This week: Peter Jackson returns to Middle-earth with "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey," the first of three movies based on the classic fantasy novel "The Hobbit" by J.R.R. Tolkien, which features Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins and Ian McKellen reprising his role as the wizard Gandalf from "The Lord of the Rings."
'The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey'
Box Office: $302 million
Rotten Tomatoes: 65% Fresh
Storyline: "The Lord of the Rings" director Peter Jackson returns to Middle-earth for this first of three movies based on J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Hobbit." The first installment follows Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) as he embarks on an adventure with Gandalf (Ian McKellen) and 13 dwarves to reclaim the lost dwarf kingdom of Erebor from the dragon Smaug. Along the way, Bilbo must face goblins, orcs, wargs and a mysterious figure known only as the Necromancer. Bilbo also gains possession of the One Ring, which of course is tied to the fate of all of Middle-earth.
Extras! Both the DVD and Blu-ray contain 10 comprehensive video blogs and "New Zealand: Home of Middle-earth." There is also a Blu-ray 3D edition to replicate the theatrical 3-D presentation.
We Say: There is no question that Jackson fatigue has set in with critics that are frustrated with the director's decision to drag out "The Hobbit" to three epic-length movies, resulting in less-favorable reviews for the first installment than "The Lord of the Rings." If you're okay with taking the long road through Middle-earth, you'll be rewarded with a stunning adventure that blends seamlessly with the look and feel of the "Rings" trilogy. Familiar faces such as Cate Blanchett as Galadriel and Hugo Weaving as Elrond make for a homecoming feel, but it's Freeman as the titular hobbit who provides the movie's heart as he surprises himself — and audiences — with his ingenuity. If you regret rolling the dice on the video-looking 48 fps version in theaters, know that "The Hobbit" looks gorgeously filmic again in 2-D or 3-D at home.
'Zero Dark Thirty'
Box Office: $95 million
Rotten Tomatoes: 93% Fresh
Storyline: Kathryn Bigelow directs this dramatization of the real-life United States military operation that found and killed al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. Jessica Chastain plays Maya, a young CIA officer whose entire career has been focused solely on gathering intelligence on the mastermind behind the 9/11 terrorist attacks on America.
Extras!: The DVD and Blu-ray contain a disappointing assortment of brief EPK (electronic press kit)-style featurettes, including one where Bigelow walks us through the construction of the bin Laden compound set built in Jordan, another about the actors training with Navy SEALS, Chastain's thoughts about playing Maya and a four-minute making-of clip.
We Say: "Zero Dark Thirty" stirred up a lot of controversy over its depiction of torture being used by the U.S. to extract the information that led to bin Laden. Bigelow doesn't shy away from scenes of torture, but it's left up to the viewer to decide how much it really contributed to bin Laden's ultimate fate. The movie is a showcase for Chastain, who gives one of the strongest female characters ever put on screen her steely resolve. Even though you know the outcome, you'll be on the edge of your seat in the third act when Bigelow takes us slowly through the dark corridors of the bin Laden compound with the SEALs that risked everything to bring the terrorist down.
Box Office: $148 million
Rotten Tomatoes: 70% Fresh
Storyline: This film adaptation of the classic musical set in 19th-century France stars Hugh Jackman as ex-prisoner Jean Valjean, who has been hunted for decades by relentless policeman Javert (Russell Crowe) after he breaks parole. When Valjean agrees to care for factory worker Fantine's (Anne Hathaway) daughter, their lives change forever.
Extras!: Both the DVD and Blu-ray contain "The Stars of 'Les Miserables,'" "Creating the Perfect Paris," a look at Victor Hugo's "Les Miserables" and commentary by director Tom Hooper. Exclusive to the Blu-ray are "The West End Connection," "'Les Miserables' on Location," "Battle at the Barricade" and "'Les Miserables' Singing Live."
We Say: "Les Miserables" was nominated for eight Academy Awards and won three: Best Sound Mixing, Best Makeup and Hairstyling and Best Supporting Actress for Hathaway, who gave many gushing, tearful speeches at various awards ceremonies. There is no question that "Les Miserables" is a triumph of design, but it is also all musical, all the time. For some of you, that's music to your ears; the rest of us that find it off-putting to hear almost every line of dialogue emoted in song will not become newbie musical lovers after this eardrum-rattling exercise.
'This Is 40'
Box Office: $68 million
Rotten Tomatoes: 52% Rotten
Storyline: Judd Apatow directed and wrote this stand-alone sequel to "Knocked Up" that stars Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann as a married couple each approaching 40 and how their jobs, parents and two young daughters put a strain on their relationship.
Extras!: Both the DVD and Blu-ray contain a gag reel, Line-O-Rama, deleted scenes, music by Graham Parker and Ryan Adams, and feature commentary by Apatow. The Blu-ray has a lot of exclusives, including an unrated version of the movie, making-of featurette, "This Is Albert Brooks (at Work)," "Graham Parker & the Rumour: Long Emotional Ride," "Brooks-O-Rama," "Biking with Barry," "Triumph the Insult Comic Dog," "Kids on the Loose 3," "Bodies by Jason Commercial," "Fresh Air with Terry Ross," deleted/extended/alternate scenes and over 30 minutes of music by Graham Parker and Ryan Adams.
We Say: If you're not 40 before you start watching "This Is 40," you might be — or at least feel a lot older — by the time you sit through this 134-minute (!) rom-com couch challenge in which all the characters, in typical Apatow fashion, have no filters and speak with blunt crudeness. There are occasional funny moments and insights, but this is ultimately a pity party for a fairly ordinary white suburban couple that has self-created domestic problems with which many people cope every day. You decide if that's a knee-slapper … or just kind of sad.
Box Office: $447, 954
Rotten Tomatoes: 55% Rotten
Storyline: When one of their fellow "B-faces" (Rebel Wilson) is about to get married, three high school friends (Kirsten Dunst, Lizzy Caplan and Isla Fisher) reunite before the wedding and unintentionally rip the bridal dress after the bachelorette party goes awry. With only seven hours before the bride wakes up for her wedding, the trio crawls through the streets of New York in attempt to repair the damage they've done.
Extras!: Both the DVD and Blu-ray contain commentary by director Leslye Hedland, bloopers and a brief behind-the-scenes featurette.
We Say: It's difficult to watch "Bachelorette" and not compare it to "Bridesmaids," which has a similar premise, but this is a darker movie with talk of cocaine, overdosing, sex in dirty public bathrooms and abortion. There's plenty to laugh about if you have a mean-spirited sense of humor, but those with delicate sensibilities will not want to hang out with these mean girls for long.
Also New This Week:
"Rust and Bone"