Thursday, December 12, 2013

Review: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Release date: December 13, 2013
Running time: 161 minutes
Starring: Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, Evangeline Lilly, Lee Pace
Who to see it with: A fan of TLotR or the first Hobbit movie.


The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug continues the story of the first film as the company of dwarves, Gandalf, and one burglar attempt to reach the Lonely Mountain before their way into the mountain, and by extension their quest to retake their homeland, are forever lost to them. This leg of the quest takes them through a mysterious forest, past a lake town, and into the mountain itself. Pretty much all of the characters from the first movie are back including Martin Freeman as Bilbo, Ian McKellen as Gandalf, Richard Armitage as Thorin, and the company of twelve other dwarves. 

One of the main complaints with the Hobbit movies is that the source material is not very long (the original book is about 280 pages), so Peter Jackson had to add plenty of additional content in order to fill three, two-and-a-half hour movies. Although I didn't mind it in the first movie, because it ultimately felt like the additional footage was in service to the overall journey, this time it felt like a lot of the added content did not fit or was there to fill space. I definitely don't remember the Hobbit book jumping around this much and although the side stories did give some additional backstory, it feels like they were added to lengthen the movies enough to fill a trilogy. There are also additional scenes and dialog that depart from any of the Hobbit reference material, and appear to be attempts to increase the drama of the film or further highlight the importance of certain characters. Additionally, there are call backs (or I guess those would be foreshadowing) to the events of LOTR. The foreshadowing wasn't terrible, and I actually enjoyed some of the musical cues, but a lot of it does feel like it was placed specifically to try to tie the two trilogies together.

The Hobbit (and by extension, the LOTR movies) do a great job of creating sets and transforming their characters into the denizens of Middle Earth. When it's done right, it's a joy to see, especially with some of the nastier creatures. However, maybe because the make up and costumes are so good, when they resort to CG, something doesn't feel right. Either the characters look a little off, or move unnaturally, but something approaches the uncanny valley in those situations; it really takes you out of the experience to see some of the fights done almost completely in CG. The writing is fine, even if it's a little over dramatic and attempts to paint some of the characters in their best light. And the moments of levity in the film are funny, but felt out of place in some of the more serious scenes. In the end, if you liked the first movies you will most likely like this one also. If some of the flaws of the first films (and especially of the Hobbit) bugged you last time, then they will only be emphasized in this film. The Hobbit: TDoS is an exciting journey and captures the look and feel of Middle Earth, but the adventure seems to depart from the path frequently and takes a long time to complete. 

Rent it.

An Unexpected Journey told a less disjointed story. TDoS frequently alternates between big action sequences, character introductions, incomplete subplots and an unnecessary romance. Obviously, a trilogy's stories won't fully pay off until its end, but this may suffer from middle chapter issues more than similar movies. The LotR callbacks/foreshadowing don't totally work. The scenes are fine but often don't add much to the story. If I were unfamiliar with LotR, I'd probably be confused rather than afraid or intrigued by this mysterious evil that keeps being teased. That being said, TDoS was more exciting than the trilogy's occasionally boring beginning. The characters and subplots don't always connect, but the action is bigger (unfortunately in a way that often looks too animated) and the stakes higher than those of the meandering AUJ. The big moments are more creative and suspenseful, including an encounter that reminded me of Bilbo's tense meeting with Gollum. And though the ending feels like an abrupt cliffhanger compared to the more complete ends of the previous films, it's effectively chilling and will leave fans anxiously awaiting what's next. On the bright side, There and Back Again should easily be the best of the trilogy now that all of the pieces are setup for a grand finale. I don't know if five and a half hours were needed to reach that point, but they've mostly been fun despite being a bit unsatisfying.


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