The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013) (PG-13)
I can admit this before I begin reviewing this movie: I went to "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug" because I was dying to see the trailer for Christopher Nolan's new movie "Interstellar"...and it was glorious. Enough said.
I made no secret my disdain for Peter Jackson's first installment of the trilogy he created from the sole novel The Hobbit. Say what you want about it, I won't listen. I thought it was detestable and too adult to be a children's movie—the defense everyone had for it. So going into "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug", I was braced for the worst.
But things have changed from the first movie to the this one. I'm not sure if Peter Jackson listened to the critics or if the producers decided to ditch the campy script and the video-game quality of the film (don't worry, it is still there, just not as present); but whatever the decision they made...it was the right one.
Abandoning the principle of being entertainment for kids, Jackson embraces his roots in horror to bring us the re-imagining of Tolkien's book.
The movie's opening deposits us on a conversation between Gandalf and Thorin. Thorin, you'll remember from the first movie, was part of the company of dwarves that was accompanying Bilbo for "his adventure". But the ulterior motives of his traveling friends are revealed in the opening dialogue. Gandalf and Thorin need a burglar—a person small enough to sneak past the gaze of a fearsome bad guy and reclaim an artifact of symbolic and perhaps magical power. This person is Bilbo.
The artifact referenced is a glowing stone that the dragon Smaug has hidden in his lair (the lair he usurped from the dwarves) and it belongs to Thorin. Why? Well, because he's the king of the dwarves...duh!
This scene proves many things, even though it is the marginally weaker of the movie's bookends—the beginning and ending scenes—it proves that the newest "Hobbit" movie does not belong to Bilbo Baggins or Martin Freeman. It also proves that Jackson is recycling a lot of his previous glories. There are many visual and spoken references to the trilogy. Jackson paying homage to himself can seem slightly pretentious.
The characters of "The Desolation of Smaug" make decisions entirely based off of emotion and not logic. They are stumbling fools, whining and crying amidst the carnage that inevitably follows them.
After the conversation with Gandalf and Thorin, we rejoin the party as they try to avoid the white orc who is hell-bent on killing and maybe eating all of them. They pursue the Lonely Mountain: a place that keeps getting farther away as they near it.
The movie sees some incredibly great decisions, like the inclusion of Ian Holm's voice, saying just the word "mine" as Bilbo fights for the ring against a baby spider-thingy. We see how Martin Freeman is becoming Bilbo in the fashion that Ian Holm was the character. It's actually quite brilliant. The acting is better by ten-fold, as is the film itself. Perhaps my favorite acting was by Lee Pace who plays a greedy Elvish king. He's cut of the same cloth that Loki is, but I found him much more bearable. Also good is the way the film reintroduces the character of Sauron and the way it handles the Necromancer.
Yet the movie also sees some incredibly bad decisions like the way a river chase scene is shot. The camera switches to the perspective of a person careening down the watery passageway. Because Jackson filmed the movie in such high resolution, it looks weird for the digital camera takeover. It is the difference between a movie like "To the Wonder" and an AFV clip.
The film embraces its adulthood, abandoning the corny but not the cliche. Though it is riddled with cliches, there's something about the film that makes this forgivable.
Our eyes have been trained for seeing CGI: it's everywhere in the film, perhaps (like "An Unexpected Journey") overused. But when it comes to the final scenes when we finally get to see Smaug...it was all worth it. The animation of the dragon is flawless.
There are too many characters in "The Desolation of Smaug". Too many dwarves that is. They just sit there to fill space. When one of them actually speaks it is a surprise to hear them talk...suddenly they become brothers and kin to kings...who knew?
I did not read the book, I have no reference to base the film off of. I'm just looking at it as a movie.
There are moments that may seem ridiculous like an inter-species relationship or hearing the voices that spiders use when they are going to eat dwarves.
There are gruesome moments—the heads certainly roll in this film, some of them bounce off the camera.
There are also great moments—I beseech you to witness Peter Jackon's renaissance.
He steals from his own work, true; but coming back with "The Desolation of Smaug", Jackson has evolved the tone of the series until it becomes its own. It is no longer an afterthought of the trilogy. "The Desolation of Smaug" is fully imagined and three times as developed as its predecessor.
Orlando Bloom returns accompanied with Evangeline Lilly—Lilly is fine in the movie, Bloom could have be done without.
"The Desolation of Smaug" has a terrific ending. Since this is the last note of the film, many of the offenses are dismissible.
It's not a perfect movie or even the most mature work; but Jackson's newest trilogy went from unbearably droll to fantastically mindless and entertaining. Considering how much I hated "An Unexpected Journey", I exited the theater today, duly impressed.
Score: 3 out of 4 stars
Posted by Micah Jones