Sunday, December 15, 2013

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug Review

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug Review
Despite my love of the original "Lord of the Rings" trilogy, I have had a complicated relationship with these Hobbit movies. I was never a fan of adapting the book into three parts. While I think it was wildly ambitious for Peter Jackson to add fun subplots into the mix, I thought it would not only kill Bilbo's story, but ultimately I thought Jackson was trying to outdo the success of his original trilogy. Perhaps that is what the studio wants, but it doesn't fit the overall mythology Tolkein created. "The Hobbit" is not meant to be bigger than "Lord of the Rings." The stakes for the characters in "The Hobbit" are not even close to the stakes for the characters of "Lord of the Rings," so it puzzled me that we were getting an overly-epic version of this tiny book. Plus, while I enjoyed "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" it grew fonder on me with repeat viewings. The problems with that first part of this Hobbit trilogy are pretty clear, and I was nervous about this second part.

Now that I have seen "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug," I can confidently announce that my complicated relationship with this creative choice is behind me. "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug" completely overcomes the problems that plagued its first half. Not only that, but everything that did work in "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" is done with grander, broader strokes in this sequel and I loved that. I also have to say that Jackson found a clever way to add what he wanted to add and make the overall story flow well. We know from experience that Peter Jackson can juggle multiple storylines, but "An Unexpected Journey" suffered from tremendous pacing issues and the movie overall felt a bit episodic. With "The Desolation of Smaug," those issues are cleared up, and all the storylines are handled expertly.

The acting is stellar, like we expected it to be. I think Martin Freeman has become very flexible as Bilbo Baggins and he feels like a character, likewise with Richard Armitage as Thorin Oakenshield. One thing this second half benefits from is not having to introduce thirteen dwarves, and the film picks up nicely where the other film left off. I feel Gandalf The Grey has become second hand nature from Sir Ian McKellen at this point, and he delivers the goods once again, so do the twelve other dwarves and Radagast the brown. All of these characters are very well realized and each character has a particular moment when they shine.

We do get introduced to many other characters this second time out, but Jackson handles the introductions a lot better than the first film. This isn't just a quick, meet-and-greet then we're off on the adventure. We learn more about Thorin relationship with Thranduil (Lee Pace) and we get a sense of their distrust of each other. We learn about Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly) and her affection toward a particular dwarf and why she feels Mirkwood needs to join the fight against Azog (Manu Bennett). We also learn about Bard The Bowman (Luke Evans) and how he feels the dwarves need to reclaim their homeland will have a terrible cost. These subplots are fleshed out properly and we believe in them. I had a bad feeling about Orlando Bloom returning as Legolas. I know the group journeys to Mirkwood in the book, Legolas' home. It is very possible that he was there in the book, even though he's never mentioned. I thought Bloom would overcrowd the movie and stand out because his character was a hit in the original trilogy. I am happy to report that Legolas is handled well in this movie. He's given many scenes to shine, but his storyline doesn't drown the central story. 

Oh...and have I mentioned Benedict Cumberbatch's Smaug yet? My gosh, I can't think of another time in movies where a voice complimented a character better. Cumberbatch's voice work is excellent, as close to perfect as it can get. The last stretch of the film involving Smaug gave me goosebumps and butterflies in my stomach. I didn't want it to end, it was everything I hoped it would be and more. Jackson nailed Smaug, you have no idea how happy it makes me to say that.

I felt the action scenes are better in this half than the last as well. There is a scene early in the film where the Bilbo and company are escaping Mirkwood by the use of barrels, which only slams them into a pack of Orcs. What ensues is a humorous, adventurous, gargantuan, fight scene that is so fun to watch that I lost track of where I was and what I was doing. The amount of imagination Jackson pours in this long scene is utterly breathtaking, and could easily become the best scene in the overall Hobbit trilogy. I love that the action pieces are so much stronger this time out.

I know I said pacing was improved upon this time out, and it was. But I couldn't help but still get distracted from it a little, I must emphasize little though. I also have to say that the last 20 or so minutes of the movie could have been edited a bit better. The jumping from side-story to side-story got a little distracting after awhile. But I can't think of anything else bad to say, I think Jackson is going to finish this trilogy in a way that will leave Tolkein fans and general audience members satisfied. All I could think as I left the theater today that I can't wait for next year, the conclusion to this story is going to be great. 

Oh, and the ending? Awesome. I can't remember the last time I had such terrible Cliffhanger Syndrome. The spot where Jackson chose to end the film will leave you speechless. Speechless.  

FINAL GRADE: B+

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