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Published: Thursday, 3/21/2013

‘Hobbit,’ ‘Zero Dark,’ ‘Les Mis’ among new releases

BY RICH HELDENFELS
AKRON BEACON JOURNAL
Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins in a scene from the fantasy adventure "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey." Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins in a scene from the fantasy adventure "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey."
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DVD and Blu-ray offerings were somewhat limited on Tuesday, with one big title moving its release to Friday.

One reason: Bilbo’s back.

Warner Home Video brought out The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey in a two-disc DVD set ($28.98), a Blu-ray/ DVD/digital combo ($35.99) and a combo adding the 3-D version ($44.95). This is the first part of the trilogy by director Peter Jackson, based on the J.R.R. Tolkien novel, and a prequel to the Tolkien/ Jackson Lord of the Rings saga; it took in more than $1 billion worldwide, making it the kind of movie that most others want to avoid competing with.

The Hobbit has an impressive look and some exhilarating action scenes; Martin Freeman is an excellent Bilbo, and fans of the earlier movies will enjoy seeing characters from those productions in a different context.

The Hobbit also takes 2 hours and 49 minutes to cover a fraction of a single book. (The Rings movies each had much more text to draw from.) As I said when the film was in theaters, it gets too caught up in extended battle sequences and just plain loves its pictures too much. It seems as if Jackson studied epics like Lawrence of Arabia too closely, since he cannot resist an opportunity to show his small figures crossing vast, if picturesque, expanses. And the script, which makes some significant modifications of Tolkien’s narrative, does not always sustain a balance between appealing to children (with some silly moments) and adults.

Extras include 10 video journals with Jackson discussing aspects of the making of the film, such as shooting in 3-D and finding the locations.

Far less impressive at the box office, but more successful creatively, is Zero Dark Thirty (Sony, $30.99 DVD/digital, $40.99 Blu-ray/DVD/digital), the acclaimed and controversial portrayal of the search for and killing of Osama bin Laden. Directed by Kathryn Bigelow, with a remarkable lead performance by Jessica Chastain, this was my choice for the best-picture Oscar, with Chastain as best actress. Best picture went instead to Argo, best actress to Jennifer Lawrence, but that should not keep you from seeing the movie.

With those two films on the table on Tuesday, you can understand why another big movie, Les Misérables, will not be on sale until Friday (Universal, $29.98 DVD, $34.98 Blu-ray/ DVD/digital), The musical stars Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean, a criminal on the run from a lawman (Russell Crowe) who devotes years to finding him; Valjean’s story intersects with that of Fantine (Anne Hathaway), a woman destroyed by society’s cruelty.

I did not expect to like the movie. And there were times when I hated it, especially when hearing some of the more ghastly lyrics, and the most charitable description of Crowe’s singing is “limited.” But the movie got to me, and not just because the actors sang live (instead of lip-synching to prerecorded vocals), or because Hathaway has a stunning moment that won her a supporting-actress Oscar. It has old-fashioned grandeur and sweep, and director Tom Hooper did such an expert job of wrangling extras and complicated scenes that it is still stunning he was not even nominated for a directing Oscar.

Extras include a look at the cast, audio commentary by Hooper, discussion of the Victor Hugo novel that inspired the production, and one on the film’s design. The Blu-ray package adds more elements, among them one on the live singing in the movie.

Also on Friday is This Is 40 (Universal, $29.98 DVD, $34.98 Blu-ray/ DVD/ digital pack), the very personal comedy-drama from writer-director Judd Apatow. How personal? His wife, Leslie Mann, stars, and their real-life daughters play the daughters of Mann and Paul Rudd in the film. And, especially in the grimmer moments, you can see that the movie is pushing toward something uncomfortably real.

Unfortunately, at other times, it settles for the gross, the aimless and the overlong. (The movie clocks in at a slow 2 hours, 14 minutes.) Scenes not only feel improvised, they go on long after any improv-based inspiration has faded. It does try for something important, and the cast includes not only Mann and Rudd but also Jason Segel, Melissa McCarthy, John Lithgow, Albert Brooks and a surprisingly good Megan Fox. But it too often falls flat.

Extras include a making-of piece, audio commentary by Apatow, deleted scenes, bloopers and more. The Blu-ray version also has an unrated cut that runs about three minutes longer than the theatrical version, which is included as well.



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