Director: Peter Jackson
Starring: Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman, Benedict Cumberbatch, Evangeline Lilly, Richard Armitage, Lee Pace, Cate
Blanchett, Luke Evans, Ken Scott, Aidan Turner, Stephen Hunter
It was around this time last year that we were introduced to Peter Jackson's version of "The Hobbit" by J.R.R. Tolkien. The first film, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, was hit with some hesitation and disapproval. The second part in this new trilogy, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, should hopefully bring some uptight fans back for more. Our fearless gang led by Gandalf the Wizard (McKellen), head dwarf Thorin Oakenshield (Armitage), twelve more dwarves, and their "burglar" hobbit Bilbo Baggins (Freeman) are still on their adventure to the Lonely Mountain to obtain the white gem known as the Arkenstone and for Thorin to reclaim his position as the king of Erebor.
What stands in their way at the Lonely Mountain is the fire breathing dragon Smaug (voiced by Cumberbatch) who destroyed Erebor from the dwarves that called it home. It is their time to reclaim their kingdom. Their journey takes them through Milkwood and Esgaroth as they come face to face with the Orcs as well as being captured by the Elvenking Thranduil (Pace), who the dwarves have had a long feud with when he merely stood by and watched the destruction of their kingdom without offering help. Let us not forget that Bilbo is still in possession of the magical One Ring that he stole from the creature Gollum.
Let me just say first and foremost that this second part is a vast improvement from the first in The Hobbit trilogy. I should also state that I am a avid lover of The Lord of the Rings trilogy. They rank as #6 in My Top 20 list. I think my passion for those films made me appreciate the new trilogy more so than your average moviegoer or someone that is not as invested in Tolkien's story. I can agree with some of the negative feedback and grumblings that the first one received. Jackson and fellow screenwriters Fran Walsh, Phillipa Boyens, and Guillermo del Toro have expanded one story and made three movies out of it while The Lord of the Rings trilogy consisted of three movies from three separate books. I must admit that I have not read the book of "The Hobbit", so I go in not necessarily knowing where the film diverges from the story unless I have read rumblings from other fans. The character of the female elf Tauriel (Lilly) is completely made up for the movies. While Legolas is a Tolkien character, he does not appear in this book. Even without having read the book, it is apparent that this aspect of the story is more fleshed out by Jackson and his writing team. I place no blame on Bloom or Lilly as they are quite good, but many of their segments make the film drag on at times. Lee Pace is fantastic as Elvenking Thranduil, but I am not quite sure we needed Legolas and Tauriel as well.
Despite some of the more meandering moments in the story, the writing team succeeds at raising the stakes a bit and letting the audience in on who some of these characters are. While the gang of dwarves seemed to blend in together in the first movie, their individualistic qualities come out to play here especially for Bombur (Hunter), Balin (Scott), and Kili (Turner) and we get to know what their roles are as part of the gang. Some may scoff at the romantic flirting that occurs between Kili and Tauriel. The film boasts some heightened actions sequences which is another plus as it brings the pace back up for the almost three hour movie. I am warning you now if you have a fear of spiders, but that sequence is one of the best in the movie.
The hype surrounding the film involves the creation and execution of Smaug. We get glimpses of him from the first film, but I sat eagerly anticipating his arrival throughout this movie. I am not really ruining anything by stating that Bilbo makes it to the Lonely Mountain and faces the diabolical dragon. Leave it to in demand actor Benedict Cumberbatch to breathe some life into him with the perfect maniacal tone. Peter Jackson had huge success with bringing Gollum to life, and he has done it again here with Smaug. The special effects and CGI animation for the character is stunning like so many other aspects of Jackson's attempt at bringing Tolkien's tale to the bring screen. The grandiose scale of Smaug and menancing fear he adds to the story brought me right back to that feeling I had when the T-Rex shows up in Jurassic Park. If you feel at all like the middle drags, you will perk right up with the arrival of Smaug as it kicks the story into high gear.
Jackson proves again what a visually stunning director he can be. The whole design of Mirkwood and the Lonely Mountain in particular is stunning and a feast for anyone that loves the Tolkien universe. I appreciate that it seems he has built massive sets and sound stages for filming without feeling the need to over-CGI the movie to death, like certain Sam Raimi and Baz Luhrman films from earlier this year. Jackson has once again shot the film using the High Frame Rate of 48 frames per second. Not every theater can show it in this format, but you can definitely notice a difference in the picture quality. I do not know if I am more accustomed to it after viewing the first film in HFR, but it did not seem nearly as distracting this time around. Maybe Jackson and his crew knew how to work with it better on their second attempt with it. I will say that the 3D is quite gimmicky at times with arrows, bees, fire balls, and other objects that are constantly popping out of the screen. I am far too old for that cheap thrill. I would rather have the 3D enhance the world and picture by giving it dimension, not by cheap thrills. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug hopefully will bring naysayers from the first film right back into the series. We are getting back to some of that feeling of what made The Lord of the Rings trilogy so special.
RATING: **** (4 out of 5 stars)