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Josh Reviews the Extended Edition of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Peter Jackson reinvented what DVDs could be when he released his extended edition of The Fellowship of the Ring, a month before the release of The Two Towers in theatres.  I had fallen quite in love with The Fellowship of the Ring after having seen it many, many times in theatres.  (I have never seen a movie more times in theatres than I saw Fellowship.)  I loved the film.  When I read that an extended edition was being released on DVD, I was of course excited.  I had seen (and loved) previous home-video director’s cuts of movies (James Cameron’s Aliens and The Abyss come to mind).  But I was not prepared for how bowled over I would be by the Extended Edition of The Fellowship of the Ring.  I still remember watching it, that first time, and being shocked at how complete a re-edit of the film it was.  This wasn’t just the same movie with a few additional scenes added in.  The entire movie had been re-worked and enhanced.  Particularly in that first 45 minutes, I felt like I was watching a totally different movie, with so many little shots and moments woven into the fabric of the film that I had already loved and known so well.

That Extended Edition of The Fellowship of the Ring quickly became the definitive version of the film for me.  I hardly ever watched the theatrical cut again.  For the next few years, the release of Mr. Jacksons’ Extended Editions of his Lord of the Rings films became a vital part of the experience of anticipating and enjoying these movies, for me.  I anticipated the DVD release of the Extended Editions almost as much as the initial theatrical release, because it seemed to me that it was the Extended Editions that represented the full, true versions of these films.  These days, when I re-watch the films, I only watch the Extended Editions.

And so I was excited when I heard that Peter Jackson’s first Hobbit film, An Unexpected Journey, would be receiving an Extended Edition release of its own.  But I must confess to not being quite as deliriously impatient for this release as I was for the extended LOTR films.  As I wrote in my review of An Unexpected Journey, that film’s theatrical release already felt to me like an Extended Edition.  Not just because of its lengthy run-time, but because of the film’s structure, which seemed to me to be overstuffed with the types of digressions and moments of back-story that characterized the LOTR Extended Editions.  So how much could the film be further Extended?

Not by much, it turns out.  The Extended Edition of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey runs only 13 minutes longer than the theatrical cut, and there really aren’t any major changes made to the film.  No large new sequences have been added, and great swaths of the film are entirely unchanged.  Instead, the additions mostly consist of small moments here and there, primarily in the beginning of the film, and during the middle segment in Rivendell.  The additions are all pretty much GREAT, don’t get me wrong!  It’s just that one shouldn’t go in expecting the revelation that was the Extended Edition of Fellowship, or any of the LOTR films.

So what’s new?  We get to see, in a quick flashback, the moment when Gandalf first met young Bilbo.  We see (very briefly!) the Old Took.  Many of the Dwarves get a few extra moments here and there, which helps differentiate some of them a bit.  (The Extended Edition better sells the idea that one Dwarf, Bifur, can’t speak the Common Tongue, something I never understood in the theatrical cut.)  We get to hear Gandalf and Elrond discuss the madness that lies in Thorin Oakenshield’s family, and we get a little more dialogue during the White Council meeting in which the rings of Sauron are discussed.  (That could be my very favorite addition.)  We see Bilbo looking at the shards of Narsil and the painting of Sauron and the One Ring.  We get some more fun stuff with the Dwarves goofing around in Rivendell and irritating the elves, including a great new song sung by Bofur (James Nesbitt).  Speaking of songs, the Goblin King gets his own song, which is the weirdest of the additions and piles on even more zaniness to the already incredibly bizarre Goblin King sequence.  (It gets perilously close to Return of the Jedi Special Edition silliness, but luckily stays just on the right side of tolerable, to me.  It helps that I sort of like the catchy “Goblin Town” song!)

The real reason to buy the Extended Edition on DVD or blu-ray really isn’t the Extended Edition of the film at all — it’s to own the incredible NINE HOURS of making-of featurettes that compose the Appendices.  All of the LOTR Extended Editions contained these gloriously in-depth Appendices (modeled after the lengthy appendices at the end of the book The Return of the King), astonishingly compelling, funny, and detailed making-of featurettes that explored every aspect of the production and post-production of the films.  This new release of An Unexpected Journey contains two full discs of the Appendices, numbered 7 and 8 (continuing the numbering from the Appendices from the LOTR Extended Editions), and they are phenomenal.  I have never seen any behind-the-scenes making-of features that are better than these LOTR Appendices.  They are magnificent.  I had a great time watching the Extended Edition of An Unexpected Journey, but I have been in heaven watching the Appendices.  I’ve been watching them all week long.  There really are nine hours of special features!  They are all incredibly well-made, featuring amazing footage filmed throughout the production of the film, accompanied by interviews with every conceivable member of the cast and crew, all telling their stories and memories of the making of the films.  Watching the Appendices, it really feels like you’re right there with them during the making of the film.  It’s marvelous, and watching these Appendices only makes me love these films even more than I already did.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is not a perfect film, and it is not as phenomenal as any of Peter Jackson’s three Lord of the Rings films.  But I love the film nonetheless, and I think it was over-criticized upon its release.  I throughly enjoyed the Extended Edition, and while not majorly different from the theatrical cut, I anticipate that this will be my preferred version of the film to watch moving forward.

Bring on The Desolation of Smaug!

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