It’s been a while since movie fans encountered such a stacked week for releases. Several Best Picture nominees are in the pile, as well as some favorites from directors Peter Jackson and Judd Apatow. Read on to learn about some of this week’s best releases, and maybe even a few that slipped under your radar.
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey had a deck stacked in its favor even before it was created, with hordes of built-in fans, the return of Peter Jackson as director, and a gorgeous setting and world to build off of, thanks to the success of The Lord of the Rings franchise. Due to one book being split into three parts, all of that may have been for naught had An Unexpected Journey failed to craft a satisfying story that ended on a note looking to the future of the trilogy. Luckily, in the trustworthy, wizardy hands of Jackson, fans had little to worry about.
The Hobbit, like LOTR, follows a journey in Middle-earth, this time centering on hobbit Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) and a crew of 13 rambunctious dwarves journeying to reclaim the dwarves’ former lair. Ian McKellen reprises his role as Gandalf and other familiar characters still populate the world of Middle-earth, but in many ways, fans get the opportunity to focus on other creature communities in the world, while still getting a bumbling and curmudgeonly but ultimately likeable hero of a hobbit. An Unexpected Journey doesn’t have the same pace or urgency as its Jackson predecessors, but it very much finds its own fit and stands firmly on its own two feet.
Best Special Feature: While I was a little disappointed by the lack of audio commentary (extended edition, maybe?), there are still hours of bonus features on the disc, even if the extras look pretty sparse, below. The bulk of these are the ten video blogs available with the Blu-ray release. Each of these can be accessed individually, or with a “play all” option, and they cover topics as diverse as shooting favorite scenes, creating a film in 3D, working in post production, shooting on location, and the world premiere of the film.
If we’re going to get nitpicky, I particularly enjoyed Video Blog #3, otherwise known as “Shooting Block One.“ While people invested with the film are involved with each of the video blogs, this one was particularly appealing because it focused on some of the actors' favorite moments and what they thought about each of their characters. Additionally, one of the nicest things about the bonus features on this disc is that they are also shot in HD, which is a nice change-up from the home video footage shot for LOTR. The nicer footage also gives fans a chance to see how glorious the landscapes the cast and crew were able to shoot in throughout New Zealand truly are.
Other Special Features:
“New Zealand: Home of Middle-earth”