Nominations: Sound Editing, Sound Mixing, Visual Effects
Making a trilogy that contains both the separate films’ abilities to stand as their own movies as well as to stand together as a cohesive piece of storytelling is not an easy undertaking – making two trilogies to fit together into an anthology where all six have individuality and unity is decidedly harder (see George Lucas and his Star Wars debacle). After the massive success with The Lord of the Rings trilogy, Peter Jackson was certainly justified in his initial feelings that the films made from Rings prequel novel The Hobbit should not be made by his hand; but when the project was in danger of drowning he and his badass band of New Zealand movie magicians swooped in to save it. Jackson, it must be said, loves not only movies with a weight to match Scorsese but also his Tolkien source material – and yet after watching the first Hobbit installment An Unexpected Journey, one gets the feeling Jackson loves Middle Earth so much that he’s milked it dry. Both Journey and the second installment The Desolation of Smaug suffer under massive amount of information stuffed into it from the Rings tie-ins to other points of trivia that only Tolkien votaries would notice to all new ideas fabricated for the movies. Having made that complaint, Smaug finds a more solid surface to stand on than its predecessor Journey, which had no sense of its massive cast of main characters and no real sense of urgency until the last half-hour. Smaug, though a bit difficult to follow for those not versed in the intricacies of Middle Earth, is far more exciting and lives in the sense of adventure that made the novel so amazing.
By now Bilbo, played by the amazing deadpan Brit Martin Freeman, has shed most of his self-doubt, emblazoned by his dwarf counterparts as a fully-fledged member of the company of Thorin Oakeshield. Except for the flashback of Gandalf finding a bereft Thorin hiding out in a pub (Rings fans will recognize this fictional locale) and urging him to take up the quest to reclaim his birthright, we rejoin Bilbo and Gandalf and the dwarves right where we left them at the end of Journey. After being chased by orcs and being rescued by shapeshifter Beorn, Gandalf goes off on his own wizard mission and leaves the company to its own devices to find their way to the Lonely Mountain. From there they wander into Mirkwood and battle giant spiders, then meet some hostile elves – whom they escape – and then make their way to Laketown, and then to The Lonely Mountain where the dragon Smaug, voiced and motion-capture acted by the amazing Benedict Cumberbatch, waits amongst his horde of riches and gold.
Smaug is filled with a great overall feeling of a dark foreboding and danger, the constant compilation of looming threats neatly building a tenuous sense that our heroes are waiting under a sharp axe that’s about ready to fall; this darkness gives the whole film a more focused point of reference instead of letting all of the bad and good mojo fly about willy-nilly and collide at will like in Journey. The Hobbit novel had a wonderful adventurous danger about it but nary so much darkness and, for all the add-ins and Rings connectivity in the movie, this tension suits the story quite well. The other new additions to the Hobbit story, namely the inclusion of everyone’s favorite elf Legolas - played by Orlando Bloom reprising his blonde wig and gelatin ears - and his fellow warrior elf/love-interest Tauriel are welcome points of reference as well as nice story tangents that flavor the story without misdirecting it. The real magic of the movie though is the climax scene between with Smaug, a masterful CGI creation. The image is so powerful and amazing it feels short and awkward to try and put its grandeur into words – Cumberbatch makes the character feel so real and disturbingly malevolent, right up until Smaug is about to wreak real havoc on the world and the movie ends. Journey didn’t make me excited to see Smaug, but Smaug has made me extremely excited to see The Hobbit: There and Back Again. The Rings trilogy won the Visual Effects Oscars for each of the three movies – and a lot of that was because Gollum was such a mind-blowing achievement; by rights, Smaug could conceivably win just for that magnificent dragon, and it would be a worthy and deserved win.