This is a great edit of a not-great trilogy of films, into one watchable movie. LOTR -- the extended editions especially! -- did an amazing, still unmatched, job of treating a fantasy setting properly. It was a rare occasion where a fantasy setting and its narrative was taken seriously, rather than developed into a cheesy barbarian body-builder festival, or a kiddie movie, or a low-budget-crappy-costumes mess, or into an ensemble of the latest Hollywood blockbuster tropes in a pre-modern setting. There are very few exceptions to this pattern: "Hellboy II," Conan the Barbarian" (1982), "Dark Crystal" all stand out. Don't get me wrong: I'm no art-film buff, or culture snob; I am proud to have "Yor the Hunter" on BD, and similar fare, and an extensive collections of schlock and cheese, including fantasy, and love "Labyrinth" and its ilk. But LOTR was something different, a breath of fresh air: incredible scenery and effects and cinematography, an amazing (yes, I know, not 100% fidelity) to the book (including cleaving close to its prose, without F-bombs, American slang and the rest, right-on "ba ba green sheep" rewrites etc.), great casting and music, and lots of detail. Imagine, if you will, a parallel Earth, where we got Tom Cruise as Aragorn, Danny De Vito as Smeagol, Johhny Depp as Elrond, a Danny Elfman soundtrack, lots of product placement, a few extra characters to meet the mood of the times, like a hobbit action-hero, perhaps a scientist/ hacker/ super-wizard, ideally a pretty but disaffected young woman in a tight leather bodice, and loads of slapstick etc. Then we can think what horrors might have been.
Now: "The Hobbit" trilogy. A big step backward for the genre, and not a very good set of films in any sense. It retained the amazing sets and designs of LOTR, but was something far less in every respect. LOTR showed grim,noble dwarf kings and a stoic Gimli; in this one we got badly-dressed dwarfish buffoons and cliches. What is with those ridiculous hair- and beard-styles? Look: Bombur is fat, and his chair broke, oh the hilarity! Thorin, who looks completely out of place -- perhaps the result of an ill-advised studio decision to create a dwarf hottie? -- but he looks more like Jason Momoa's Aquaman than anything dwarfish in this trilogy or LOTR, or pretty much any high fantasy setting, ever. LOTR had awe-inspiring monsters from legend; in this one we got great spiders and a great dragon, sure, but we also got trolls who eat snot, a goblin king with a plummy English accent and wargs. Lots of wargs. Wargs who can now climb trees. LOTR cleaved to the source material; in this one dwarfs are oafs who makes fires on the floors of Rivendell, using elven furniture, and who cannot drink from a mug without wetting their beards and cheeks, plus two dwarfs who are not-very-funny recycled versions of Merry and Pippin; we suddenly have Tom Bomabil as a sort of hairy grimdark Wolverine-analogue, last survivor of a persecuted, enslaved race etc.; oh dear, there is a cringey dwarf/ elf romance as well. LOTR had a sense of urgency and peril and world-spanning, epochal change; in this one we got padding, bloat, and CGI, as the director did his best to push a 150 page book into a 12 hour movie marathon. Scenes from LOTR were recycled as well: brave adventurers fleeing within a goblin mountain; eagles summoned by a moth coming in at the last moment; wargs ridden by orcs attacking on the hills etc. The "Hobbit" keeps dragging on, and on, and on, and on. Oh my goodness, does it drag. The heroic efforts of Martin Freeman's Bilbo Baggins were not enough, alas, to salvage this Hollywood mess.
So the editors at Maple Films certainly had their work cut out. This edit is, I think, the best possible salvage operation and I must express my amazement at the job done here -- and in the standalone spin-off "Durin's Folk and the Hill of Sorcery" which you MUST see.
The worst of the slapstick is gone, the worst cringe is removed, and the bloat is reduced greatly. The story is tighter, with the removal of lots of padding, byways and cul-de-sacs. The endless, belaboured flagging of what will happen in LOTR is less in evidence. Of course, we can all think of our personal preferences for what should stay or go (maybe the dwarfs wrecking Rivendell, the whole Azog storyline?) but building a watchable film that retains the best parts of a "Hobbit" trilogy that should have been one movie from the start, is an impressive achievement by any standards.
With so much stuff gone, it's a really amazing accomplishment to retain a clear and interesting narrative. Bilbo is now central, as is his struggle within. There is some incredible scenery, camera work, special effects and choreography, which emerges from the murk thanks to smart editing, and to wonderful effect.
There is a lot work and care here, and it shows. We cannot expect any editor/s to work miracles, and even with the best will in the world, the "Hobbit"/s will never be a good film. But it can, as we see here, become something worth a watch, and maybe even two! I cannot honestly give a super-high rating for enjoyment or even narrative, but that is not the fault of the editor/s who could only work with what existed: a deeply flawed product in the worst traditions of the Hollywood blockbuster/ cash-grab.
Well done Maple Films! No one can expect more of anyone than we have here!
A clean cut, no-nonsense edit that stays focused on Bilbo's adventure. So many good edits, largely consistent with what others have done but also some new changes. I loved the extensive Rivendell material left in - it's an important part of the journey for Bilbo, the imagery is fantastic, and there are excellent scenes with Elrond. I don't mind staying there a while! The Goblin Town and Gollum scenes were also spot on, I was really rolling with the edit here. The focus on the wargs during the frying pan sequence was good, but that white orc is just awful. The goal should be to make him non-existent as possible until the final battle.
I would have enjoyed hanging with Beorn a little longer. It definitely felt choppy and odd, like a cliff notes of what the full scenes are. Some really good editing between the Wood Elves and Lake Town, again mostly consistent with what other editors have done. But small things I have not seen, like cutting Bard bringing them the crappy weapons first - instead he says he has it worked out and then they are sneaking into the armory (easily assumed Bard told them where it is and how they might get in). Unfortunately too much Alfrid JarJar Binks.
Then it happened, after they reached Erebor and found the door things went awry. Why the dwarf vs dragon scenes??? I couldn't believe that much of the silly chase was left in, which serves only to make Smaug look much less the greatest of calamities, more like the greatest of comedies. Also there were odd clips like the forges starting for no apparent reason. Then the finale was the dragon coming out of Erebor mysteriously completely covered in gold. I have to say the dragon part of the edit is by far the weakest, and highly recommend it be reworked.
In summary, a really nice effort at a 3 in 1 of the Hobbit. It works in so many ways but still comes up short of the ideal edit of this franchise in my opinion. I would recommend it because of how well the second half of the movie works and flows to the end. It is also a great example of how all the external storylines can be removed and not really missed.
Audio/Video Quality: 8
The 1920x800 MP4 looks surprisingly good given the small filesize and over 4-hour length. The re-grading for the most part looks quite good, not perfect but very much an improvement. However, the de-saturation is taken a little too far overall for my tastes and in a few rare spots verges on monochrome. There is at least one spot where the grade has gone wrong. During the spider sequence a scene goes very grey, then green, then very grey again. I assume the grey was the intended look and a few shots just got forgotten about?
Visual Editing: 7
The technical visual editing was seamless for the majority of the edits (which are numerous) but there are a few spots that let the edit down. The best part is the barrel-ride. I've seen a lot of Hobbit edits and even played around with editing that scene myself and this is by far the best I've seen it handled. Another strong moment was the inspired inter-cutting of Fili and Kili's deaths, although it was right somehow in a few shots. While I'm generally of the opinion that I like these films long, the big removals of many added sub-plots was a really welcome change of pace.
The worst part is probably the removal of the were-worms. After all the other smooth edits in the preceding 3.5-hours, relatively speaking, this felt like a car crash. I'm sure it could have been handled better. The editing of the frying-pan scene was technically well handled but felt all wrong and a bit laughable when the terrifying and might "Pale Orc" is defeated by pine cones. It worked in the book (Without Azog), but this is not the book. Legolas' arrival felt quite abrupt, due to what I suspect was an over keenness to trim his non-canonical scenes down. As others have noted, the gold scene is removed but the gold covered Dragon is not. Some attempt should a have been made to fix this. A fanedit shouldn't rely on the audience to think "Ohhhh it's okay, it's only a fanedit. I'll pretend I didn't see that".
I was slightly disappointed with the "intermission" because if I wanted one unbroken 4-hour movie, it didn't give me that and if I wanted to experience the originally intended two-film structure, it didn't do that either. So close though. Hopefully someone will pull the latter off one day.
Audio Editing: 9
This was mostly seamless and impressive with only a few rare awkward music changes across the whole 4-hours.
First off, I was left unsure what the editing strategy was with this fanedit. At first you think, well this a "book cut" because it still includes truly dreadful (but canonical) early scenes like the plates song but then it later removes great material from the book like most of Beorn's scenes. Another example is with the controversial Alfrid character. He's trimmed down heavily but then reappears for no good reason (He was easily removable) right after we the audience could reasonably have assumed he was dead... then he is never seen again?
I personally think it's of paramount importance with a fanedit, that it works like a real movie, in it's own right. Sadly this edit doesn't do that in a lot of places. Characters just walk in to shot with no introduction and start saying things like everyone knows who they are. Events happen without explanation. Characters disappear for no reason. Vital exposition is missing. Legolas turns up at the battle but takes no part in it. Mighty Eleven blades that certain characters do not possess anymore... magically appear in their hands again at the end of the movie. The ultimate compliment to pay a "Fanfix" is "This REPLACES the original movie for me" but you cannot say this here, as you NEED to see the original to understand what is going on far too often.
It's a shame because the general pattern of removals is very good. With just a little more care taken over a few lines and character points, these problems could have been avoided. Or more probably, just a little less should have been removed, so coherence was maintained. Maybe the goal of hitting the 4-hour mark, meant things were removed that should have been left in for a still trim, but smooth 4.5/5-hour version?
Also just because a slim and whimsical children's book has a major character completely disappear for most of the running time, doesn't mean a movie can get away with it. You'd never release this version into cinemas and expect audiences to be okay with Gandalf's absence never being explained. Plus one of the two best things about the Hobbit is Sir Ian's Gandalf, so removing at least half of his scenes is not an improvement, to narrative, or enjoyment.
I didn't love the first half as I've seen it handled much better in other edits but the handling of the second-half felt very different and unique. It didn't always work 100% but it was well worth the watch to see the material slashed so heavily and still sorta work. Lastly, if you are wanting a very Bilbo-centric edit, then this achieves that very well.
I've seen a number of Hobbit fan edits since An Unexpected Journey was first released, and this is by far one of the best. Dustin Lee (as he credits himself in the edit) has done an excellent job condensing the trilogy down into a single film just a bit longer than the extended version of Return of the King. Though I did watch it over two nights, the edit really flies by. The large sections that were cut, such as the Dol Goldur subplot, the White Council, some of the battle at the end, were done so seamlessly. I know lots of other trims were also done, and while I did notice a few things missing, there was probably much and more I didn't notice.
The audio was great, though there were a handful of audio transitions where the music faded out a bit suddenly into silence, but those were soon forgotten. There were no visual glitches or stray frames, though as daxtreme pointed out, Bilbo slipping off the cliffs before they get captured by the goblins was kind of odd. Lee did a good job on the recoloring of Smaug leaving the mountain and spinning off the gold. You really need this shot, and it's not hard to imagine that after spending years laying on a pile of gold that he'd have a bunch in his scales.
There were a few narrative issues. I wasn't a huge fan of how Azog was handled. We get that he's hunting the dwarf party and that there's some bad blood there, but it's never really explored. Because of that, the final fight betweem Azog and Thorin doesn't have much weight (but good job cutting Thorin getting stabbed through the foot!) It also wouldn't have hurt to show Legolas returning Orcrist to Thorin (Spence did it wonderfully) to show the growing unity between the dwarves and elves and explain how Thorin got his old sword back. I understand wanting to create a version more like the book, but as with any adaptation, concessions must be made.
Video quality was great, but given that the edit made use of two BD-50 discs (25.5 GB and 36.5 respectively) a little more space could have been used for the video. The quality was great, but it could have been excellent. The video quality on the menus suffered a bit, but again, this could have been taken care of by using more of the available space. If you're going to utilize the BD-50 format, why not take more advantage of it?
Overall, I enjoyed this edit, but I'm torn between this and Spence's version being my preferred version. If you're a purist and want something close to the novel, watch this version. If you didn't mind things like the Dol Goldur subplot, Spence's version is still great too.