It's hard to imagine a more textbook case of critical detachment than the reaction to director Peter Jackson's The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.
The film drew snorts from most critics, including this one, with many saying the film paled in comparison to Jackman's landmark Lord of the Rings trilogy. Middle-earth devotees ignored the sour notices, making The Hobbit a blockbuster all its own.
The film's Blu-ray release offers quieter pleasures, from the lack of the distracting 48-frames per second filmmaking seen in the theatrical version to a crush of fan-friendly extras.
The story itself still feels overwrought, a clumsy attempt to super-size author J.R.R. Tolkien's source material while letting LOTR regulars return for too many glorified cameos. Mild-mannered Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman, quietly effective) is convinced to embark on a quest to help the dwarves reclaim their empire from the dragon Smaug.
The Hobbit lacks the good versus evil conflict that powered Jackson's initial trilogy, but the special effects and attention to detail will distract conservatives from that ideological narrowing. The saga still takes forever to move forward, and the comical elements feel geared to younger viewers.
LOTR fans have endured a series of home video releases, each one with a growing assortment of extras. With The Hobbit, Jackson and co. repackage previously released video blogs that make up the bulk of the Blu-ray goodies here. The notable addition is a short ode to the natural beauty of New Zealand, where all of Jackson's Tolkien tales are shot. It's a tasteful travelogue highlighting just how lucky it was for Jackson and co. to settle on the country as their prime location.
“This is the Middle-earth I always imagined,” says Ian McKellan, back to play the sagely wizard Gandalf.
The 10 video blogs may seem familiar to hardcore fans, but they provide everyone else with a easily digested breakdown of location scouting, 3D technology and post-shoot Comic Con bows.
The 3D-centered video blog might make even those who hate those Buddy Holly glasses reconsider their positions, although marveling at the technology behind the film while watching this 2D presentation serves up a serious sense of disconnect.
"If I had the ability to shoot the Lord of the Rings in 3D I would have done it,” Jackson says.
Bullet dodged for many movie goers.
The Hobbit franchise still has two more installments to go, and we'll likely see another Journey video release (or two) at some point before the new franchise wraps. Critics will be watching, and waiting, to compare the sequels to Jackson's previous epic. Fans, eager for any and every scrap of Tolkien magic, will consume it all without remorse.