The adventure of the little hobbit, Bilbo Baggins, accompanying a gang of dwarves to steal their people’s treasure back from the evil dragon, Smaug, continues and this time they encounter werebeasts, giant spiders, warrior elves, a destitute fishing village… and a bloody great dragon.
First it must be stated that owing to my extreme dislike of the ‘cutting edge’ High Frame Rate (HFR) format while viewing the first instalment of The Hobbit films, I this time went out of my way to see the film in regular old 2D, which proved less distracting on an immeasurable level and wholly more satisfying. I urge everyone to avoid HFR like the plague on this and all future productions.
Since the first film in the series views on the franchise have split a number of ways, chiefly to people who are dissatisfied with the film as an adaptation of a rather whimsical children’s book, due to changes in tone and direction so as to have it tie in closer to The Lord of the Rings series of films at the expense of its child-friendliness, a factor, rather contrarily, held in high regards by the other school of thought, that tying The Hobbit in to the LOTR only goes to make the saga more epic and enjoyable.
I suppose I fall somewhere in between; while I would have liked to have seen a more light hearted swing at the Tolkien-verse, I can sit back and enjoy the film for what it is, though without the ‘can do no wrong’ outlook of the über-LOTR acolyte, but if you found yourself to be of the dissatisfied crowd there will be nothing in this instalment to rectify your opinion, if anything this film adds even more graveness to the proceedings, so take that for what it is.
First and foremost, The Desolation of Smaug can’t be viewed as its own entity; if you haven’t already, check out An Unexpected Journey or don’t bother at all, as you will have little to no investment from word one. Secondly, this is the centre film of a trilogy so don’t go in expecting any form of closure. The Lord of the Rings films at least had individual conclusions after a fashion, The Hobbit films do not, they just run on as one long narrative; and so, if nothing said so far has put you off the flick, you’re in for a pretty good time.
Starting with the negative, it becomes increasingly clear that The Hobbit probably should have been a two film deal, there’s a lot of chaff here, enjoyable chaff for the fans, but chaff nonetheless, stuff that could easily have been included as part of the extended home editions, and while this reviewer enjoys world building a great deal, there was no getting around the fact that quite the number of people in the theatre where becoming somewhat antsy as the film progressed.
The only other major issue was the semi-regular Peter Jackson phenomenon of okaying a really dodgy sequence of CG here and there; remember the dinosaur chase sequence in King Kong? Or the hangy chin goblin dude from the previous Hobbit film? Well, The Desolation of Smaug too has the occasional piece of CG that sticks out like a saw thumb.
That being said, the rest of the film is absolutely gorgeous, just ridiculously beautiful. Little more can be said than already has about the level of detail that the Weta gang put into all areas of production design and they surely haven’t dropped the ball here. At times the film looks SO ethereal that you could be forgiven for thinking you’re watching some kind of dream.
The cast all remain strong, with the addition of Stephen Fry, Benedict Cumberbatch and Luke Evans in major roles harming not at all. The forest elves are also a welcome addition to the story, ramping up the tension and intensifying the action at every opportunity. Indeed, whenever Orlando Bloom’s Legolas and Evangeline Lilly’s (Kate from Lost) Tauriel get involved in a tussle the outcome is often jaw droppingly imaginative in its execution, a prime example being the ‘barrel escape’, which is just dizzyingly complex and awesome on every level.
The extensions in story designed solely to tie the hobbit-based sagas together are extremely entertaining and provide much needed Gandalf content where the source material is sadly (and illogically) lacking it. It’s all very poe faced, but tense and sometimes magnificent.
And then there is Smaug, voiced by the aforementioned Benedict Cumberbatch. Smaug is the greatest dragon in all of fiction and as such the makers of The Hobbit had the hefty responsibility of creating the greatest dragon in film history, the fans would settle for nothing less… and by jove, they might just have done it. He looks fantastic, he sounds fantastic and gives off the distinct vibe of invincibility, largely due to an epic sense of scale.
It seems like a harsh but fair conclusion to say that if you don’t like The Lord of the Rings OR The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, you most assuredly will not enjoy The Desolation of Smaug. It’s better than the first film but delivers precisely what you would expect, a tremendous and excellently rendered fantasy adventure that, unfortunately, doesn’t have the epic sense of purpose required to fill its forbearers shoes.
B- grade – for storytelling
A grade – for visuals
B+ grade – for action
C+ grade – for pacing
B grade – acting
Overall grade – B+