The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

By on December 26, 2013
The Hobbit 2 The Desolation of Smaug

The latest installment of the ongoing “Hobbit” franchise, this was the one I was essentially most looking forward to, more or less, as it was likely the one involving the gang’s showdown with the titular dragon, Smaug, which was indeed the case. Granted, if you know the book, you know there’s still a big end battle on the way, which I’ve no doubt will be suitably spectacular, but by God, I wanted some dragon, and I got it here, and voiced by Sherlock/Khan himself, Benedict Cumberbatch, no less.

Pretty awesome stuff, to be sure, and the dragon itself is quite the achievement. Basically, it’s the “Dragonheart” dragon taken to the next level, and I definitely mean that as a compliment. I saw this in the much-debated “high-frame rate” version, my first using this technology. It definitely takes some getting used to, and there were times it took me completely out of the movie, if I’m being honest. It has an oddly artificial feel to it, which I realize is a weird thing to say about a series of films so heavily reliant on CGI and the like, but I’m not sure how else to describe it.

The best way to put it was that there were times you went from feeling like you were watching a fantasy land as expected to feeling like you were watching actors on a movie set. Obviously, the latter is exactly what the case is, but the high frame thing makes it much more readily apparent, which is extremely disconcerting. Think watching a big budget Spielberg flick versus watching a shot-on-video made-for-TV film. In other words, it’s not what you exactly want to convey in a film this expensive.

That said, once you get used to it, certain scenes were undeniably spectacular in a way that tops most 3D I’ve seen, save maybe “Avatar” and “Hugo.” In particular, the action scenes were awe-inducing, notably a scene involving the fellowship escaping an Elfish prison using wine barrels, and the climatic scenes with the dragon.

It was only when the action stopped and you had scenes of people talking that the technique became awkward and off-putting, but then again, this is a nearly three-hour movie we’re talking about, so that happens quite a bit, so if you’re considering seeing this in the high frame rate version, you might want to be wary of that fact.

Probably your best bet would be to make sure there’s a regular or “normal” 3D version starting in the vicinity of the high frame rate one, just in case. If not, don’t say you weren’t warned. Be all that as it may, the film itself is a vast improvement over the last one. Speaking of off-putting, I was definitely not happy with all the stalling tactics used to fill out the running time of the first “Hobbit” film.

From threatening to turn into a musical for a spell- I’ll take my fantasy films without singing, thank you very much- to some needlessly convoluted and expanded elements that weren’t in the original book, I was a little disappointed in the end result. Though the film ultimately won me over, I still questioned whether the decision to expand the relatively short novel into three films was a wise one.

In this film, we see that there may have been a method to director Peter Jackson’s madness after all. After the near-endless set-up and exposition of the first film, “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” is pretty packed with action from top-to-bottom, and this time around, the extra elements work quite well. I was especially concerned with the addition of a new character, Tauriel, a female elf character. I was a huge “Lost” fan, so it was nice seeing one of that show’s stars, Evangeline Lilly on the big screen for the first time outside of a bit part in “The Hurt Locker.” However, I had my doubts about the character.

Happily, I can say that the addition is a fine one, as it adds some much-needed female appeal in a series not exactly known for it, and Tauriel doesn’t seem out of place, which was my main concern. In fact, she’s integral to the action, and yet the film doesn’t try to force any romantic elements that might be distracting to the main story, not to mention add to the already lengthy running time, so that’s a plus. That’s not to say there aren’t some minor implied feelings between her and Legolas (Orlando Bloom), just that isn’t time-consuming and only implied rather than expanded upon.

So, all in all, a solid improvement over the last one, and much more action-packed, with plenty of dragon-y goodness, plus some icky big spider stuff for good measure. The effects are, as ever, well done, and if the high frame rate version I watched was flawed for the reasons I mentioned, it didn’t impact the skills on display on the whole. If the first installment was disappointing to you because of the lack of action and forward-momentum, rest assured, you definitely get that here.

If anything, the only real issue is that, like many middle installments, such as the recent “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” or something like “The Empire Strikes Back,” there’s no real ending. It ends right before the big end battle, in fact, which might be disappointing to some, but it’s a necessary evil, what with Jackson’s decision to expand the book into three films. Whether that ends up being a dubious decision remains to be seen, but so far, so good, for the most part.

Personally, I think two films might have been a better route to take, but we’ll see. So long as Jackson doesn’t spend half the next movie ending the damn thing, a la “The Return of the King,” I’ll be happy, I suppose, but I don’t necessarily know that he might not do precisely that, so I’ll take a wait-and-see attitude to that one. In the meantime, this “Hobbit” is a must-see for fans of the series, and a vast improvement over the previous one that might just win over those put off by the first “Hobbit.” I’m going to go ahead and give it an A-.

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About Mark Trammell

Mark Trammell is the resident entertainment critic at UAB, the University of Alabama at Birmingham, where he is also a Graduate Student and does a vid-cast movie review show. He is a life-long fan of films and has a pretty whacked-out, all-over-the-place movie collection that would give most sane people pause. He loves horror movies and Disney flicks and isn't entirely sure there is a difference. He one day hopes to put his money where his mouth is and inflict his own perverse vision on society, entirely so that he can tell people who ask: "If you think you can do better, why don't you make a movie yourself?" to shut up.
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