The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.40:1 on this 4K UHD Disc. Expect terrific visuals from this Dolby Vision presentation.
No issues with sharpness materialized. The movie always appeared concise and accurate, without any hints of softness on display.
I saw no signs of shimmering or jagged edges, and edge haloes failed to mar the presentation. Print flaws never appeared in this clean image.
Like all of Peter Jackson’s other Tolkien films, Desolation opted for heavily stylized colors, with an emphasis on teal and orange. This one tended toward a more desaturated look, largely to fit the somber circumstances in which the characters find themselves.
Within the movie’s choices, the hues were full and well-developed, and the colors showed good pop when necessary. Expect the disc’s HDR to give the tones added zest and dimensionality.
Blacks looked dark and tight, and low-light shots demonstrated nice smoothness and clarity. HDR meant strong contrast and whites. Everything here looked virtually flawless.
Note that Peter Jackson shot the Hobbit flicks at 48 frames per second rather than the standard 24 fps. While 4K supports high frames rates – as indicated by releases like the 60 fps Gemini Man - apparently the format can’t handle 48 fps, so the 4K version of the movie runs at the usual 24 fps.
I also felt happy with the dynamic Dolby Atmos soundtrack of Desolation. Downconverted to Dolby TrueHD 7.1,, the mix boasted plenty of chances to bring the various channels to life, and it did so well.
Various battle elements moved around the room in a satisfying manner, and these created an excellent sense of place and life. The climactic dragon-related sequences fared best of all, as they filled the spectrum with lively material, but the whole movie came packed with vivid audio.
Quality soared as well. Speech remained natural and concise, without edginess or other issues. Music sounded vivid and full, and effects followed suit.
Those elements always appeared accurate and dynamic, with clean highs and deep, tight lows. The soundtrack fit the movie well and added to the action in a compelling manner.
How did the 4K UHD compare to the prior Blu-rays? The Atmos audio offered a bit more range and impact compared to the already fantastic DTS-HD MA 7.1 track on the Blu-rays.
While the Blu-rays also offered exemplary visuals, the 4K UHD topped them. From this Dolby Vision rendition, we found superior delineation, colors, contrast and blacks. As great as the BDs were, the 4K turned into demo reel material.
In terms of visual comparisons, a potential complication comes via the fact both the theatrical version and the Extended Cut also exist as 3D Blu-rays. Not only did Jackson shoot the flicks at 48 fps, but he also made them native 3D productions.
Because I enjoy the ability to watch 3D Blu-rays, it becomes a tough choice between the 3D Desolation and this 4K version. On one hand, the 4K clearly offers superior visuals.
As noted, the 4K beats the 2D version in terms of picture quality. While the 3D BD also looked great, it marked a minor degradation in visuals compared to the 2D BD, so it obviously presents weaker visuals than this 4K.
On the other hand, I do like the 3D presentation of Desolation. Though it never becomes the most ambitious stereo image, Jackson uses the format well and the 3D adds a nice layer of depth and involvement.
So in the future, which will I watch? Cop out this may become, but I don’t know. If I eventually get an Atmos set-up, I’ll go 4K, but until then, it feels like a tossup between the 3D and the 4K.
Take that as a win-win, though, as both work awfully well. You can’t go wrong with either.
Unlike the prior home video versions of Desolation I reviewed, this 4K UHD package includes zero extras. That situation will become rectified in summer 2021, when a deluxe package will emerge.
Not only will that set include all the missing bonus materials, but also it will encompass the whole Tolkien saga, so it’ll match the Hobbit trilogy with the Lord of the Rings flicks in one big six-movie set. It also promises some new extras in addition to the eight million hours of content already released.
That leaves this version of Armies devoid of extras. This package also lacks a Blu-ray copy of the film, so we get just the 4K discs.
As the second chapter in a trilogy, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug does fairly well for itself. Though the tale can drag and feel padded at times, it still packs enough adventure and drama to make it an enjoyable experience. The 4K UHD offers impeccable picture and audio but it includes zero bonus materials.
That latter factor may prompt some fans to want to wait for the 2021 release of the Hobbit trilogy mentioned earlier, as it’ll contain copious supplements. If you only care about the movies themselves – and perhaps already feel sated with the massive collection of features on the prior DVDs and Blu-rays – then this movie-only set may seem sufficient.
Note that as of December 2020, you can only purchase this 4K UHD version of Desolation as part of a “The Hobbit Motion Picture Trilogy” package. This includes all three movies – both theatrical and extended editions - for a retail price of 89.98.
To rate this film, visit the Blu-Ray review of THE HOBBIT: THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG