This week, we’ll be looking at the newest sequence in The Hobbit series, the Desolation of Smaug. The Lord of The Rings trilogy is perhaps the greatest trilogy of all time, so the hype for The Hobbit, both the first one and this new one, has been pretty substantial. Starring Martin Freeman, Ian McKellan, and Benedict Cumberbatch, Desolation of Smaug is rated PG-13 for extended sequences of intense fantasy violence.
The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug continues the journey of Bilbo Baggins (Freeman), Gandalf (McKellan) and the gang of dwarves after successfully crossing through the Misty Mountains on their way to reclaim the dwarves’ treasure from the Lonely Mountain, guarded by the dangerous fire breathing dragon, Smaug (Cumberbatch). However, the quest becomes a lot more challenging for Bilbo and the gang once Gandalf leaves to fight a greater evil that threatens the safety of humanity as they know it. Without their powerful friend, Bilbo must help Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) lead the dwarves through the forest of Mirkwood, past the dangerous elves, and into the Lonely Mountain to recover the treasure that rightfully belongs to the Dwarf Kingdom. Obviously, Bilbo faces many challenges along the way, in the form of his own will and other creatures in the world of Middle Earth.
8.5 out of 10
Like pretty much everyone else in the world, I’m a fan of the Lord of the Rings. Not a LOTR maniac, but a fan. They are tremendously entertaining to watch, due to various things, including the huge world that has been created around itself. Duplicating this, visually and emotionally, was crucial to The Hobbit’s success as a film. Thankfully, Peter Jackson and Co. were able to pull it off.
There are a few major things that contribute to the success of the old series. This includes the aforementioned realism of the world, the fantastic effects, and the well-executed story. Desolation of Smaug was able to touch on all of these, more so than the first film, An Unexpected Journey, but not nearly as much as the original trilogy (Basically, it’s an improvement over the previous film, but not nearly as good as the original Lord of the Rings). The entire universe is still on full display throughout the movie, from the elves to the dragon, all sorts of different creatures are seen, each one of them great in their own individual way. What’s also unique is that each of these characters also have personality, instead of being boring filler characters. This was seen specifically with the dwarves, and how each one is actually interesting. The writers clearly took their time with each character, instead of just throwing them out there.
Next on the agenda are the effects, and not only the visual effects. Those are always a point of emphasis in a Peter Jackson project. It is no different here. My personal favorite part was the dragon Smaug. Using motion capture with Benedict Cumberbatch in order to capture the dragon’s movements was done excellently, and looked great. It looked as realistic as a dragon can possible be. Additionally, the makeup and costumes were phenomenal, as always. With all these different creatures, the costumes and makeup departments are extremely crucial and are a huge part in creating the world. A friend pointed out to me how makeup artists are among the most under-appreciated people in the film industry, and he’s right. Their work is so important and amazing to see in action, especially in a film such as this one.
The last point I want to discuss is the execution of the story. In The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, I felt that one of the main problems is that it took an EXTREMELY long time to get to the point, and was dragging. Desolation of Smaug did fix this problem, but it was assisted by the fact that it hit the ground running, starting off where the first movie left off.
I honestly don’t have too much criticism for the movie. There was a romantic relationship dealing with one of the dwarves, Kili, (Aidan Turner) and one of the elves, Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly). I thought this was initially unnecessary and contributed to the length of the movie, though it was executed well. All the original movies are almost three hours long because they are each based off of a book each, but The Hobbit is one book, so breaking it up into three movies is really just a cash grab. It’s pretty remarkable that they’ve been able to make these movies so long… But also kind of annoying.
Is this The Return of the King? No, no it’s not, but it was still a really entertaining movie. It’s one of those films that is great-but-not-perfect in most categories, so it’s hard to pinpoint criticism. Nonetheless, I was really entertained by Peter Jackson’s masterpiece. Sure, it was a little long, but I can never get enough Bilbo Baggins. I would highly recommend checking this out if you have the opportunity (but please, see the other four films first).
9 out of 10
Lord of the Rings is one of the toughest adaptations you can do.
You can take a journey. Throw in some good characters, some great effects, and heck off a lot of tracking shots of New Zealand and still have not quite enough to be equipped to make an honest depiction of it.
But Peter Jackson came as close as any body ever did or will. He built a really stable franchise using the tools above and his own vast knowledge of filmmaking to his advantage. If you ever seen any of the behind the scenes materials for any of Jackson’s films (King Kong, Lovely Bones) his love for the medium he works in is palpable.
What I’m getting at is that The Lord of the Rings franchise was in great hands for a long amount of time until it reached a roadblock with the polarizing Hobbit. In honesty, its not really fair to call it a roadblock since it does have a lot of great elements to it. Ultimately, I think its faults came from a few factors:
New characters. I remember, the week that The Hobbit premiered, Conan O’Brien did a sketch about the long casting list for the movie that described it pretty perfectly. I can’t find a link but I’ll make this the choose-your-own adventure part of the review.
Pacing. This has always been a problem (Even in the source material which tends to get lost in its own world and imagery) but was exacerbated by the rippling problems of undeveloped characters.
Villains (Or lack thereof). Orcs seemed like a bit of a downgrade if we must be brutally honest. They’re entertaining, just not the usual focus that made viewers love the original antagonists of the trilogy so much.
Now let me explain how this movie pretty much took care of all of that.
You can tell that Jackson used An Unexpected Journey as his rough draft. The mark of a good filmmaker is that he or she learns from any mistakes and I will ultimately assumes that that is exactly what Jackson did.
Maybe its because I love my middle chapters but I felt like this one was briskly paced (Especially compared to Lord of the Rings movies) and had a remote idea on which characters were interesting. We can certainly thank An Unexpected Journey for introducing us to the Dwarf Company in a way that it’s all laid out and ready for us here. The exposition just wasn’t fun while we were in it.
Mostly, however, is its real sense of adventure that harkens way back to what the first movie in the entire franchise had. Its very challenging to suck the viewer into a long ride and keep it perpetually entertaining but this one absolutely did it in a way that kind of made me feel like a kid, watching the entire series over again (And thats the best way possible).
On a final note, I don’t think I like Legolas as much as everybody else but it was good seeing the elves in this. Were they necessary? Nope. Were they a good addition? Absolutely.
Even if you thought the franchise ended at The Hobbit, I strongly suggest you give it a second chance.
Rotten Tomatoes: 75%