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Review: ‘The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug’ – Special Edition DVD

Review: ‘The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug’ – Special Edition DVDIt’s taken a few weeks to get this review completed, as the Special Edition DVD of ‘The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug’ not only has an extended version of the film, but also contains over nine hours of interesting and informative extras.

The theatrical version of the film was reviewed on this site last year, and in many respects the extended version tells the same story with additional scenes. But there is one important exception: the scenes at Dol Guldur are different to the ones seen in the theatrical release, where Gandalf was at the ruins by himself. In the extended version, another character (played by Anthony Sher) is present and, in order to make that change, director Peter Jackson had to shoot and edit two different versions of those scenes. As he explains in the commentary, this was a way of telling the story of ‘The Hobbit’ for cinema audiences, but finding a way to foreshadow ‘The Lord of the Rings’ in the extended version. As a result, the scenes here pack an extra punch and, in addition, add to Thorin’s back-story.

Some of the other ‘extra’ scenes add depth to the story or – in the case of a conversation between Gandalf and Beorn as they say their farewells – help make more sense of the narrative later in the film. An additional scene introducing the dwarves to Beorn (in his human form) borrows a phrase from the book, and adds a little more humour; and, if you wished that the film had included Bombur being put to sleep by the enchanted stream (as he was in the book), the scene was filmed and is here in the extended version.

If you liked the commentaries by Peter Jackson et al on the ‘Lord of the Rings’ trilogy, there’s more to enjoy here. They’ll tell you what’s new to the Special Edition; explain why characters were created for the film, or changed and developed from the book; clarify the changes needed to expand the story from two films to three; and talk about the sets, SFX, cast and crew.

Like the three ‘Lord of the Rings’ films, the ‘Desolation of Smaug’ is split between two discs, and there’s room on the second for an ‘extra’ in the form of a look at the film’s main location, New Zealand.

Then there’s more fascinating behind-the-scenes information about the film, in two Appendices – ‘Into the Wilderland’ and ‘The Journey to Erebor’ – which are spread across three additional discs. The fold-out packaging is sturdy and carries beautiful maps and illustrations; while the discs themselves are stuffed with facts and a good measure of fun.

There are interviews with cast and crew, ‘making of’ footage, and secrets of how the stunts, CGI and sets were prepared and filmed. Did you know, for example, that the fish in those barrels with the dwarves were real? The actors had to sit through take after take, gagging on the smell, and their discomfort is all captured on the documentary cameras – as are their comments!

The documentaries capture the astonishing attention to detail that’s executed by everyone involved, from the set designs to costumes props to SFX. Take a look at the interior of Bard’s house and imagine the work involved in creating all those furnishings and props once; then imagine creating them twice, once at normal size, and once as an exact copy at 1:42 scale. Even in areas of the set which are barely seen, or costumes which are on screen for only a moment or two, the level of workmanship is superb. As for Smaug’s lair, did you think all that gold was CGI? You’d be wrong!

Thirty boats were designed and built for Laketown; a cooper was commissioned to produce real barrels for the dwarves to make their escape in; the wine-bottles in the racks were hand-blown to a unique design; and a new computer software programme was developed to help with the design of the trees in Mirkwood.

The team’s knowledge, not just of Tolkien but also Norse mythology, Old English tales, legends, and all sorts of other sources of artistic inspiration never ceases to amaze, and the enthusiasm of everyone – even when they are working through the night to meet an impossible deadline – seems unquenchable.

So, is it worth investing your money in the DVD set and devoting nine hours of your life to watching all the additional footage? For anyone remotely interested in how a film like this gets made – a resounding ‘yes’. It’s fascinating stuff.

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