Peter Jackson’s ‘The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug’ improves upon the last ‘Hobbit’ outing, but the drawn-out extension of its original source never allows the film to match the full magic of original ‘Lord of the Rings’ trilogy.
‘The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug’ picks up the journey of Hobbit Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) and his band of not-so-merry dwarves, led by (future) dwarf king Thorin (Richard Armitage). Under the indirect guidance of wizard Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellen), Thorin, Bilbo, and crew continue the arduous quest of having to repeatedly fight the evil Orcs as they attempt to reclaim the ancestral mountain home of the dwarves, Erebor. As if fighting giant, muscle-bound, evil Orcs as well as resisting a permeative evil coming over Middle Earth weren’t enough, the dwarves and Bilbo must also finally meet up with greedy, super-dragon Smaug (voiced by none other than seeming-Brit-of-the-year, Benedict Cumberbatch) who ferociously has taken Erebor as his own. Smaug fiercely protects the Lonely Mountain (and its golden treasures) with a belly full of fire.
Returning to the Tolkien series is Orlando Bloom as wood-elf, warrior, Legolas (whose ethereal, CGI’d visage has allowed him to remain relatively ageless from the original trilogy as a long-lived elf). And, joining him for the first time is the newly created character of female elf archeress, Tauriel (convincingly played by Evangeline Lilly, formerly of ‘Lost’). Both are drawn into the fight against evil, and Tauriel develops a fondness for the handsome dwarf nephew of Thorin, Kili (Aidan Turner), giving the series a wee bit of low-level sizzle. Also, fan favorite Bard the Bowman (Luke Evans) appears to help the dwarves later escape via an iconic means (as per the original book, ‘The Hobbit’).
Audiences know what to expect, at this point, from a J.R.R. Tolkien-based film with direction by Peter Jackson, and the film fully exceeds these visual expectations. The film is jam-packed with surprisingly fabulous CGI, enhanced further in 3D by Jackson’s continued use of 48-frames-per-second projection (instead of the usual 24-per-second). Truly, second-to-none is the creation of the massively striking and imposing figure of Smaug, perhaps the best dragon rendering on film to date. Smaug, coupled with the regal depth of Cumberbatch’s voice, is a truly imposing character as he snarls, ‘I am fire. I am death.’ (And, Smaug is far better than the 1977 cartoon version that may be stored in the distant recesses of your memory).
This second ‘Hobbit’ is, indeed, better paced than the first. Capturings, arrow battles, barrel ridding, a nascent love triangle, and magic help break up the extended 161-minute runtime, but it still remains a very long film. (As others have pointed out, it would likely take far less time to read the rather brief, actual ‘Hobbit’ book rather than to sit through the three films that are being whittled out of the text.) Both ‘Hobbit’ films really protract and overly detail the Tolkien experience, which make make for some ansiness for non-dyed-in-the-wool fans. The movie also suffers from ‘middle child syndrome,’ as many answers will likely not be definitive until the next film, leading to further viewer fatigue. Nonetheless, if one is willing to solely plunk down and enjoy the showing for the epic tale it is (without worry of what goals the film should achieve), the film can be engaging. ‘The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug’ is rated 4 - of 5 stars (‘recommended’).
‘The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug’ is rated ‘PG-13’ for extended sequences of intense fantasy action violence, and frightening images.
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