The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, while somewhat self-indulgent, is a better experience at the movies than the first Hobbit installment. It’s somewhat more intense, more cohesive as a story, and the acting has settled nicely.

That said, there’s a bit too much CG where there could have been creatively shot live action.

In any case, you will enjoy The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug if you liked:
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
The Lord of the Rings trilogy
John Carter

Here’s a trailer:

The deets:

Released December 13, 2013

Written by Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson, and Guillermo del Toro, based on the books by J.R.R. Tolkien

Directed by Peter Jackson

Starring Evangeline Lilly, Cate Blanchett, Richard Armitage, Orlando Bloom, Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Lee Pace, Benedict Cumberbatch, Luke Evans, Ken Stott, Graham McTavish, William Kircher, James Nesbitt, Stephen Hunter, Dean O’Gorman, Aidan Turner, John Callen, Peter Hambleton, Jed Brophy, Mark Hadlow, and Adam Brown

Rated: PG-13

*     *     *     *     *

Story

Thorin (Armitage) and his dwarves (all those guys), along with Bilbo (Freeman) and Gandalf (McKellen) made their escape from the albino orc and have made it past the Misty Mountains. Now they have to continue their journey to the Lonely Mountain by first passing through the realm of the elves. These elves are led by Thranduil (Pace), an ancient elf who has murky motivations and at one point reveals that there is definitely something amiss in his world. In Thranduil’s realm are Tauriel (Lilly) and Legolas (Bloom), who appear to have a budding romance going.

The dwarves are taken captive by these elves, although Tauriel and Kili (Turner) seem to hit it off rather well. In fact, Tauriel feels the dwarves are being mistreated. Meanwhile, Bilbo was not taken captive, since he was invisible, and so he sets about freeing the dwarves.

At the same time, Gandalf is out trying to find out what’s going on with the necromancer (Cumberbatch) and get to the heart of what seems to be a defeated enemy’s renascent power.

Soon we get to the barrel escape, which is fun and exciting, particularly considering the addition of the orcs on the dwarves’ trail. Legolas and Tauriel get to join in the fighting, adding even more fun.

Eventually our merry group arrives at Lake Town, with the help of a smuggler named Bard (Evans), who might have a heritage he is hiding. As the dwarves finally get to the Lonely Mountain, Bilbo now has to find the gem that they have been seeking, while at the same time Bard is trying to keep his town safe from corruption and the evil dragon that he is sure the dwarves are going to wake in the Lonely Mountain.

Sure enough, Smaug (voice of Cumberbatch) awakes. After a truly excellent sequence in Smaug’s lair, which includes a great exchange between Smaug and Bilbo, Smaug is angered and then he heads out to go wreak havoc. The dwarves try to stop him, but– well, he’s a massive dragon.

The story pauses with Smaug’s emergence.

Critique

So, we’re back in Middle Earth– and honestly, that’s all that matters to many people. Truly, the production values and overall finely tuned experience is all kinds of fun and is exactly what most people want out of these movies.

Add in the great fight sequences, some very nice group dynamics, heroism, astonishing visuals, a great dragon, and a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo by Peter Jackson in the opening scene– and you have a fun movie-going experience.

Is it as rich and satisfying as the Lord of the Rings trilogy of movies? No. Nothing can ever reach that level of power, storytelling, detail, emotional arcs, and character depth.

Does Jackson use CG too much when he could be shooting live action? Yes. There are a few scenes where you just want to see a real thing in your fantasy movie.

Do we want our elves to be less unbelievably kick-ass? Actually, yes. Legolas is a little god-like, which is clearly the intent, but some risk of failure would be great.

Are these movies a little too long? Yep. The power of the stories being told is lessened because of this indulgence.

That said, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug has enough going for it that the time passes without a problem. Action, fun characters, great attention to detail–

Plus, we’re back in Middle Earth.

Content warnings: Plenty of fantasy violence, mostly without gore.

Writing: 4          Acting: 5           Overall: 4.5

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The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is a visually stunning and welcome return to the world brought to life by Peter Jackson. Helping the movie are the performances of Martin Freeman and Richard Armitage. Hurting the movie is Peter Jackson’s incapability to edit effectively.

Here’s the trailer:

The deets:

Released December 14, 2012

Written by Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson, and Guillermo del Toro. Based on the book by JRR Tolkien

Directed by Peter Jackson

Starring Martin Freeman, Ian McKellan, Richard Armitage, Andy Serkis, Ian Holm, Christopher Lee, Hugo Weaving, Ken Stott, Graham McTavish, William Kircher, James Nesbitt, Stephen Hunter, Dean O’Gorman, Aidan Turner, John Callen, Peter Hambleton, Jed Brophy, Mark Hadlow, Adam Brown, and Cate Blanchett

Rated: PG-13

*     *     *     *      *

Story

If you don’t know the story of The Hobbit, go read it before you see the movie. In fact, you probably ought to read The Silmarillion so you know where all of the additional stuff and mythology is coming from.

But if you don’t know what’s in The Silmarillion, you can still follow what happens in the movie.

To sum up: Bilbo Baggins (Freeman) is a hobbit, or a halfling, who has grown from a curious boy into a more staid adult. Gandalf shows up, followed by 13 dwarves led by Thorin, and recruits Bilbo to join them on a journey to reclaim Thorin’s homeland from a dragon called Smaug. Bilbo is at first reticent, but finally consents to join and off they go, meeting up with elves, trolls, rock giants, goblins, and more during their journey.

The movie draws significantly from The Silmarillion to pad out the story. It also fabricates an orc antagonist for Thorin to have a vendetta against– all to help the increase conflict and provide a handy place to stop this first film.

Critique

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey will be loved and adored by fans of the series who will soak up every moment they get to spend in a new story in their beloved and familiar world. It will receive criticism for waxing a little unnecessarily long and for struggling with pacing and lacking the punch that Lord of the Rings delivered.

The fact is that this is a solid initial foray into the Hobbit storyline and into the stories that led  up to the events in Lord of the Rings. The production values are, once again, eye-poppingly amazing. (This reviewer did not see this movie in the higher frame rate version.) The story is a little uneven, but not distressingly so. The acting is great, enhanced by some extraordinarily perfect casting.

Martin Freeman is the most recognizable performer here, what with the majority of his makeup being on his feet. He nails Bilbo’s hesitance, goodness, intelligence, vanity, and courage. Richard Armitage provides nobility, pride, and determination to Thorin. The rest of the dwarves begin to make themselves into distinct beings by the end of the movie, but 13 is a lot to keep track of.

So combine a competent (if somewhat unevenly paced) story with great production values, solid acting, and an immersion into a much-loved world and you have a great, big, chubby hit. Add some very good humor, Andy Serkis at his sniveling best as Gollum, and an awesome, extended chase scene in a goblin cavern, and The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey will be breaking records for the rest of the year.

Content warnings: plenty of fantasy violence and intense scenes

Writing: 4.5          Acting: 5           Overall: 5

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