A prequel to Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, An Unexpected Journey is the first in a new trilogy that tells of the adventures of a hobbit named Bilbo Baggins who unwittingly joins a band of dwarves as they travel to their ancestral home to reclaim their birthright. That is if they can survive the journey.
Stating the Obvious
Dating back to the original Rings trilogy, Peter Jackson has always taken advantage of the home video medium to release extended versions of each film. In the early days this would have been called a director’s cut, but now you’ll find that most director’s refer to the theatrical cuts as the director’s cut. Instead, the home video release is seen as a different audience in a way and is a chance for the filmmaker to return to the sandbox of the film they built.
No longer encumbered by the time crunch of the theater experience, it’s a shot at expanding where they previously had to trim precious character moments; moments that give us just that extra bit of welcome exposition. A lucky few director’s also use the occasion to further polish the visuals, fixing animation, lighting, and even getting the opportunity to reshoot scenes (in rare cases). The result of all this is a (hopefully) better experience the next go around for the audience and even a better first experience for those who didn’t catch the movie in the cinemas.
With this extended cut of An Unexpected Journey, Jackson has done much of the above starting with the visuals. For those that caught the theatrical cut, this is a far superior film visually. All the weird cartoony looking action sequences have been corrected, strange plasticy looking renderings are gone. In particular, the scene where a city of goblins pursue our dwarvin band through the mountain (Editor’s Note: is it me or does Tolkien love him some subterranean mountain chasing). The original sequence as seen in the theater looks like a highend video game. The weight of characters as they run through the environment feels off, the cloth animations, the run cycle animations, all look nothing like you’d expect from a non-SyFy channel original film. This thankfully has been resolved. Now while you probably won’t mistake this for the real thing, you at least won’t be poked in the eye with the obvious fakery of it.
Also revisited is additional footage. Peter Jackson has added several scenes primarily to the first 2 thirds of the film. We spend more time in Rivendell as well as the Shire; we get to see more Hobbits and more dwarves (dwarf nudity) than you … you know what I’m saying. Some of the scenes in particular the added footage in Rivendell will actually help enrich scenes in the second film. There are additional conversations between Gandalf and the elves in Rivendell that expand on Gandalf’s side quest and there are dwarf scenes at Bilbo’s house that drive home the desperation of Thorin’s endeavor. All of this added dialog and footage is redundant in a way as the same information is conveyed by other means, but for fans of the story looking to spend more time in Middle Earth, it’s all welcome time spent.
As one of those fans of Peter Jackson’s version of the Tolkien universe, it was a pleasure to see this extended cut of an already fun adventure film. The theatrical version of the Tolkien classic did a great job of distilling the essense of the quirk and atmosphere, the story and the characters, but still retaining the fingerprints of Jackson. This extended cut is well more of the same. Not a bad place to be.