The expanded vision of the second installment bolsters Middle-earth’s richness and reinstates Peter Jackson’s masterful filmmaking that spans a 6-film saga.
But whilst the first Extended Edition release (with a total of 13 minutes of extra footage) felt more like a financial (as well as traditional) move for fans (though I find the Hobbiton sequences the most appropriate), The Desolation of Smaug’s 25 minutes of new scenes marks a massive improvement in the scope of the two Extended Editions.
I can here formally extend my gratitude to Peter Jackson for re-recognizing the meaning of an Extended Edition – following the success of the format with The Lord of the Rings trilogy.
No matter whether it’s a new 5-minute scene or a 30-second extension to a previously known sequence, Peter Jackson’s cinematic Middle-earth just keeps on expanding and gratifying us eager fans, who want to continue exploring the characters and the world itself.
The 3 highly-anticipated sequences prior to its release (for the record: Beorn, Mirkwood and Dol Guldur) make a triumphant addition that reassert the pacing and evolving story of this middle chapter.
We get a better look at the shape-shifting character, as well as his lodgings in the idyllic and aptly-named New Zealand locality of Paradise.
Beorn comes across as an even more imposing figure (as a man), chopping wood with dexterity and impact that makes even your TV set tremble!
The relationship between Beorn and Gandalf is further established and reference made to the wizard’s continuing exploration into the Dol Guldur subplot.
Flies and Spiders
This was yet again another scene that desperately needed the “extended” treatment for the theatrical cut. In having to show your characters plodding aimlessly through the claustrophobic and labyrinth-like forest, you need some time (even a few minutes) to establish and strengthen that atmosphere and sense of disorientation.
Fans of the book will also be delighted with the inclusion of the Enchanted river crossing, Bombur’s untimely repose and the beautiful white stag encounter. And all the while, Peter Jackson reaffirms his top-notch filmmaking skills in making the audience as equally bewildered as the characters. These added minutes are crucial to further portray this sub-world within Middle-earth and the madness that starts to creep over our protagonists.
A Warm Welcome
I’ve probably already stated this, but I’ve been in love with Lake-town ever since I saw glimpses of it in the trailer and several magazine articles. I was sure I would be amazed by its victorianesque, decrepit-looking shabbiness. Come December 2013, those expectations were confirmed and trebled.
Now, with this Extended Edition, we are treated to further exposition into the daily life of the inhabitants of Lake-town. No matter how little or insignificant the addition is, it helps to expand and give further breadth to Middle-earth.
At the same time, we get more screen-time with Stephen Fry’s Master – the golden nugget of this Extended Edition.
Thráin in Dol Guldur (Battle of Azanulbizar flashback)
Making its debut appearance in the first teaser trailer of An Unexpected Journey almost 3 years ago, it has finally made its way into the Middle-earth saga.
Peter Jackson has had to do some rather tricky re-editing in order to untangle the theatrical cut and add the sudden introduction of Thráin’s character. Needless to say, it is done skilfully and without any disruptions to the sub-plot. It fits seamlessly within the whole narrative and can now be recognized as being THE appropriate version of the Dol Guldur story-line.
One thing that helps me to say that is its particular brilliance.
Having been presented with hints and fragile narrative threads on the whereabouts of Thorin’s father, the Thráin-disappearance story arc comes full circle in this dynamic, fast-paced and thrilling sequence (even at the expense of Gandalf being knocked about rather harshly).
The encounter with the maddened dwarf king is supplemented by a flashback to the Battle of Moria, explaining the whats and whys established during An Unexpected Journey.
Yet again, apart from the enhancements to the story, we get to see further nooks and crannies of the Necromancer’s ruined fortress: complete with darkened alleys, sinister archways and an overall sense of being watched – aided once again by Jackson’s artistic skill at creating spine-tingling moments.
His experience in the horror genre reflects strongly in the execution of this scene.
It is a Dol Guldur that becomes more visually alluring, twisted and repulsive (in a good way) – something which unfortunately remained largely absent in the first two theatrical installments.
No doubt we’ll be seeing more of the Necromancer’s abode in the final installment, but this is the perfect lead-up to the events that will follow.
Adding up the remaining minutes
So far, I have only watched the Extended Edition once (future viewings are most definitely planned) and I didn’t hold a stopwatch in hand to keep a record of the total amount of new footage. Suffice to say, apart from the aforementioned sequences, the 25-minute mark is also strengthened by a few extra shots scattered around the first half of the film.
Unless you’ve ingrained all the scenes from The Desolation of Smaug in your head (which I discovered I have, after viewing the extended edition), you’ll notice a few extra lines of dialogue here, or a character’s lengthened stare there. In general, it’s no major defining contribution to the film: however, it’s nice to see fresh angles to a particular scene, which further expand our perspectives on what’s going on at that point in the story.
I was particularly looking forward to seeing a glimpse of the Dwarves travelling through the ruins of Dale. We know it was filmed (several promotional images and production videos have repeatedly shown the Company filming on set).
However, unlike the presence of Thráin in Dol Guldur and an extended look at Beorn, it was never reported as being included with the rest.
Speculations remained just that. Speculations.
Special Features … special in every sense of the way
One thing that has remained almost virtually unaltered since The Fellowship of the Ring’s extended edition was released in 2002, is the sheer amount of production videos and behind the scenes materials we get with the bundle.
Following on the same trail as An Unexpected Journey, fans will lose themselves among the numerous cast and crew interviews: including a detailed look at making of every scene in the second film, spread over two discs. Furthermore, Disc 5 contains extra features relating to Shore’s music and the creation of Smaug.
Be prepared to assume a likeness to the old worm as you gloat over this hoard of riches.
The only problem with these features is that you get to witness a large amount of shots which never made it into the final cut (neither theatrical nor extended edition).
A real shame … but do I smell an Ultimate Edition brewing?
Time will tell …
(Copyright of images belongs to Warner Bros. and MGM Studios)