Overkill or undersold? The franchise Peter Jackson has created from J.R.R. Tolkien words is one I never thought would ever grow this much. Maybe that’s naïve or maybe it’s because after watching all three “Lord of the Rings” films totaling over nine hours, how much more could there be from this series? That rhetorical question, mind you, comes from someone that never read any of the books. Sure, I get this new set of three underneath “The Hobbit” cloud proceeds the prior three L.O.T.R. films in time, but from what I have gathered, The Hobbit was just one book. So, one might question why director Peter Jackson turned the adaptation into three films versus one. I know I have, but after watching “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” on Blu-ray and “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” on the big screen, I now get it. Peter Jackson simply just wanted to give all the hard core fans more from this world he adores, so he did, which quite frankly is hard to argue with.
The story in this part two of three… follows Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) and his quest to take back the Arkenstone from the dragon Smaug (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch), who was held up in his former home inside the Lonely Mountain. Thorin’s home, which was filled with treasure and gold from Erebor, had been left alone since Smaug destroyed the nearby town of Dale and scared them all away. And ever since then, no one stepped near the Lonely Mountain until now when Bilbo (Martin Freeman) and his company of Dwarfs discover the hidden entrance after a long journey. One filled with Wood Elves and giant spiders, delaying them from achieving their goal of uniting the dwarves with the Arkenstone; a glowing jewel that Bilbo would be sent in to find without somehow waking up Smaug. But, after a few missteps, Smaug woke up and began to antagonize Bilbo wanting to learn more of why he was there. The next thing you know, the Dwarves arrive and attempt to trick the great dragon into lighting the giant forges of gold in hopes of taking him down once for all leading to a conclusion that might surprise you.
Who was in it? With films like “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug,” the last thing you want is a cast that will distract you. Peter Jackson knows this, which is why he brings in actors no one will quickly recognize. This allows you to focus on the story and more importantly here, the special effects which in no way help the actors given how easy it as to pick up a mistake. That said, you still have some decent performances and leading that charge was Martin Freeman, who played Bilbo Baggins. A questionable casting at first, Freeman has proved to be quite the leader on screen and one you wind up rooting for, a vast difference from what we experienced with Frodo in the L.O.T.R. trilogy. Sure, the two are similar in some ways, but I definitely enjoy Bilbo more. Ian McKellan is back playing a younger Gandalf the Grey, who in brief moments is OK, but ultimately forgettable given the events around him. There’s Orlando Bloom playing a younger version of Legolas, which was very similar to the older one we saw in L.O.T.R. and fellow elf Tauriel played by Evangeline Lilly (TV's Lost), who as the only prominent female did well in her limited screen time. But, oddly the member to this cast that stood out was the one you never saw, the one behind the great Smaug. Benedict Cumberbatch, although long-winded at times, grabbed your attention with everything he said, which you have to praise given it was a dragon he was portraying.
Cocky optimism – In many ways there is not much you can say that hasn’t already been said about Peter Jackson. The guy brought to screen one of the oldest and most loved stories, one that gave him a plethora of well-deserved accolades and the autonomy to do this story on The Hobbit. And while I might think it was crazy to tell this story over the course of three films, Jackson doesn’t appear to be leaving anything out, purposely going for it all. That obviously delights all the fans of the books, but draws ire from people like me that have to sit through a film that could have been 40 minutes shorter. But, as I said earlier, if this is meant to be a gift to the fans, he clearly has accomplished that feat. Where I think he might have gone wrong is how he filmed it, which might shock some people. It just all seemed too perfect and the problem with that is, you never are allowed to feel something real. I realize it’s a movie and we are dealing with creatures or beings that could only be found in fantasy films like this, but at some point you need some grit. Maybe that’s because this entire film was shot digitally using a higher frame rate, which at times just didn’t look right. And unfortunately, it took you out of the story, which despite its flaws still demanded some attention. So while the special effects should be lifted up as an achievement, to me, it didn’t make the film any better. Adding some grit here and there would have gone a long way, making me wonder what would have been had Guillermo Del Toro stayed on to direct these films like originally planned.
Bottom Line – A lot will be said about how “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” looked and for good reason. It did look amazing at times, but underneath that was a story that demanded a rougher exterior, one that isn’t lost beneath the flawless effects. So, as much as fun as this was to watch at times, I can’t help but think how this would have felt had Jackson toned down some of the visuals.
CLICK HERE to read more from Marcus
CLICK HERE to see when and where “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” is playing near you