Movie Review: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

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Bilbo continues to travel to the Lonely Mountain with the company of dwarves and Gandalf, encountering pretty elves, dirty men, and one big-ass dragon.

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Peter Jackson, 2013

After a brief flashback (a weird start to the movie, but we were rewarded with a Peter Jackson cameo) featuring Gandalf (Ian McKellen) and Thorin (Richard Armitage), this film picks up where the last left off, as they do, with the wizard, the dwarves and Bilbo (Martin Freeman) running from orcs. They head into Mirkwood, where Gandalf leaves them, have a run-in with some extraordinarily pretty, awesome elves, and then head towards the Misty Mountain via Laketown. Laketown is in the grasp of a selfish, greedy Master (Stephen Fry), and the dwarves are aided by a man called Bard (Luke Evans), who is trying to improve the lives of the people of Laketown. They finally reach the Misty Mountain, sending Bilbo in to recover the precious Arkenstone, but instead he encounters the infamous dragon, Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch). Meanwhile, Gandalf discovers just who is really after them, and the elves Legolas (Orlando Bloom) and Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly) pursue the orcs who are pursuing the dwarves.

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I actually enjoyed this film more than the first. Yeah, it drags on and it’s too long, but I enjoyed the elements of this film more than the goblins of the first. As in the first film, the best scene in this film is a conversation between Bilbo and an evil creature; in the first, it was with Gollum, and in this it’s with Smaug. However, aside from getting to see Frodo and Hobbiton again, I found the first film pretty disappointing, while this one expanded more of the interesting parts of Middle Earth. The Mirkwood elves are brilliant – immortal and defensive elf king Thranduil (personal favourite Lee Pace), self important young Legolas, and brave fighter Tauriel. Laketown is interesting all on its own, and Luke Evans does a good job of making Bard a sympathetic rebel. The relations between the races are always intriguing, so it’s good to see some expansion of those themes, of the strengths and weaknesses of each race. Martin Freeman is still flawless as the titular hobbit, and the effects of the ring are beginning to be seen in him. It’s a film full of strong performances, although the dwarves who are supposed to be the focus of the story still get short shrift, with the exception of Thorin and Aidan Turner’s Kili (the pretty dwarves). Armitage’s Thorin has a particularly interesting arc. It seems like Peter Jackson is as dismissive of dwarves as most of Middle-Earth.

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Alternative title idea: The Hobbit: The Fierceness of Elves

I got to see the film on something approaching an Imax screen, and it looked a lot better than the first, though still not as beautiful as the original trilogy. I’m still not sold on the high frame rate. The film is episodic in nature, which is a problem of the book as well, with a few threads holding it together. The crowning achievement is Smaug, who is as much of a living, breathing, real character as Gollum. Benedict Cumberbatch’s voice might be the only one that could do the great, greedy, bombastic creature justice, and it provides real menace (particularly in opposition to the weird culmination of Gandalf’s side quest). Jackson uses the setting of the dwarf city to great effect. The music is just beautiful, as always. The thing about the Hobbit movies is that regardless of the length and diminished quality of the films, I’d still rather spend three hours in Middle Earth than most any other cinematic universe. Every detail is lovingly brought to the screen.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug on IMDb

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