Given that the release date for The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies is now less than a month away, I thought I would take a few moments to review the Extended Edition for The Desolation of Smaug, which I finally had the pleasure of watching the other day. While I have not had time to go through all of the extras (and thus will not review them here), I did have time to watch the entirety of the film with the added footage, and I have to say that these are 25 minutes that are well worth watching. They not only help to expand on some of the more vague moments of the theatrical edition, but also help set the stage for the release of The Battle of the Five Armies.
To begin with, they help to clarify the motivation and development of several key characters, most notably Beorn. The great skin-changer got a bit of short-shrift in the theatrical edition, and the extended edition features some crucial new scenes with him, including the gradual introduction of the Dwarves. Though Beorn remains as aloof and inscrutable as always, his new scenes do allow for a least a measure of levity in what a film that characterized by a significant degree of encroaching darkness. Though he is still on screen for a fraction of the film, this Beorn is someone we can genuinely like, even if we are also aware of just how dangerous he can, even to those who are his allies.
There were also several new scenes that flesh out the Master of Laketown, easily one of the film’s most gloriously campy (yet sinister!) villains. Stephen Fry is, as always, deliciously slimy and evil, but these new scenes also help us realize that he may not be as in charge of his fortunes and his desires as he would like everyone to think. Alfred, like many other characters of Tolkien’s universe (including his most obvious parallel, Grima Wormtongue), is incredibly skilled at both flattery and manipulation, allowing the Master to think that he is the one with all of the ideas, when in fact it is Alfred that is (ever so subtly) pulling the strings. All of this neatly sets the stage for what will no doubt be a cathartic moment when the Master and Alfred get their well-deserved comeuppances (there is also a viscerally disgusting scene involving the messy eating of bollocks, but I won’t go into that here).
Most notable, however, was the addition of Thrain to the Gandalf in Dol Guldur sequence. Maddened by his long imprisonment, this is a Thrain that is a mere demented shadow of his former self, though Gandalf does help to restore some measure of his sanity. Of course, we in the audience (especially those of us who have read the novels), know that the venerable Dwarf will never escape Dol Guldur, a bit of knowledge that proves all too true as he is snatched from Gandalf’s side by the increasingly powerful Necromancer. His pleading with Gandalf to tell Thorin that he loves him pulls at the heart-strings, even as the revelation that his Ring of Power was taken from him reveals what is at stake in his imprisonment. (It is important to remember that though we know that Sauron is seeking the One Ring and its fellows, Gandalf does not, presumably, realize this yet).
There are many more additional bits of footage that largely serve to flesh out the narrative. The scene in Mirkwood with the crossing of the stream (and the white stag!) are included here, which enhance the feeling that this is a wood shrouded with the darkest and most sinister of enchantments. I remember feeling that this sequence was a bit muddled and rushed in the theatrical cut, but those issues have largely been addressed by this new footage. There are, of course, numerous other scenes that are lengthened by minutes (and sometimes seconds) and, while these do not pack the punch of their longer brethren, they do nevertheless give a sense of fullness and roundness to the production that was notably lacking in the theater.
In short, the addition of these pivotal scenes renders this into the film that it should have been. Crucial gaps in narrative logic and character development were filled quite nicely, leaving us with a more complete sense of what Jackson was trying to accomplish with this second volume of The Hobbit trilogy. Like the extended editions of LoTR, these new editions of The Hobbit should, in my opinion, be considered the definitive version of these texts, a more fully-developed and well-articulated version of the story that Jackson is trying to tell. If you take my advice, you’ll definitely watch the extended edition of Desolation of Smaug before heading to see The Battle of the Five Armies.