Dec 16, 2013

[Movies] The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013)

One of my primary rules for writing reviews is to do my best to separate the source material from the adaptation - especially when it comes to movies. No matter how much the movie claims to be a faithful recreation of a prior work, it's only fair to at least try to treat it as a completely independent work.

It's not at all easy and I know I goof all the time. And this is especially true for adaptations tied to source material that I know rather well or feel relatively passionate about - enter The Hobbit.

I think I've already made my point in my about how silly it is that this is a trilogy in a prior post, so let's just live with that fact. Sure, we're not 100% happy that Peter Jackson turned a book geared for a younger audience into three mega-movies. Yes, we have to accept that Jackson and his team have to come up with new content to stretch the movie sufficiently to last three movies. But that's Hollywood for you.

So here's my attempt to review the movie - not how well the movie follows the book.

Synopsis: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is the 2013 adventure movie sequel to The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. The movie was still directed by Peter Jackson with a screenplay by Jackson, Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens and Guillermo del Toro.

Following the events of the first movie, our group of adventures are still on the run from Azog and his orcs. As they continue on, Bilbo (Martin Freeman) also notices that a huge bear-like creature also appears to be pursuing them. Gandalf (Ian McKellan) then recommends that they seek shelter in the company of Beorn (Mikael Persbrandt) and thus they dash off with the orcs right on their heels. They eventually get to meet this mysterious Beorn who recommends that they pass through the Mirkwood in order to make up for lost time. Despite the dangerous of this particular forest, the party has little time to waste and thus they risk the venture.

At the same time, Gandalf leaves them just before they enter the Mirkwood in order to investigate the tombs of the Nazgûl. There is is joined by Radagast (Sylvester McCoy) and they discover something rather troubling. This eventually leads them to decide to finally venture into the ruins of Dol Guldur and determine the true nature of the Necromancer that is said be hiding there. With all of Midde Earth seeming to be falling further and further into darkness, there is certainly afoot that his hidden from the world including the likes of Gandalf and the White Council.

In many ways, this movie felt a lot better than the first one since there was a lot more going on. Book accuracy aside, this installment of the trilogy was certainly full of Peter Jackson signature fight sequences and tense moments as we watch the party run from one destination to another. There's a lot to be said about Jackson's rather unique perspective in creating these scenes that are a mix of action, tension and humor. However somewhat absent were the slower beauty shots and sequences that give you a sense of just how grand or epic the various locations in Middle Earth are. This was especially felt when it came to the realm of the Wood Elves when we were limited to views of the cells and the throne and little else. I was genuinely keen on seeing more of that particular kingdom!

The movie brought in a number of new characters to round up the cast - many of them not quite canonical as far as the original book is concerned.We all know Legolas (Orlando Bloom) from the first trilogy but we also have the completely new character Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly). She is your stereotypical badass female character (specifically an elf), who has her fair share of fight scenes where she gets to be all cool and even a touch of romance, albeit one that felt a little forced. She was fun enough I suppose, but she had a number of moments that felt out of place, primarily because she was trying to resolve plot threads at full Hollywood movie pacing.

But the fight scenes do have their rather entertaining moments, I have to admit. Jackson really does enjoy sequences that really showcase how the dwarves work together as a unit. The X-Men movies could learn a little from what they managed to accomplish here. At the same time though, these sequences are at times ridiculous and too cartoony and thus it's hard to fully appreciate things. They don't quite fit the overall tone of the movie given how Jackson was clearly trying to turn this into more of an serious adaptation of the original book.

The movie goes from one big adventure-action sequence to another with few breaks in-between. Despite the movie's length, it's as if they were constantly rushing to cover ground in terms of the story. But that's not because the book content was long but more than Jackson clearly had some pretty big plans in terms of how he wanted to expand on the original story. Ignoring book purists who argue that nothing that Tolkien didn't write should have been added, the movie does suffer a bit from lots of fluff.

If anything, Smaug is brilliant. It's hard to consider him being voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch given the added modulation added to the dragon's speeches really doesn't it make it feel like him. But the dragon is beautifully animated and his (lengthy) running dialog adds an interesting degree of menace to things.

Still, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is a great, fun film that provides a lot of great adventure storytelling and one heck of a cliffhanger. Thus the movie continues to rate 4 reasons to have the orcs running across Middle Earth out of a possible 5, similar to how the first movie rated.

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