The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013)
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First off, having seen this in HFR 3D, I can safely say those elements are nothing to write home about. The high frame rate positions the film as looking somewhere between real life, behind-the-scenes footage, and a video game cutscene. After the first 10 minutes, the only times you'll truly notice it are during long swooping camera shots which feature large amounts of computer work. The 3D is similarly bland and didn't really add much depth of field for me bar a few curious bees.
As for the film itself, it's better than the first Hobbit film by a mile, with much stronger pacing from the start, and more interesting and intense showdowns. But the downsides are considerable. This is now the fifth Middle-Earth film, the second in a 9 hour trilogy that should have remained a 5 hour two parter, and the tropes are really beginning to show. Now, don't get me wrong, visually, it's absolutely first rate, with gorgeous photography and colour grading. The highlights - macabre Mirkwood spiders, Bilbo's brief dalliance with evil, a fun barrel sequence, a chilling showdown with the Necromancer, Smaug's revealing and tense repartee - get the heart rate going a decent amount as spectacle.
Yet (and it pains me to say this, as someone who champions LOTR) this is a work of hubris first and foremost - the middle act of a trilogy that was not originally conceived of, until someone at marketing saw dollar signs, selling Peter Jackson on the idea that the project would serve as a bridge to 'Rings' as a means of justification. This is a decision that cripples the film, and possibly the whole series, to little more than 'adequate', since the additions are practically polarized in quality and deeply lacking in Tolkien's dark, rich tapestry of culture. The good ones? The Gandalf side quest - that's about it. I couldn't give a damn about Azog or the fights he ensues in, because I already know how that's going to end - heroes prevail, and in the third film, and so here, there's little choice to be other than deeply bored, and start counting all the pointless decapitation shots (four). Most of the time the Orcs are spouting fairly banal dialogue anyway, that contrasts heavily with the original prose. Creatures fight, the good guy wins: this isn't the classical epic it wants to be, it's goddamn pantomime.
Neither did I care about the Elves or Laketown all that much, to say nothing of kids, arrow wounds or fish, but the film expands to meet their pointless needs, greatly damaging any sense of narrative drive, which is already highly repetitive in a Dwarf-problem-Bilbo-solution kind of way. If I was supposed to care because it's building to a conclusion in part 3, that doesn't take away from the fact that there's tons of unfulfilling flab in part 2.
By the sudden conclusion, like nearly all of the big blockbusters this year, I was exhausted from things I cared nothing about, extraneous exposition and arduous action added to the plot either to satisfy producers or the pedantic. If you accept the numerous anodyne additions that come at the expense of the characters who were supposed to be there, you must be doing a great deal of mental acrobatics. Go ahead and call me a sourpuss for spoiling all the popcorn fun, but you know the bar has been raised *far* beyond such laziness. I've seen better and I demand better. With no real beginning or end to support it as a middle third, a long setup where nothing of note happens, and a long trail of repetitive traits executed far better in previous installments, pardon the pun, I personally literally felt like butter scraped over too much bread.
The acting is also patchy - McKellen, Freeman, and Armitage do excellent work as usual, but large sections of the film aren't devoted to their presence, and then the bar always sinks to soap-opera. Case in point is an utterly pointless and saccarine love triangle which nearly sinks the whole film ("Today on 'Making Shit Up', we have 'Hot Babe'"), or the choice to only vaguely focus on the ensemble of dwarfs over time, instead of fleshing out their characters individually. Finally, an exciting final showdown is lengthened and degraded by cutting to pointless hand-to-hand-combat, a cheesy healing scene, and a convoluted plan involving ore.
I've sadly taken the position of Christopher Tolkien at this point. The commercial hyperbole around Tolkien has now bled into the films and is starting to reduce the emotional impact to nothing. Try as Jackson might, this is NOT Rings - this was a child's book, and did not need to copy its big brother so awkwardly in celluloid form. In injecting it with tiresome connections under the vague notion of setup, he has fallen prey to his own desire and has become a kind of Smaug himself, greedy and unassailable.
The very reason these books were adapted into film was because enough people wanted to see a visual adaptation of a gorgeous pre-existing text that inspired a vast range of emotion. When Tom Bombadil or the Scouring Of The Shire were cut from LOTR, it was done with respect and a sense of balance. The Hobbit films do not carry this quality but have gone the other way - not only denying their own literary heritage, but brazenly adding pointless dross purely to celebrate their mindless aping of their big brother, and at the expense of enriching the core essence of the author's original intention. Even if the third film miraculously justifies many of the threads left dangling in the wind here, perhaps as setup for the Big Battle, I will still be left feeling that this was by turns cynical or crudely stuffed, and absolutely the wrong book to turn into a movie trilogy.
We as an audience have taken these movies to heart, and truly, virtually nothing can compare to the ace in the hole that was Middle Earth at the start of the millennium. The mediocre copycats that followed inspired contempt, but also led many to boomerang into naivete and fall on their own sword of hype when Unexpected Journey came out. The desperation of raised expectations can be a cruel mistress, and you have to learn to differentiate anxious disappointment from excitement and satisfaction again, if only to accurately quantify your own honest sense of disappointment.
Don't believe it this time or ever: no matter how bad your fanboy Stockholm Syndrome, no matter what anyone else says, they've been fooled, this is a sorely average and rather forgettable film. I'm using the whole range on the 'points scale' here and pinning it at 4.5/10. Just get the last one over and done with already.
EDIT: Here is a list of banalities from this film compiled by a AICN user.
1) Orcs traveling freely and gaily in full daylight
2) Roving Orc band of a couple of dozen of what amount to as Middle Earth "punks" crossing unchecked through Ranger territory, Rivendell territory, Woodland Elf territory, Beorn territory, Laketown territory without getting slaughtered.
3) Orcs traveling on Wargs through impassable mountain terrain in high altitude, narrow crevices and plunging ravines, bereft of GPS to always somehow be hot on the heels of Thorin and Co. Without any hindrance of weather, terrain, opposition, or daylight.
4) Dwarves being flown over hundreds of miles of impassible mountainous terrain to only face the same pursuers, who were not transported by eagles over said terrain only a few minutes of movie time later.
5) Orcs managing to get right to the doorstep of one of the most heavily populated Elven regimes on the planet, in daylight mind you, without getting slaughtered by border sentries, gate guards, or perhaps the Elven version of a high midichlorian count Jedi in Legolas.
6) Gandalf managing to counter Sauron's spell casting ability even though he is clearly delineated as a much weaker denizen on the Mair hierarchy.
7) which leads me to Gandalf actually doing Vader battle with Sauron, the dark lord of middle earth and thereby discovering his true form sixty years before Jackson claims it was discovered that Sauron had taken the form of a flaming eye and Gandalf takes THAT at that time as confirmation of Sauron's rebirth.
8) Orcs waylaying a town halfway across the world with less than a dozen raiders after crossing through all of the above occupied territories.
9) An invented female character side saddling a dwarf who was injured by an invented plot device during an invented raid by an invented raiding force who are driven back by an invented intervention from a popular franchise character all of which was invented to pad the running time of a directors invented trilogy that is completely bereft of any semblance to the source material.
10) Smaug and the Temple of Doom. I'm not going to bother elucidating any further on this point because I could EASILY add another ten categories on this farce. Needless to say the only important point to be taken from the last thirty minutes of this movie is just how far this trilogy has fallen from the grace of the original movies and the source material. For all of the well-deserved goodwill Jackson and Co. Built up from their Herculian accomplishment in building the Tolkien universe, this trilogy is as lazy, convoluted, and disrespectful as the first one is award winning. Regurgitating play for play character and scene plagiarism (see Alfrid, the Master of Laketowns toady vs. Wormtongue or Evangeline side riding Fili ala Elrond healing the Morgul wound or Fellowship crossing the mountains of Hollin vs Azog crossing the moûntains of Hollin) is only the tip of the iceberg for the mess this trilogy has become.....'
First off, I have to say since the "Hobbit" book is much less extensive than the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy, I did not expect either of the Hobbit parts to be just as great as the LOTR films. And they are different, but nevertheless good.
This second part was a real pleasure again. Of course there are always things that have to be changed, omitted or added in comparison to the book. But I believe Peter Jackson is a really capable director who respects the story and did a great job turning it into a film.
I enjoyed the landscapes of New Zealand / Middle Earth, the amazing action scenes and the actors. As a fan, it was nice to see Legolas again. One of the greatest scenes was the fight on the river, involving the wine barrels and lots of orcs... WOW! The dragon looked amazing as well.
Judging from a less emotional point of view, I'd agree with the opinions of some people I know that the scenes with the dragon were too long... but for me as a fan that did not hurt. There were still lots of scenes that left me astonished and overwhelmed, especially on the big screen in the cinema.
Partly because I don't think Tolkien is a sacred cow, I thought The Desolation of Smaug was huge fun. What Peter Jackson has done with the original book is turn it into a trilogy of action movies, expanding each scene and turning them into crazy set pieces. So the dwarves escaping in barrels? A fine trick in the book becomes a hugely entertaining sequence full of cool fighting and memorable gags. As with the first film, Jackson is also using The Hobbit as a prequel to the Lord of the Rings, looking in on such characters as Legolas and Sauron before they were stars, so to speak. Some have bristled at the inclusion of a love triangle and a new female character, but that's no different from Arwen's role in the other trilogy. I have no problem at all with developping stories for the dwarves in the company, especially since the book makes most of them ciphers, names and not much else to make up the 13. Frustrations? Some, but very mild. Cumberbatch as Smaug is kind of wasted, since the dragon's voice isn't recognizable as his, and the motion cap (which he did) is too inhuman to register AS an actor's performance. No musical numbers, which is too bad because it's a break from the first film's style. And it ends on much more of a cliffhanger than the first film, so doesn't feel like a complete chapter, despite its running time.
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This movie ranks #45 in All-Time Worldwide Box office
This movie ranks #153 in FOK! top 250
This movie ranks #293 in All Time Box Office