The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug continues the adventure of the title character Bilbo Baggins as he journeys with the Wizard Gandalf and thirteen Dwarves, led by Thorin Oakenshield, on an epic quest to reclaim the Lonely Mountain and the lost Dwarf Kingdom of Erebor.
Having survived the beginning of their unexpected journey, the Company continues East, encountering along the way the skin-changer Beorn and a swarm of giant Spiders in the treacherous forest of Mirkwood. After escaping capture by the dangerous Wood-elves, the Dwarves journey to Lake-town, and finally to the Lonely Mountain itself, where they must face the greatest danger of all — a creature more terrifying than any other; one which will test not only the depth of their courage but the limits of their friendship and the wisdom of the journey itself — the Dragon Smaug. (from MovieWeb.com)
A year ago, Peter Jackson debuted the first piece of his new prequel trilogy series to the Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. The book was originally supposed to be converted into a two-movie project, but the powers that be decided to extend it to a full trilogy of movies, with the third film arriving six months after the release of the second one. However, now fans have to wait another full year for the conclusion, with the third film having been moved to next December. In the meantime, The Desolation of Smaug is the new, middle entry to the latest trilogy.
The film opens with a flashback to where Gandalf confronts the dwarf Thorin before the entire journey begins. This becomes a lead-in to the new film, a story which then picks up where An Unexpected Journey left off. Basically, the twelve dwarves, the hobbit Bilbo Baggins, and the wizard Gandalf are trying to reach the Lonely Mountain so they could defeat the dragon Smaug and Thorn could claim his rightful throne. To do so, they must brave a giant-spider-infested forest and the Elvish inhabitants in Northern Mirkwood. But Gandalf decides to leave the group and travel to Dol Guldur, where he aims to confront a growing evil (which proves to be a seemingly pointless moment in the movie). But it's moments like these that Jackson uses to help set up The Lord of the Rings. At this point with the release of the first and second Hobbit movies, it feels kind of out of superfluous to add extra running time to an already long film to set up events that don't really need any kind of additional setup. But alas, the journey continues for all of the characters in what is ultimately a Jackson-manipulated detour from the Tolkien source material.
The big changes to the original story will probably upset purists, but it's understandable that Jackson would want to adapt The Hobbit more to fit in with his film series. An Unexpected Journey caught a lot of flack for being long and uneventful, so it seems like Jackson tried to make up for it by adding lots of action throughout The Desolation of Smaug. For the most part, it helps the story move along quicker, especially since all of the characters, the story, and their goals have been set up at length in the first film. And if you've seen An Unexpected Journey a time or two, chances are you're more than ready to see the evolution of Thorin and his company as they push on to the Lonely Mountain.
To bring some more continuity to the series, Jackson introduces the elf Legolas into The Hobbit, where he otherwise does not appear in the book. It feels a little odd to have him in the mix, especially with him being more rough and wooden here than in LOTR, and, of course, the handsome elf is now magically thirteen or so years older than he will appear in the "sequels" (and his eyes look really odd?). Don't get me wrong, it's fun to see him back in action, desimating orcs left and right, but it doesn't really feel natural (kind of like how Lucas shoehorned Chewbacca into the last Star Wars prequel). Tauriel is a new elf character that does not exist in any of the books and is played by LOST's Evangeline Lilly. It's unfortunate that she isn't part of the original canon, but I did enjoy her addition to the series (even if it is muddled by the overall discontentment from fans toward her made-up character). She fits into Jackson's world nicely and Lilly does a great job as an elf. Of course, she also serves as a weird object of affection for a couple of the characters, but it seems to be something created by Jackson only to fill a romantic void in the story.
Because the pacing is faster, a lot more seems to happen in The Desolation of Smaug (than in the previous movie), with arguably the best moments involving the titular character of the dragon Smaug. In the film's climax, Bilbo Baggins, played by Martin Freeman, confronts the beast, who's voiced brilliantly by Benedict Cumberbatch, in a wonderful sequence that brings to mind Bilbo's exchange with Gollum in An Unexpected Journey, but on a more visually stunning, large, and captivating level. Smaug is a gigantic, menacing creature, especially when pitted against a diminutive hobbit, and the two engage in a sort of battle of wits as Bilbo attempts to distract him enough to retrieve the coveted Arkenstone. And for anyone who's a fan of the BBC series Sherlock, it's especially entertaining to watch a dragon voiced by Cumberbatch pursue Freeman as a hobbit.
With any sequel, the question of if it's better than its predecessor or not is always raised upon the film's release, and The Desolation of Smaug is no exception to this unwritten rule. But it probably can all boil down to preference with a film like this. Desolation is far more action-packed than Unexpected Journey was, but Journey has an arguably stronger story than its successor. But for a series of films that have always worked together best as a whole and not in one-off doses, Desolation is a good film because of Unexpected Journey's setup. However, there's still a lot that can be picked apart about this film (as with any one of the films in either trilogies). In some ways, Ian McKellen's performance as Gandalf seemed as if he were over-acting and over-doing some of his line delivery this time around, and that may not be entirely his fault depending on how he was directed. Luke Evans is a good addition to the cast as Bard, but some of his scenes feel overly melodramatic, as does Lee Pace as the stiff elf king Thranduil. But my biggest problem with the film is entirely a personal phobia. The first big action sequence in The Desolation of Smaug is when gigantic spiders attack the dwarves and Bilbo in Mirkwood forest. In all embarassing honesty, I still can't quite get through the Shelob scene in Return of the King (and dread it each time I watch the film), and I found myself squirming in my seat like a child having to use the potty as multiple large spiders swarmed and attacked Bilbo and the dwarves. They jump out at the screen in close-ups (and I didn't even see the movie in 3D) and are frequently seen scurrying across treetops and webs. It's quite honestly the stuff that an arachnophobe's nightmares are made of. So, fellow spider-haters be warned: it's very, very bad.
Otherwise, the content for the film is on par with anything you'd see in The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Orcs are beheaded (and it's shown on screen usually, albeit briefly) and impaled with arrows, while the large spiders are cut open, dismembered, and stabbed. There is a lot of action involving heroes battling grotesque and often frightening-looking orcs, and there's a little bit of gore shown when orcs are killed from time to time. Lastly, a dwarf is shot in the leg with an arrow and we briefly see part of the wound a couple times (with bloody results). For the most part, if you've seen the other Hobbit or Rings movies, you can expect more of the same kind of content here.
Overall, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is a more entertaining Hobbit film than An Unexpected Journey, but it still suffers from some moments that are far too corny and scenes that feel like unnecessary filler. To make matters worse, you will likely join in the rest of the theater in groaning at the abrupt ending that ends the film without any kind of wrap-up. It's almost on par with the ending of Inception, but it's the kind of ending that a TV show might give a season to keep you interested in coming back for the following fall. However, the fact that moviegoers have to wait a full year to see the resolution of this adventure is a painful one.- John DiBiase (reviewed: 12/14/13)
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug 3D - This 3D Blu-Ray release was my first time seeing a film of this series in 3D. Smaug was shot in 3D and so it often really pops out at the viewer while watching it. Sometimes the picture does look remarkably flat, but it does seem like any time you watch a movie in 3D, your eyes and mind adjust to it and it seems less and less "3D" as you're watching. If you're a fan of 3D movies, though, this is definitely a good one to check out.
2D Blu-Ray, Disc One:
New Zealand: Home of Middle Earth, Pt 2 (7:11) - The first Blu-Ray release for An Unexpected Journey included a video segment very similar to this one. It's a cast and crew reflection on shooting on location in New Zealand for The Hobbit films. They also show us more scenic shots from the country and then the final shot used in the film to show you just how naturally majestic the real landscapes are. It's sort of a tongue-in-cheek featurette that doubles as a mini commercial for the beauty of New Zealand.
2D Blu-Ray, Disc Two:
Peter Jackson Invites You to the Set (40:36) - All of the extra goodies are absent from the first disc and appear on their very own special features disc. This first one is broken up into two parts with a Play All option. It's a pretty cool look at what a 24-hour day during the production of these films could look like. So we see some cast getting picked up at 4AM to be taken to the set, while other crew had already been there all night dressing sets and working on props. We then see some of the actors putting on make-up for their characters before filming. We also see some on-set filming of scenes from the movie, including Luke Evans filming the arrow-shooting (at Smaug) flashback scene and Legolas' interrogation of an orc with his father. They also show little personal events like celebrating Andy Serkis' and Ian McKellen's birthdays. We see a brief montage of actors sitting around waiting for filming to start or resume, with many of them sleeping or falling asleep. Another segment has Jackson rounding up Bilbo and the dwarves to watch a stuntman demonstrate how to cut themselves out of the spider web from the Mirkwood sequence. We're then shown other departments of production, like where they scan in the day's footage, the prop workshop, and more. It ends with a longer look of the setting up and filming of the elves fighting orcs in Laketown. (1 "S" word)
"I See Fire" Music Video (5:42) - The "I See Fire" video, by Ed Sheeran, is presented like a music video but it sounds and looks like a making-of video and an acoustic version. It's a little out of place here, but those who like the song should enjoy it.
Live Event: In the Cutting Room (37:52) - Those who purchased An Unexpected Journey the week it released last March were treated to a special online event with Peter Jackson less than a week after the Blu-Ray/DVD release. On Monday, March 25, 2013, Peter Jackson took fans on a special tour of his office/studio while Smaug was being finished, and then settled into the Cutting Room to answer fans' questions from videos and Twitter. Even better, however, are the guest questions from Lord of the Rings actors Dominic Monaghan (Merry) and Billy Boyd (Pippin) and Smaug first-timer Evangeline Lilly. There are also guest greetings from actors Luke Evans and Stephen Fry. Overall, it's a fun bonus featurette.
Production Videos (36:41) - There are four more 2013 production video blogs from Jackson here that show a lot of great on-set footage and behind-the-scenes glimpses at the making of these three movies. They're split into 4 parts with a Play All feature. They mostly focus on the fact that the cast and crew were reassembled a year after filming The Hobbit for "pick-up" shots to fix or fill in scenes (and probably help extend the movie series from two movies to three). It's fun to see how excited everyone is to be back in the Tolkien saddle. The fourth and final video blog is exclusively devoted to Howard Shore's score of the film. (1 "S.O.B.")
Trailers - There are two theatrical trailers for The Desolation of Smaug and 1 extended 3-minute preview. Then there's a trailer for the Extended Edition of An Unexpected Journey and two Hobbit-themed video games (including a LEGO one!).- John DiBiase, (reviewed: 4/5/14)
Disclaimer: All reviews are based solely on the opinions of the reviewer. Most reviews are rated on how the reviewer enjoyed the film overall, not exclusively on content. However, if the content really affects the reviewer's opinion and experience of the film, it will definitely affect the reviewer's overall rating.
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