johnlink ranks THE HOBBIT: THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG (2013)

Exactly a week after being underwhelmed by the initial HOBBIT offering in Peter Jackson’s series, I got into the theater to see number two. My expectations were tempered by the mediocre first film, though I secretly sat down in the theater thinking there was no reason this couldn’t be on par with the original LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy. So how was it?

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I watched THE HOBBIT: THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG (2013) on 1.4.14. It was my first viewing of the film.

This second story in THE HOBBIT trilogy has Bilbo (Martin Freeman), Gandalf (Ian McKellen) and the band of dwarves getting closer to the mountain they seek. In the way are orcs, mean elves, and a giant dragon named Smaug (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch) Most every complaint lobbied at AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY finds redemption in DESOLATION OF SMAUG. Let us start with a list of issues and how they were addressed.

A STRETCHED STORY. With the first HOBBIT, it felt as though small moments from the book (which, in full disclosure, I have not read) were turned into large plot segments for a film which needed to have some big beats. The hunting of the dwarves by the Orcs through the field, an anticlimactic encounter, was one. The goblin battle felt too small to be as big as it was turned into, for another.

Yet, in DESOLATION, these big moments felt big. A battle pitting orcs versus dwarves and elves as the dwarves roll downstream in barrels is, thus far, the highlight of the two films. An encounter with spiders was properly restrained, yet also taught us something key about our hero Bilbo and his ability to hear the communications of beasts while under the influence of the ring. Likewise, the final encounter with Smaug is a nuanced and complex climax which feels much more like a major finale than the tree-climbing deus ex machina finale of the first.

CASHING IN ON CAMEOS Where the first film had Cate Blanchett, Christopher Lee, Elijah Wood, and Bret McKenzie showing up for little more than winks at the audience, the second film uses their old friends much more satisfactorily. Blanchett shows up for a few seconds for a key plot moment and is not wasted. Orlando Bloom returns as the elf Legolas and is a major component of the plot. DESOLATION OF SMAUG seemed much more determined to get to its destination than did AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY.

COINCADENCES ABOUND The first film is filled with moments where the exact right thing happens at the exact right moment. Gandalf returns (twice) and Bilbo finds his friends in a mountain. In this film, the coincidences feel much less forced. Sure, the elves show up at the right moment in a human house in the third act. Yet we know that they have been coming because it has been set up for the previous forty minutes. Also, Gandalf DOESN’T show up at the moments when the dwarves need him most, making them fight for themselves instead. Perhaps Bilbo coming across exactly what he is looking for at the exact right moment in a cave falls towards this coincidental sort of choice, yet the film has earned itself one or two of these by the time we get there.

CGI I was less than gentle in my skewering of the CGI in the first film. The second film is a step in the right direction, even if it is not perfect.  Some moments, like the dragon and the cave, are vastly improved. The fighting is shot much more close-up, and the orcs seem to be played by mostly real humans. This helps immensely. Yet, at a few spots, the CGI is still laughably bad. Particularly in the final shot of Legolas riding a horse in the night. The horse is fake, the sky is obviously green screen, and an otherwise epic battle is concluded with a shot that sucks you right out of the reality. Perhaps all that is needed is an editor willing to pull a shot like that which is just not needed. It would be interesting, too, to discover how much of an effect 3D had on the budget and whether the additional money could have been used to perfect a few more shots. The LORD OF THE RINGS had a stubborn instance on getting almost every effect perfect. Many shots in THE HOBBIT, particularly in the first one, have a sense of ‘Well, that is good enough’.

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So those are complaints addressed. The second HOBBIT is a vast improvement over the first. The acting is, again, really stellar. Freeman nails the slow darkening of Bilbo powerfully. Richard Armitage plays a nuanced Thorin. Another welcome addition is Luke Evans, as the human Bard, who helps smuggle the dwarves into a town. His character adds a nice layer. Previously, in this story, you are either with the dwarves and good, or against them and bad (or indifferent, like Legolas). When the dwarves meet the elven king Thranduil (Lee Pace, gnawing on the scenery), he is selfish and flatly against them. In contrast, a character like Bard is likable, noble, and strong. Yet he also loudly disagrees with the dwarves journey. It’s nice to have that conflict between two parties the audience is rooting for, it makes for a more layered story. On a side note, Bard looks spectacularly similar to Inigo Montoya from THE PRINCESS BRIDE.

Is DESOLATION OF SMAUG on par with LORD OF THE RINGS? I’d have to rewatch those to confirm it. But this second HOBBIT film is absolutely in that ballpark at least. Where the first movie had me worried for the franchise, the second has me excited for the conclusion.

SCORES

FILM: 7; MOVIE: 9; ACTING: 8; WRITING: 7

7+9+8+7+0=31

FINAL SCORE: 7.75

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~ by johnlink00 on January 5, 2014.

4 Responses to “johnlink ranks THE HOBBIT: THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG (2013)”

  1. I’m glad you liked this one more!

  2. I could pretty much just copy and paste your review as my own. Agree 100%. I hated the first film and this is a massive step in the right direction which has me excited for the final installment.

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