in pairs is just cringeworthy nonsense. Indeed I think stuff like Beorn could have been dropped completely and I don’t think audiences would notice anything missing. Mirkwood didn’t need extending but yes there’s extra stuff of the party wandering around in a stupor. Some of the pacing is utterly shocking, it almost comes to a stop in places. It wouldn’t have been so bad making it into a trilogy had it been a trilogy of two-hour movies, but the extended editions only compound the error. No, I’m not a fan!

    And the third film- not far away now, I look forward to see what you make of it!

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    • I do agree that the movies should have been shorter on the whole — the second and third, in particular, have just far too much material.

      I still quite like the Beorn stuff, but you may be right that it could be cut without anyone noticing. If he’d had a larger role in the third… though who knows what they’ve saved for the extended version of that? I read somewhere Jackson has 30 minutes to put back in.

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      • Good grief, 30 minutes? Whatever happened to Jackson? How could he get so much right with LOTR and yet so much wrong with The Hobbit? The third film is possibly the worst of the bunch; noisy start, crashing to a halt so it can start again post-Laketown, and then descending into the longest effects reel you ever saw. And there’s another 30 minutes possibly being added? I suspect a fan-edit will come out one day cutting it all down to something like three hours all-told. Maybe Jackson himself will do it, the very definition of a superior alternate Directors Cut that is massively shorter than the theatrical, nevermind extended editions. Its tragic how The Hobbit project went so wrong..

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        • I read a review the other day that theorised Jackson never had the same interest or commitment to adapting The Hobbit that he did with LotR (he only took it on once Del Toro pulled out, after all). Conversely, they argued he was committed to the vision of an epic trilogy / battle movie — not a bad assessment, given how things turned out.

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  2. Well, I like the extended edition anyway. The extra Beorn business I can take or leave, the stuff at Dol Guldur, on the other hand, really adds something. Perhaps, ultimately, it all depends on the extent to which you’re happy just to have more Middle Earth stuff. Of course none of it’s a patch on Lord of the Rings, and the films have been watched far fewer times in our house than the earlier trilogy, but it’s retained the spirit and that matters.

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    • One of the things I liked about An Unexpected Journey was the “more time in Middle-earth” aspect. There’s some of that here, too, though I can’t say I felt it as keenly.

      I’m cautious about how much exactly the new Dol Guldur material adds until we see the extended third film. If it doesn’t have some kind of pay off when Gandalf next sees Thorin, it’s a subplot that would seem very sacrificable.

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      • Surely there must be some pay off – I know there’s an element of cashing in where these films are concerned, less a labour of love than a counting of profits, but aren’t these bits the whole point of the extendeds? Let’s hope so anyway.

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