So the rumors are true!
The extended edition of The Hobbit: AUJ is significantly better than the theatrical release. Many of the scenes cut, though often insignificant in length, are very important for making sense of the plot in both this film, and even The Desolation of Smaug. The new scenes are stitched into the fabric of the movie beautifully, seamlessly and almost imperceptibly. A keen eye, and memory, is often needed to spot them. This makes for a whole new film, vastly superior to the theatrical, and, in terms of editing and choice of material, better than the extended editions of The Lord of the Rings.
Often, at least for the first half of the film, I was left to wonder why the scenes were cut at all, given the heavy lifting they often did. Usually in very short lines or sequences, added here and there, they add a lot to streamline the plot and characterization. To streamline through increased length may seem counter-intuitive, but here it works. Often actions and even character traits/biases seem fairly abrupt, arbitrary and out-of-the-blue in the theatrical release; not so here. While the things that bugged me about An Unexpected Journey are still present, the film is actually tighter, more enjoyable and more cohesive in its longer form.
I may have missed many of the additions, but many struck a chord and were rather thought provoking.
One thing that surprised me initially was the rapid fire tweaks and changes made in the prologue. In the homage scene, where the Wood Elves come to Erebor, they aren’t coming so much for that as for the white gems Thranduil mentions in DoS. Here, the brief allusion to the tale of the Nauglamir described at the end of ‘Flies and Spiders’, is updated to the present time, neatly side-stepping movie rights issues. In the ancient tale the treasure was largely owned by the elves, with the dwarves providing labor. The Nauglamir is also tied up in the Silmaril retrieved by Beren and Luthien. Thingol does not pay the dwarves, and imprisons them. In revenge, the dwarves invade Doriath and end up killing Thingol, which leads to the downfall of the kingdom. Obviously, Peter Jackson and Co. could not have used this information, and would have probably left most confused if they had. In the end, though a bit petty in scale, this scene worked marvelously well to establish the enmity between the wood elves and the dwarves. The subsequent abandonment at the fall of Erebor makes more sense, as does Thorin’s hatred of all elves, and Thranduils rather sudden ransom request of white gems in DoS.
After the prologue proper, which deals with Thorin and the fall of Erebor, there is a short scene at a celebration of the Old Took, where a child-Bilbo playfully attacks Gandalf with a toy sword. It is a brief scene, which yet again does a lot of work. The later scene in which Gandalf questions where the adventurous young hobbit he once knew went is clearer. It also adds wonderful new meaning to the prologue of The Desolation of Smaug, where it is evident Gandalf has a burglar in mind.
After the ‘Good Morning’ sequence, Bilbo goes to market to buy his fish for dinner. It is a great scene to see a bit more of Hobbiton, but also shows a couple things about Bilbo’s character. The way the scene is shot demonstrates the two minds of Mr. Baggins. First, there is a love or nostalgia for the Shire and a fear of being forced to leave its comfortable embrace. Secondly, there is also a sense of annoyance or boredom with the simple and mundane pleasures of hobbit life. The first is rather obvious, but at least initially, the second blooming of ‘wander-lust’ is there in the clever editing and facial acting of Martin Freeman.
Upon entering the hidden valley, Bilbo stops, and Gandalf claims he has felt the magic of Rivendel. I don’t quite like it put that way, but I found the moment intriguing. This moment is an interesting sideways reference to Vilya, Elrond’s ring. The scene is akin to the entry of Lothlorien, which makes perfect sense, as both are preserved by the power of one of the three elvish rings.
In Rivendel, there are many additional scenes, which were a mixed bag of cheap laughs, great characterization and clarified plot progression. A lot has been added to the feast at the beginning of their stay. First, Kili admires and comments on the elfmaids, noticing one attractive one, who happens to be male. It is good for a cheap laugh, but does foreshadow Kili and Tauriel’s relationship in DoS. The dinner continues with a dwarvish song and food fight. I found this completely distasteful. Yes, the dwarves are not as cultured as elves, but they are still rather stiff and proper (at least in the books). The song was somewhat of a treat, however, in that it is a reworking of Frodo’s song from the Inn of the Prancing Pony.
As Bilbo wanders around Rivendel, scenes have been reinserted which express the comfort, joy and peace he finds there. In a brief, but inexplicable, addition at the broken sword, he fixates on the Ring in Sauron’s hand. It’s interesting, but puzzling, as he would have no knowledge of it, or any ring really, at this point to know it is of any importance. Bilbo later has a conversation with Elrond, which rather beautifully portrays the friendship which would bloom between the two, Bilbo’s homesickness, and his reluctant participation in the quest.
With the dwarves bathing (which accounts for the brief nudity), we are treated to the further de-culturization of the dwarves. Thankfully, it is brief and leads directly into further great new material.
Bilbo and Thorin overhear the beginning of an extended version of the discussion between Gandalf and Elrond. This simple addition gives reason for the company’s sudden departure, which in the theatrical edition seemed rather abrupt and convenient. Here, it is seen more as a reaction to this conversation and the threat of being held back from their quest.
The White Council has also been expanded with discussion of the Rings of Power. In particular, the fate of the Seven is discussed, as well as the fate of the One. Here, we see Saruman’s emphatic assertion that it is lost forever. His recalcitrance in the entire conversation reads better with this scene, as it further indicates his own corruption. For those in the know, it may indicate Saruman’s own search is begun; it’s a tantalizing tidbit, which makes the entire Council segment feel more authentic, even with the buried witch king bit.
Upon entering the Goblin’s front gate, the dwarves check the caves. This simple gesture both foreshadows the abduction to come as well as grants a false sense of security (both for the dwarves, and the non-reading viewer).
I am unclear on how the theatrical version was cut, but it seems Bilbo here is much more visible to the goblins. He holds still, ducks down, and they pass him by. Is this to be further proof of the sneaking ability of hobbits? It felt pretty silly and implausible to me.
Though it felt largely out of place, the Goblin-King is given the goblin’s song to sing. It had me grinning ear to ear. It was delightfully humorous, while still carrying an undertone of (incompetent) menace. The entire character of this scene of the dwarves’ capture and interview is completely different. I loved it. The problem is, as stated earlier, it does not mesh as well as the other expanded scenes. Even so, here we get a sense for the difference between goblins and orcs. Goblins are described as crafty and more likely to enslave than kill. In this sense, they are not as large a threat and the silliness suits them. I do have to admit, I both winced and laughed uproariously at the “Second Age, couldn’t give it away” line, in reference to items stolen by the dwarves from Rivendel (which fact I did not like, other than it yielded this gem of humor).
In general, the bulk of the reinserted scenes are added to the prologue, Rivendel and Goblin-town. Some are throw-aways, adding cheap humor or further action, but the majority is extremely good. Barring the Goblin-king’s song (and even that segues rather well), they are seamless and beautifully integrated. Though it makes for a long movie, this is the film as it should have been. I still have significant problems with it, but some are mitigated by this edition. Forget the theatrical release. If and when I watch The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, this will be the edition I watch.