Although not nearly as good as the original Lord of the Rings trilogy, Peter Jackson's The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey makes for a decent start to a larger trilogy that eventually provides a more satisfying piece of entertainment. The film journeys the tough terrain of 4K Ultra HD with spectacularly beautiful Dolby Vision video, a reference-quality Dolby Atmos track but lacking in special features. Nevertheless, the overall UHD package makes for a Recommended purchase while we wait for the eventual bonus-riddled special edition.
Read our review for The Desolation of Smaug 4K UHD Blu-ray
Although immersed in plenty of fantastical swashbuckling action and heroic sword-fighting, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is nonetheless a laborious and plodding expedition through a wealth of exposition with little progress or feeling of accomplishment, let alone satisfaction. 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.
For a more in-depth take on the film, check out our review of the 2013 Blu-ray edition.
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 long journey to the Lonely Mountain begins on Ultra HD pretty much as expected with an HEVC H.265 encode that delivers a phenomenal upgrade over its Blu-ray predecessors. Filmed entirely on a Red Epic camera system at a high frame rate of 48fps but later mastered to 2K digital intermediate at the customary 24fps, the upscaled transfer looks utterly fantastic and remarkable, boasting razor-sharp definition and clarity for a majority of the runtime. Every leaf in treetops, every blade of grass and every pebble on the road is distinct, and we can better make out every nook and cranny of various interior shots, giving fans more to appreciate in the stage production. The ultra-fine stitching in the costumes are incredibly well-defined, the individual hairs in the beards are extraordinarily distinct, and the faces of the entire cast are exceptionally revealing, exposing individual pores, tiny wrinkles and negligible blemishes with lifelike textures.
The only area of concern bringing the overall score down a couple notches is in some of the digital effects seeming a bit inconsistent here and there. Occasionally, the sharpest lines and edges tend to waver and shimmer ever so slightly, just enough to be noticeable and almost appear jagged. One such moment is when the Company accidentally encounters a team of Orcs by the Misty Mountains, and a few hairs of the wargs from a distance look a bit uneven. It happens again and most often in some of the roofs in Rivendell during extreme wide shots. Thankfully, these were the only instances I was able to detect and are likely due to these visuals being made and limited to lower resolution levels. Aside from that, the 2160p picture is stunning to behold and outstandingly sharp.
Ultimately, the 4K video is a win thanks to a dramatically improved contrast and brightness balance, displaying brilliantly crisp whites and granting better visibility of the tiniest objects in the background and of the picturesque photography of the New Zealand landscape. Superb specular highlights provide the edges of each sword, armor and jewelry a dazzling shine and realistic glimmer, allowing for better detailing within the brightest, hottest spots. Black levels are incredibly rich and inky with velvety, ebony shadows that penetrate deep into the screen, providing the 2.40:1 image with a lovely cinematic appeal and impressive gradational details within the darkest, blackest corners of the frame. Some of the best demo-worthy moments are the battle between the Stone Giants and when Gandalf argues with Thorin as they are about to enter Rivendell.
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 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.
The extra-breathing room also delivers a slightly more extensive and broader mid-range, exhibiting more realistic and better acoustical details in the action scenes. With superb, crystal-clear clarity, the sizzling pop and crackling of fire are perfectly audible while in Gollum's cave, the individual droplets of water are distinctly heard in the distance splashing on rocks. Even the loudest segments enjoy excellent precision and accuracy in the higher frequencies, supplying each roaring yell and clash of metal upon metal with extraordinary intelligibility that extends into the top heights to create a highly-engaging half-dome soundstage. With well-prioritized and precise vocals from beginning to end, a powerful, room-energizing low-end packs some wall-rattling oomph to every action sequence while also supplying Shore's thrilling score a great deal of depth and presence in the orchestration, making this a marvelous and highly-satisfying mix. (Dolby Atmos Audio Rating: 98/100)
This UHD edition of The Hobbit Trilogy is a standalone release without any of the previous bonus features ported over.
Although failing to reach the heights of the original Lord of the Rings trilogy, Peter Jackson's return to Middle-earth is nevertheless a mildly enjoyable fantasy adventure. Minor, negligible quips with the filmmakers bloating a single book into three films aside, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey makes for a decent start to a larger trilogy that eventually provides a more satisfying piece of entertainment. The film journeys the tough terrain of 4K Ultra HD with spectacularly beautiful and demo-worthy Dolby Vision HDR presentation and a reference-quality Dolby Atmos soundtrack, delivering a splendidly satisfying upgrade from previous editions. Although lacking in special features, the overall UHD package makes for a recommended purchase to hold devoted fans over until the next bonus-riddled edition releases.