Middle-earth’s middle-part gets more…
Such is the level of detail lavished on the extras of this extended edition of Peter Jackson’s latest Middle-earth adventure that there’s a 25-minute feature devoted entirely to the development of Beorn, the fearsome bear-man. The feature documents careful research undertaken by the team at WETA , intimate knowledge of the text and its influences, a comprehensive design process, and dozens of considered decisions all leading to the character’s final form. And then… that final form misses the mark anyway, all good intentions and Rod-Stewart-in-the-woods regret.
There’s a point here somewhere – that even a very talented group of people, making intelligent decisions, can still make imperfect things. Beorn’s bear mullet and Lemmy mutton-chops are a microcosm of The Desolation Of Smaug as a whole, a film which, the bonus material makes clear, was the site of the stretching and wrangled invention made necessary when Jackson’s originally planned two films became three.
Somehow watching behind-the-scenes footage of the crew confronting the problem of what to put in this empty mid-trilogy space crystalises the film’s lack of urgency, its episodic progression, its emptily impressive action sequences. It underlines the niggle we all felt watching An Unexpected Journey: The Hobbit might be a comprehensive telling – and then some – but The Lord Of The Rings was a more elegant, disciplined adaptation.
The knock-on effect for this edition specifically is one of surplus value. Generally the extras here are of the same high quality usually provided by Jackson’s Tolkien double-dips, enormously detailed and extraordinarily long (the footage of making the film is over twice as long as the film itself). With the TLOTR trilogy these editions became a way of submerging ourselves in the world for a little longer, sinking into the production and absorbing everything we could. The Hobbit might not have the quality of the original films, but there’s still that magic, that sense of indulgence (and, somehow, Christmas) about this set.
And yet, the extra minutes included here – 25 of them – don’t feel as valuable as the added running time of Jackson’s old films. This isn’t necessarily down to the specifics of the scenes included (lots of slapstick dwarf stuff that won’t be missed, but also a major character lore-lovers will enjoy a glimpse of) so much as the capacity of the film itself to include any more stuff. The Lord Of The Rings felt like an epic condensed into and barely contained by three films, and the chance to see more, the material they just didn’t have room for, felt like a treat. The Hobbit feels like – is – a slighter story, stretched, and stretching it further only makes this more obvious.
- New/extended scenes