Because Peter Jackson's two Middle Earth trilogies are such iconic films and a long-desired addition to 4K UHD Blu-ray, we are going to be reviewing each film on their own. With new 4K Dolby Vision HDR transfers and new Dolby Atmos audio tracks, each film will be graded accordingly. This overall review of the set will serve as an average of the three regarding the films themselves, their video transfers, and audio mixes.
"With the same CG spectacle and visual eye candy as seen in The Lords of the Rings trilogy, director Peter Jackson returns to Middle-earth with the bloated idea of stretching a tale that Tolkien told in a single book into a three-part trilogy. Granted, the end result is at times a wondrous and somewhat exhilarating adventure, but it is also unnecessary to incorporate material from the original trilogy or expand otherwise minor characters into significant contributors in a plot that hammers itself into an unrelated storyline. For all its minor, and arguably forgivable, imperfections, however, the first in the trilogy remains an entertaining fantasy and decent start to the adventure."
"Picking up soon after the events of An Unexpected Journey, the next chapter in the epic-fantasy trilogy based on one book is an unexpected improvement over its predecessor, introducing a few new characters — as far as the original source is concerned — while still managing to stay faithful to Tolkien's vision. In this adventure, while in the guild of brave dwarves, Peter Jackson and his team appease the devoted fandom with the appearance of Beorn (Mikael Persbrandt), the shapeshifting giant who's only ever seen changing into a bear, imbuing an air of mystery and generating some well-earned sympathy. Of course, his purpose is simply to set Thorin and his company back on the right path to reclaim the Lonely Mountain from the fire-breathing dragon Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch)."
"In spite of the thrilling visuals on display, however, the clash between the dwarves, elves, humans and eagles against a terrifying horde of goblins and orcs doesn't quite measure up to the encounters seen in The Lord of the Rings trilogy. It's a shame really since the story picks up immediately where the second film left off with explosive action and mayhem as Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch) sets Laketown ablaze. The promise by this visually potent and energetic start soon subsides when it becomes clear that Gandalf (Ian McKellen) and Bilbo (Martin Freeman) are treated as side characters to the clash over who has a rightful claim to the share of the gold. Thorin's (Richard Armitage) gold-lust and Arkenstone obsession blinds him from peaceful negotiations with the Bard (Luke Evans) and Elvenking Thranduil (Lee Pace) while Azog and his Orc army fight for the mountain as a strategic stronghold."
Vital Disc Stats: The Ultra HD Blu-ray
Warner Bros. Home Video brings The Hobbit: The Motion Picture Trilogy to Ultra HD as a six-disc package with a Digital Copy code. When redeeming said code via wb.com/redeemmovie or MoviesAnywhere, users are granted access to the 4K digital version in Dolby Vision with Dolby Atmos audio. All six UHD100 discs, three of which contain the extended editions of each film, sit comfortably on either side of three center spindles. They are housed in a slightly thicker than normal black keepcase with a side-sliding slipcover. At startup, each disc goes directly to the standard menu screen with full-motion clips and the usual selection of options along the bottom while the iconic music plays in the background.
"The teal-orange aesthetic in Andrew Lesnie's cinematography benefits greatly and arguably, offers the more dramatic upgrade in this UHD edition. The Dolby Vision HDR presentation comes with a wider and fuller array of secondary hues throughout, from the striking mix of bubblegum pinks, royal violets and indigo blues of sunsets to the healthy, rosy-peach tones in the faces of the entire cast. Warmer, buttery yellows bathe several interiors scenes like the dinner at Bilbo's or at Rivendell, but other scenes are engulfed in the fiery orange and deep marigold glow of the fire. Gollum also has more of a silver coin tone to him, and the browns in the costumes are impressively varied while reds and greens are more vibrant and richly-saturated, making for a stunning upgrade overall. (Dolby Vision HDR Video Rating: 94/100)"
"The second adventure in the Hobbit series finds its way to Ultra HD with a remarkably stunning, demo-worthy HEVC H.265 encode that offers a massive upgrade over its Blu-ray brethren. Reportedly coming from a brand-new remaster of the original elements, the native 4K transfer is consistently detailed and razor-sharp, exposing the tiniest flaw and imperfection in the clothing, armor, buildings and various weapons. The individual hairs of the entire cast are shockingly even more discrete, and the stitching and fabric in the costumes are amazingly distinct and realistic while the intricate patterns in some outfits, such as in the elvish clothing and armor, are striking. We can better make out every nook and cranny in the stage production, from the small rust spots in the set of Laketown to the individual grain in the wood. (Dolby Vision HDR Video Rating: 96/100)"
"This 4K edition remains the king of the mountain thanks to the improved contrast and brightness balance, supplying the action and the many daylight exteriors a noticeably brighter and more energetic appeal. Whites really pop off the screen with vibrant luminosity, giving the hottest areas like the sunshine bouncing off the stone edges of Dale and the fluffy clouds in the sky an enthusiastic glow that's true to life. Specular highlights are top-notch and radiantly mesmerizing, equipping the armor and the edges of various weapons with a realistic metallic brilliance or the jewelry and eyes of the cast with a dramatic sparkle. A good chunk of the movie is also inundated in luxurious, inky-rich blacks that penetrate deep into the screen, providing the 2.40:1 image with an appreciable, three-dimensional cinematic quality. Velvety, stygian shadows remarkably never obscure the finer details in the darkest portions or in the blackest corners of Erebor's poor-lit halls. (Dolby Vision Video Rating: 94/100)"
"The first chapter in the trilogy arrives with an outstanding, reference-quality Dolby Atmos soundtrack that fills the room with a variety of subtle ambient effects playing almost non-stop throughout the film's entire runtime. The scenes with Radagast the Brown are particularly impressive as all sorts of wildlife are heard constantly making a racket from every direction. Expectedly, battle sequences come to life with arrows flying directly overhead, swords swinging clear across the room and the goblins swarming all around the listening area. Inside Gollum's cave, voices echo everywhere with remarkable realism, and panning is fluid and flawless, generating an immersive hemispheric soundfield that's pits viewers in the middle of the action. Also, Howard Shore's score fluidly bleeds into the surrounds and heights, enveloping the listener with the exhilaration and excitement demanded of the visuals. (Dolby Atmos Audio Rating: 98/100)"
"This UHD edition of the fantasy sequel chalks up another win with an impressive, highly-satisfying Dolby Atmos soundtrack that rivals and surpasses its DTS-HD predecessor.
As soon as the music and action begins, listeners can appreciate the improvement in the mid-range, exhibiting the smallest detail with superb, crystal-clear clarity. Whether it's Howard Shore's score or the many action sequences, acoustical details in the upper ranges display outstanding distinction and definition, allowing for each death yell of the Orcs and every clash of metal swords to be heard with amazing precision and directionality. The sizzle of Smaug's fiery breadth is discrete and accurate as it echoes throughout the room and into the top heights, creating an awesome half-dome soundstage. All the while, dialogue remains precise and very well-prioritized amid the loudest, chaotic segments.(Dolby Atmos Audio Rating: 96/100)"
"On the other hand, the constant use of sound effects throughout are the track's ultimate highlight, sure to sweep the audience away and drop them in the middle of this fantastical world. Imaging is layered with tons of background activity fluidly moving across the screen and into the top heights along with Shore's music, generating a highly-engaging, half-dome wall of sound that feels constant. A variety of subtle ambient effects expand into the surrounds and ceiling channels to create a stunningly immersive 360° soundfield. The scenes of war and mayhem provide are even more active with battle cries and howls effectively circling the listener while arrows, eagles and bats fly overhead with flawless panning, creating an awesomely satisfying hemispheric dome. In the end, the final chapter in the trilogy comes with a marvelous and highly-enjoyable mix. (Audio Rating: 96/100)"
Again - there are no bonus features in this set. A more elaborate multi-disc edition of the entire Middle-earth series from Peter Jackson is due sometime late summer 2021.
Although failing to reach the heights of the original Lord of the Rings trilogy, Peter Jackson's The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey makes for a decent and mildly enjoyable return to Middle-earth. Picking up soon after those events, The Desolation of Smaug improves upon its predecessor and continues the adventure with more satisfying effectiveness. Sadly, The Battle of the Five Armies concludes the needlessly overlong adaptation of Tolkien's prequel more with a whimper than as the exciting conclusion to the grandiose adventure it originally set out to be. The trilogy journeys the tough terrain of 4K Ultra HD with spectacularly beautiful and often stunning Dolby Vision HDR presentation and a reference-quality Dolby Atmos mix, delivering a splendidly satisfying and triumphant upgrade over their previous Blu-ray counterparts. Although lacking in special features, the UHD edition of all three films makes for an awesome addition to the 4K collection and a recommended purchase for those loyal fans too impatient for the eventual special edition.