The Hobbit: The Motion Picture Trilogy includes The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012), The Desolation of Smaug (2013) and The Battle of the Five Armies (2014).
The Hobbit: The Motion Picture Trilogy released to 4k Ultra HD Blu-ray Disc on Dec. 8, 2020 simultaneously with The Lord of the Rings: The Motion Picture Trilogy also on UHD BD (read a review of LOTR in 4k). The three Hobbit films are packaged in a 6-disc edition with both the Theatrical Versions (runtime 474 minutes) and Extended Versions (runtime 532 minutes). The edition, unfortunately, does not include any bonus material. For extra content you’ll have to refer back to previous 1080p Blu-ray releases. Here’s a review of the movie, video, and audio presentation of The Hobbit Trilogy on Ultra HD Blu-ray Disc.
I have to admit it was a bit of a chore getting through the first part of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey with all the singing and dancing, especially after watching the darker and more serious ‘Lord of the Rings’ trilogy. In ‘An Unexpected Journey’ Peter Jackson spends a lot of time with the dwarves and their initial visit to Bilbo’s house. In the Extended Version of the film, it is approximately 42 minutes before the actual adventure begins. However, the scene does allow plenty of time to get to know each character who, with the exception of Gandolf, are new to Peter Jackson’s cinematic interpretation of the Tolkien stories.
The Hobbit films are, for the most part, lighter than LOTR with more comedic moments (many involving Dwarves) and goofy characters like the Great Goblin and Alfred (assistant to the Master of Lake-town) who seems to pop up everywhere and probably lives longer than he should have. The character is almost a carbon copy of Grima Wormtongue (the evil advisor to King Théoden) from The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers who you wish would go away but critical to the plot.
That leads to what might be the biggest criticism of The Hobbit Trilogy. The movies (as translated from J.R.R. Tolkien’s novels) follow so many of the same formulas as The Lord of the Rings Trilogy that it often does not seem original. At the crux of both tales we find an unlikely Hobbit leading an impossible adventure to complete an impossible task. Although, it’s worth mentioning Tolkien wrote “The Hobbit” years before “The Lord of the Rings.”
To add to the similar main storylines, in Jackson’s films you’ll discover scenes, shots and dialogue to be quite repetitious. In ‘An Unexpected Journey’ Jackson again uses the suspense of a group of horseback riders surrounding the adventurers for no other reason than to create a bit of drama (in LOTR the riders of Rohan surround the fellowship, while in ‘An Unexpected Journey” Elrond and his mounted elves surround Bilbo and the Dwarves). In both trilogies, the heroes stand precariously on the ledge of a mountain when a storm threatens (in LOTR it is Saruman’s spells that create a storm while in The Hobbit the Stone Giants are having a skirmish). Anyway, the list of repeated shots, dialogue and scenes goes on and on, and unfortunately the more you watch the movies the more you may be annoyed by the similarities.
Visually though, The Hobbit films are incredibly impressive with HDR expanding the color depth to display detail in a wide range of values. The movies in 4k also showcase more detail in set and costume design — improvements from what Peter Jackson’s creative team pulled off for LOTR.
One of the great things about The Hobbit Trilogy is that it never seems to end. You can get immersed in Tolkien’s world (as interpreted by Peter Jackson) for what seems forever, especially with the extended versions that in total add another 58 minutes to the saga.
The 4k Blu-rays present The Hobbit films in 2160p at 24 frames per second averaging at about 60Mbps. The lowest rates marked about 40Mbps but higher rates reached almost 90Mbps. The 4k discs feature 10-bit color with color enhanced by either Dolby Vision or HDR10 depending on your playback device.
According to Peter Jackson, The Hobbit Trilogy has been color graded with the intention of joining The Lord of the Rings Trilogy into one continuous story.
The Hobbit films reach some of the highest levels of sharpness, clarity and luminance I’ve ever seen rendered on a 4k TV. If you’ve seen the imagery of the Dwarven mines that introduce ‘An Unexpected Journey’ you’ll know what I mean. Their beards glisten, their eyes sparkle, and mining work lights glow like gold on the walls behind them (see the film still).
There seems to be more soft imagery in The Hobbit films though, which seems odd because the shots are likely extremely sharp sources before being softened. The softer imagery is prevalent when elfkind are portrayed, but this is something we should be used to from The Lord of the Rings that also presented the Elves with a soft radiance that is supposed to accentuate their immortality.
A scene displaying both captivating special effects and video resolution is the battle in the lair of the Goblin King when there is so much detail you want to pause the video here and there just to take it all in. That scene is followed by Azog’s ambush of the company where there is a nice transition from daylight to moonlight by the cinematographer and color graders that allows the impending fires to contrast against a greyish backdrop (see the screenshot for reference). It really is an incredible scene that transitions beautifully to ‘The Desolation of Smaug.’
Smaug is also rendered with extreme detail in 4k. The incredible effects of the giant, flying reptilian (that speaks English!) are unlike any we’ve seen before on the big screen (although comparative dragons may be found in HBO’s Game of Thrones series and the 2002 film “Reign of Fire.” The first sight of Smaug in the Misty Mountain when he pops up from piles of gold is enough to make you jump out of your own skin — both visually and audibly. However, there were several moments in the Lonely Mountain where the keying looks more like bad Photoshop compositing rather than the work of a multi-million dollar feature film (see the still image with Bilbo and Smaug).
The detail of the Orcs during the barrel river scene in ‘The Desolation of Smaug’ is of particular note, with sharpness and color that, given the daylight setting, looks incredibly realistic. What is also worth mentioning is the makeup and special effects artists that made the Orc leader Bolg look so believable. Pause the video to check out his grey, lifeless eyes!
The opening of ‘The Battle of the Five Armies’ is just pure carnage as Smaug destroys Lake Town in flame. Most of the footage is in darkness but HDR allows noticeably more detail than on Blu-ray or Digital HD. The scene has a couple of shots (like the keying of Bilbo and Smaug mentioned above) where you wish the gamma levels were more accurate on the subject matter to match with the underlaid background. For the most part though the entire opening to ‘The Battle of the Five Armies’ has amazing special effects that render beautifully in 4k/HDR.
Like The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, the soundtrack to The Hobbit Trilogy on 4k Ultra HD Blu-ray is provided in Dolby Atmos/TrueHD 7.1 that will downsample to 5.1 or 2.1-channel depending on the sound output. The 24-bit audio streamed at an average of 2.5 – 3.5 Mbps, available in English and French or Spanish (depending on version of film).
There are so many audio moments in this trilogy to speak of, but we’ll mention a few scenes that take advantage of object-based audio (with Atmos) and surround sound effects. In Bilbo’s home at the beginning of ‘An Unexpected Journey’ the dialogue bounces as if you are hearing his voice from a nearby room but with some echo that bounces the voices of Bilbo and Gandolf throughout the space.
One of the best audio moments The Hobbit Trilogy is in Golem’s cave where the sounds of dripping water surround you with spatial effects in Dolby Atmos/TrueHD 7.1 channel surround. These spatial effects were evident while wearing headphones as well as multiple speakers — although only when the volume is turned up loud (or your home theater completely silent) can you truly experience the effects of the cave space.
Bilbo’s first entry into the lair of Smaug in the Lonely Mountain showcases a wide dynamic range of frequencies and object placement in Atmos and surround effects. The sound of gold coins, Smaug’s voice, and the echoes of the dwarven kingdom engulfed in flames are great sources of multi-channel and object-based audio.
There are no extas included with this trilogy, only the Theatrical and Extended versions of the three ‘Hobbit’ films. Warner Bros. is supposed to package both trilogies in a Middle Earth collection mid-2021, which should include new bonus material. For now, you’ll have to refer back to previous editions of The Hobbit Trilogy on Blu-ray for extra content.
For some reason, ‘The Desolation of Smaug’ movie paused at 2:06:12 and I was not able to fast-forward, rewind, or advance to the next chapter unless ejected and resuming the disc. (We’ll be contacting Warner Bros. Entertainment about this issue and will follow up if we hear back.)
The Hobbit Trilogy: 4k Blu-ray Film Stills