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Movie Review: 'The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug' (2013)

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In the pursuit of recreating the magic and sheer magnitude of the journey witnessed in “The Lord of the Rings,” trilogy of films, “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” starts to reveal its prolonged nature more tellingly than its predecessors. The adventure is undoubtedly epic and would likely suffer little from excising excess bits of winding tracking shots through Byzantine structures, dragon taunting, or even truncating the action sequences that preface the climactic moments with duplicated maneuvers. Killing nine orcs or spiders instead of ten wouldn’t dampen the intensity. It is, however, a testament to all involved in the creation of such an endeavor that on the fifth outing the entertainment is still thoroughly satisfying, despite the heavily repetitive nature of lengthy quests through treacherous terrains, heroic elves and dwarves, demonic sorcerers, and, of course, golden rings.

With deadly orcs hot on their trail, hobbit Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), wizard Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellen), and thirteen brave dwarves led by Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) continue on their quest to reclaim the Lonely Mountain from the fearsome dragon, Smaug (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch). After narrowly escaping their pursuers, Gandalf heads to Dol Guldur at the behest of Lady Galadriel (Cate Blanchett) to confirm the advent of a malevolent necromancer, while Bilbo and the dwarves press onward towards Erebor. Forced to take a short cut through the Mirkwood Forest, the group is attacked by spiders and all but Bilbo are eventually taken captive by Wood-elves, led by Legolas (Orlando Bloom). Using a magical ring, the hobbit is able to sneak into the Elven dungeons and free the dwarves, but their odyssey is far from over. Procuring passage through the human settlement of Lake-town, the determined band of warriors must first reach the mountain before the last light of Durin’s Day to locate a secret entryway into the stronghold. If they can accomplish such a feat, a slumbering beast of unimaginable power still stands between them and the reclamation of their homeland.

Although likely unintentional, by splitting “The Hobbit” into a trilogy, director Peter Jackson has made the series feel derivative of his own previous set of films. Resultantly, “The Desolation of Smaug” is the middle chapter, starting up in the midst of a long, epic quest, and concluding in an abrupt manner before the story is complete. The lengthy running time is also more noticeable, as the sustained layering of action sequences begins to touch upon the conception of padding. Perhaps that’s unavoidable, considering the length of the source material in comparison to the crowded books of “The Lord of the Rings.”

New creatures, including wood elves, orcs, a necromancer, a skin-changer, giant forest spiders, and much more, populate this sensory overload of the archetypal embodiment of fantasy adventure. A surplus of locations, entities, fight choreography, computer animation, and fiery devastations flash across the screen to the extent that it’s occasionally difficult to take it all in and keep track of the convoluted, seemingly unending trek through hostile terrain. Despite the amount of time the movie stretches, individual scenes barely allow enough minutes to absorb the breakneck exercises, overstuffed with detail and movement. This lends nicely to the continuing appeal of the makeup effects, which are again most commendable for the orcs, each one adorned with prosthetics, disfigurements, scars, hair, and griminess that grant breathtaking individuality to characters that, for the majority, are only on camera for a few seconds.

“Something moves in the shadows, unseen,” exclaims Galadriel, summing up the lion’s share of the plot in this intermediary episode, which assumes the role of ferrying the assemblage of dwarves from their ending point (the Carrock) in the previous film to the Lonely Mountain, their ultimate destination. Finally, Smaug receives some adequate screentime, causing substantial ruin while battling the gravity-defying, physics-exempt band of miniature marauders. In the state of total immersion into this Tolkien environment comes the welcome addition of a distractingly sexy, pouty-lipped she-elf (Evangeline Lilly) as well as the return of Legolas (Orlando Bloom), matching the unreal agility of their fellow combatants. Outsized, outnumbered, and all around outmatched, Thorin continues to dismiss Bilbo’s significant aid in rescuing and planning, while Gandalf is once again helpless against the rising forces of Sauron and his chief henchman Azog the Defiler – but none of that matters when Smaug can’t seem to dispose of a single one of the numerous dwarf warriors scurrying about his hollow volcano palace.

- The Massie Twins

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