The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Cast:
Ian McKellen as Gandalf
Martin Freeman as Bilbo
Richard Armitage as Thorin
Ken Stott as Balin
Graham McTavish as Dwalin
William Kircher as Bifur
James Nesbitt as Bofur
Stephen Hunter as Bombur
Dean O’Gorman as Fili
Aidan Turner as Kili
John Callen as Oin
Peter Hambleton as Gloin
Jed Brophy as Nori
Mark Hadlow as Dori
Adam Brown as Ori
Orlando Bloom as Legolas
Evangeline Lilly as Tauriel
Lee Pace as Thranduil
Cate Blanchett as Galadriel
Benedict Cumberbatch as Smaug / Necromancer
Mikael Persbrandt as Beorn
Sylvester McCoy as Radagast
Luke Evans as Bard / Girion

Directed by Peter Jackson

Summary:
“The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” features some great action and the impressive Smaug, but a cliffhanger ending may leave audiences frustrated with a year-long wait for the conclusion to the trilogy.

Story:
“The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” is based on the book by J.R.R. Tolkien.

Picking up immediately where the previous film left off, the Dwarves, Bilbo, and Gandalf continue to be on the run from Azog and the orcs pursuing them. But Gandalf grows more and more concerned about the rumored Necromancer and the darkness spreading across the land. This distracts him from Thorin’s quest and he separates from the party to investigate the evil on his own. He leaves the vertically-challenged band to make their way to the Lonely Mountain by themselves and he will join them later… or will he?

As Bilbo, Thorin and the gang continue to make their way, they face horrific spiders, confrontational elves, and untrustworthy humans, but they will have to face their greatest foe in the mountain if they are to retake it – the dragon Smaug.

“The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” is rated PG-13 for extended sequences of intense fantasy action violence, and frightening images.

What Worked:
It’s kind of nice to enjoy “The Hobbit” on its own without a lot of distractions. We now know what 48 fps film looks like, so you can take it or leave it. We know the tone of these films is different and at times more comedic than “The Lord of the Rings”, so our expectations are now in check. We pretty much readjusted our bearings, so there’s nothing but the story to enjoy.

“The Hobbit” was always my favorite of the Tolkien books mainly because of Bilbo’s encounter with Smaug. I’ve always loved dragons in movies, so I had high expectations with this film. It did not disappoint. His game of cat and mouse with the dragon is the highlight of the movie and it’s like he’s playing hide and seek with Godzilla. Benedict Cumberbatch perfectly voices the smug Smaug (see what I did there?) and his superior ego. And I don’t know how Cumberbatch provided motion capture for the dragon, but that is going to be one spectacular behind-the-scenes video when we eventually see it.

This sequel does offer up a couple of other memorable sequences. There is a spectacular escape by the Dwarves from the elf kingdom in barrels. They bob down some rapids while being pursued by both ticked off elves and bloodthirsty orcs. It is a beautifully choreographed action sequence made even more fun by the return of Orlando Bloom as Legolas. His CG stunts with the bow and arrow in “The Lord of the Rings” were some of the highlights of those movies and they don’t disappoint here. Speaking of Legolas, we get to see him in a knock down drag out hand to hand fight with the lead orc late in the story. It’s great to see the elegant, composed elf meet his match in sheer power and brutality of the orc, especially since he usually dispatches them with relative ease. Legolas fans will enjoy it.

Besides the addition of Orlando Bloom and Benedict Cumberbatch to the cast, the only other significant additions are Luke Evans as Bard, Evangeline Lilly as Tauriel and Lee Pace as Thranduil. Luke Evans’ role is similar in some respects to Aragorn in the previous series. He’s a noble rogue with a secret and primed to reclaim his honor. Evans does a good job in the role, but the spotlight is of course on the Dwarves and Bilbo. Lee Pace does make a notable cameo as Thranduil, Legolas’ father and king of the wood elves. He’s arrogant and self-righteous so it’s easy to see why the Dwarves don’t like him. But there is an undercurrent of fear about him that Pace subtly shows. He’s an interesting character. Finally there is Evangeline Lilly as Tauriel, a new character added to the lineup. There was some controversy about her addition since she wasn’t in the books, but she does fit in the films well. Lilly makes a likable elf and she adds a bit of a love triangle between herself, Legolas, and Kili. She’s a welcome addition in my mind.

The 3D in the film is good. Smaug’s long, snaking head moves in and out of the screen. Arrows fly from Legolas’ bow, through an orc’s head, and out of the screen. But there are other subtle uses of the 3D. We see bumblebees fly into the theater, gold coins slide down the pile of treasure, and more. Overall the 3D is worth seeing. I should mention that I did not see this in 48 fps, so I can’t comment on how it looked. But I don’t miss it.

What Didn’t Work:
People are either going to love the ending or hate it because the film rather abruptly ends on a major cliffhanger. Imagine, if in Star Wars, the movie ended in the middle of the Death Star attack. You’d feel a bit frustrated. You’d be even more frustrated if you had to wait a year to see how it resolved. That’s how the ending of “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” feels. I guarantee there will be groans of frustration in the theaters when this comes out.

Another issue I had with this sequel is that it feels like it spends way too much time setting up “The Lord of the Rings.” Now if you were watching all six films in chronological order for the first time, this would be OK. All of the scenes involving the Necromancer and the spread of evil would be building up anticipation. But most of us have already seen the LOTR films, so it doesn’t help move the core story of the Dwarves quest along. It feels like every 10 minutes we are reminded by a character that ‘an evil is coming to the land.’ It gets quite repetitive. It also drags the running time of the film out much longer.

Speaking of repetition, a lot of the core story starts feeling repetitious in this sequel. The Dwarves make another step in their journey, Gandalf leaves them to go run an errand, they all get captured, Biblo must save them, then they move on to the next step of the journey as the orcs continue to pursue them. Only when the group finally arrives at the Lonely Mountain and faces Smaug do we feel like we’re venturing into new territory. This is also about an hour and a half into the movie. It really starts to feel like splitting the one novel up into three films was a bit of overkill, but hopefully when it’s eventually taken as an entire saga it will pay off.

The Bottom Line:
If you liked the first Hobbit film, then you’ll enjoy “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug.” I felt like they were on par with each other. It’s worth checking out on the big screen in order to see Smaug in all his terrible glory.

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