The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug (2013) Review (PG-13)

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Whether you liked Peter Jackson’s the Hobbit (and the Lord Of The Rings films) or not, when you see ‘The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug’, you will be getting more of the same and your opinion about the director’s toils to bring J.R.R. Tolkien’s work to the big screen probably won’t change, either. Personally, I found the first Hobbit film highly engaging as you can read here in my review of that one. It even landed on my Top 10 Films of 2012 List.  I’m sure this sequel will make my list of ‘Best Of 2013’. I have found the lighter touch in this new trilogy (or, actually, part of an eventual hexalogy) than the overly melodramatic (and weepy) ‘Lord’ films to be much more enjoyable.

Bilbo

The first ‘Hobbit’ film followed the highly episodic journey of one Bilbo Baggins (Martin freeman) along with a wizard and a band of dwarves to regain what was lost to the dwarves decades before. Their destination was ‘The Lonely Mountain’ and at the end of that first Hobbit film, the group had only managed to get a glimpse of the grand elevation in the distance… And we got a peek at Smaug the dragon just before the credits rolled. Having heard that Jackson had divided Tolkien’s spindly little novel into a trilogy, I figured that’s where the first film would end… And knowing the story, I correctly guessed where this film would end, since it was only logical. That did not detract from my enjoyment of the movie at all, though. I think just about everyone going into the theater to see this knows that nothing substantial will be resolved by the film’s end… However long it takes to get there.

TheHobbitTDOSThorin

TH:TDOS begins with a flashback; Gandalf the Wizard  meeting with Thorin, the displaced Dwarven Prince, in a tavern. Thorin had been searching for his lost/missing father in the area and the wizard proposes to the Dwarf that he take back ‘the Arkenstone’ (a really shiny jewel), so that Thorin would become King (and possibly regain the Dwarf Kingdom that was taken by Smaug, a fire breathing, flying, lizard leviathan). Of course, he agrees to partake in the journey (hence the first film).

TheHobbitTDOSPaleOrc

Back to the ‘present’ and we find the group of adventurers on the run from the forces of the “Pale Orc’, the sworn enemy of Thorin. They still have a long journey ahead of them  to reach the mountain (I’m guessing about half of the nearly twenty seven hours of running time). Along the way, you know that they are going to have some setbacks in the form of giant spiders (glimpsed in the first film), Orcs, this ‘Necromancer’ fellow (also glimpsed in the original), more Orcs and Elves among others… Not to mention they’ve got a Dragon waiting for them if they survive all of that. It would be ridiculous to try to summarize the many twists and turns of the plot, so I won’t even try any more than I already have.

TheHobbitTDOSDwarves copy

There is much to like about the movie, especially if you’re ‘into’ the Fantasy genre. Just the general ambience of the setting is probably enough to get fantasy nerds excited enough to lose their 20 sided dice. Jackson’s team of artists specializing in everything from CGI animation, to set design, to the costuming and armaments , and on and on and on… have created a breathtaking world to behold. Every scene is a work of art bolstered by the beautiful New Zealand landscape, which does nothing but make the world of Middle Earth seemingly stretch out into forever. Practically every moment in the film is a visual extravaganza… Which also may be one of the small problems I have with TDOS (you knew it was coming, didn’t you?). As with the other Tolkien films , Jackson loves the material  SO MUCH in every little miniscule detail… that he can’t part with any of it even when the detailing serves no purpose in advancing the plot/story.

TheHobbitTDOSbear

Fans of the book and fantasy in general might rollick in the length of the journey, but I think many will find some of this tedious. Even though  I love stories with monsters and the supernatural which this certainly has plenty of.. and adventure stories… And I REALLY loved the various creatures in the film… But, it was the disjointed reoccurring anecdotal aspect of the movie(s) that began to wear on me a bit. I appreciate that Jackson wants to remain true to the source material*, but some of the chapters were unnecessary. Did we really need that incidental skin changer guy? I don’t think I’m SPOILing anything here because it happens so early in the film, but basically you have a guy that turns into a giant bear. He chases Bilbo and company to his house. Then they rest and when the guy changes back to normal, he comes back home and gives them ponies to ride. Did we really need that five minutes of ‘Phantom Menace-like’ danger when he could have given them the ponies without the chase and overnight sleepover? He’s just some random guy. If the bear-thing was going to have some significance to the story, then I could understand the time spent on him, but really he’s just a guy that goes” Yeah, I hate Orcs. I don’t support them killing you, so here are some ponies that will help you stay ahead of them. Instead of a two to four minute meeting, Jackson spends fifteen or so. Every moment in the film is multiplied in the same sort of way.

TheHobbitTDOSRat

Upon each meeting there is a long explanation or presentation about who someone is, their lineage, the place they derive from, who they played parcheesi with… Swords are examined and their history is praised and flaunted “this is the Elvish blade Mindblower from the forges of the lost city of Rivvenmirk cast in the steel of the Mountain Elves of Thribbledythrain”. I think if you took out the examination of weapons in the two movies, you lose a solid 20 minutes right there that does nothing but stagnate the story and further damage the bladders of audience members.

TheHobbitTDOSTunnels

AND there is a pattern in the two Hobbit films where the dwarves are captured and then they must either be bailed out of jail (often literally) by either  Gandalf or Bilbo or Elves or all of the above. Even when Smaug makes his long awaited appearance in the series, the mayhem that follows may go on just a little too long. I get that it’s supposed to be epic… Smaug IS the equivalent of the nuclear option in the world of Middle Earth,  but at some point I began to feel like that I was seeing too much of the dragon, especially when I knew what the eventual outcome of  said epic meeting would be.

TheHobbitTDOSLegolas

Oh.. The Asterisk above:*… Not to be stopped by only what is contained by the book, Jackson, I guess in fearing that the film would not be lengthy enough created some new material/characters to further muddle the story of Bilbo stepping outside of the safety of his home to experience life, adventure and to test his own limits.

TheHobbitTDOSEvangeline

Tolkien was never interested in any kind of romantic interests in his stories, so Jackson also felt the need to fill that void by adding a sexy female elf warrior, bringing back elf archer Legolas from the Lord of the Rings, and stirring up a love triangle and some ‘jungle fever’ between dwarf and elf-kind. That alone probably added another 45 minutes right there. Taking that out might’ve gotten the film down to a less bloated twenty and a half hours.

TheHobbitTDOSTrees

No, I didn’t hate the movie. I liked it, just like I said I did. Jackson has a serious problem with editing  and being able to part with incidental scenes that bring nothing to the table.. but, he still has made 5 classic… and EPIC… genre films. The thing that eases the pain of the length of the Hobbit films is that they do have a substantial amount of humor, much more so than the first three Tolkien films that Jackson brought to life. And I think, TH:TDOS does a better job than the ‘The Hobbit’ at presenting the personalities of the main characters to the audience. In the first film, I thought Martin freeman’s low key antics of reluctance fell a little flatter than they did here. The best scenes in both films are when Bilbo finds himself alone with one of the dark denizens of the mythology (Gollum in the first, Smaug in the second). To me, the heart of these  stories about hobbits from J. R. R. Tolkien is about an unlikely protagonist standing up to dark forces much larger than themselves… The battles and chases were all entertaining, but the instances where the story’s real hero (Bilbo) is allowed to grow a bit onscreen… allowed to show his quirks and fears… are when the film worked bets for me….

TheHobbitTDOSSmaug

And did I mention there’s a dragon? I always loved Smaug from that old cartoon version of ‘the Hobbit’ and I loved the whole idea of this little person, finding himself alone in the presence of this giant malevolent beast. When I say that I love monsters, I’m not like one of those idiots that roots for the monsters (not generally, anyway). It’s the structure… the design… and they make great villains because generally they represent that Thing In The Dark… Something that scares us. Our fears. They work very well in children’s stories, especially. This version of Smaug isn’t quite so scary. He is as physically impressive as CGI dragons can be, but he might have had a little too much bluster. I think maybe since  characters in the story aren’t quite bound by the physics of reality, that it made the danger that they were in seem  a little less dangerous. The distance that Bilbo and the dwarves can fall and jump and the way they can grab chains in mid fall and… Sometimes there’s just too much CGI, even in a fantasy film like this. As much as I loved this, I don’t think it will be replacing my favorite ‘dragon’ film any time soon (that would be Disney’s Dragonslayer if you were wondering). I’m still hopeful for the third Hobbit film, though, since Smaug is poised to… Well, I won’t give any more away here.

TheHobbitTDOSCloseup

Looking at most of my own review (mostly the latter half), I may sound like I was disappointed with a lot of it (as I often do), but I was not. Even with all of the problems I had with it, it’s still one of the best fantasy films you’ll ever see and filmgoers are lucky to have Peter Jackson at the helm. If you plan on seeing TH:TDOS, then I hope you will go see it at the movie theater, because it is one of those films that need to be seen on a giant silver screen to be truly appreciated. You’ll get your money’s worth. And I guess I’m running long, which is apropos given the film and its director, so I’ll end it here without all of my comments about Jackson’s possible cameo in the film, that ‘thing with the key’, the proper pronunciation of ‘Smaug’, Guillermo Del Toro’s involvement, King Eyebrows, my favorite wizard (which isn’t Gandalf) and Evangeline Lilly. I can edit myself (unlike some people), even if I don’t always properly proofread.

TheHobbitTDOS

4.5 of 5

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One Response to “The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug (2013) Review (PG-13)”

  1. […] The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug I would consider it a bit of a letdown, yet it still makes my top […]

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