While The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug was originally released in April 2013, hardcore fans have been patiently been waiting for the fully-loaded, 5-disc Extended Edition in 3D.
Directed by Peter Jackson, the story rejoins Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) and Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellen) on their quest to retrieve the Arkenstone from Smaug - a ferocious, fire-breathing dragon.
Highlights include a descent into a giant spider web (every arachnophobes worst nightmare), Benedict Cumberbatch's vocal and performance capture of Smaug while confronting a thieving Bilbo Baggins, and an exciting river escape in wine barrels. The latter is fantastically choreographed and executed, standing as one of the strongest scenes from either trilogy.
Lord of the Rings alumni Cate Blanchett and Orlando Bloom return as Galadriel and Legolas respectively, along with the likes of Stephen Fry, Evangeline Lilly, Luke Evans and Sylvester McCoy.
The Extended Edition adds 25 minutes of never-before-seen footage the the film, bringing the running time up to a whopping 186 minutes. While the pacing and action are certainly improved upon 2012s An Unexpected Journey, few would argue that the sequel wasn't long enough to start with. Unless you speak fluent Elvish and can confidently tell the difference between Biffer, Boffer, Bombor, Dori, Nori and Ori, that is.
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is a breathtaking visual achievement from Weta, best enjoyed in 3D. Peter Jackson remains the undisputed King of fantasy adventure, delivering a far superior middle act. Hopefully December's The Battle of Five Armies will build upon the positive momentum gained here for a spectacular finale.
In addition to the 3D version across 2 discs, there is also a 2D presentation, complete with filmmakers commentary and New Zealand: Home of Middle Earth - Part 2. The wealth of extras (over 9 hours worth) highlight the staggering detail poured into every aspect of the production with The Journey to Erebor and Into the Wilderland. The cast and crew offer candid and often hilarious accounts of their time on set, from being covered in 400 pounds of fish to trying to perfect a high-flying fight sequence on wires with Orlando Bloom. Altogether it's a spectacular package and the definitive way to enjoy the film.