Monday, December 16, 2013

Movie Review: "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug"

Sometimes you really want to love a movie, and when you wind up only liking it, it's more painful than if you just flat out hated it.  That's how I am with this second installment of The Hobbit trilogy, The Desolation of Smaug.  I wanted to love this film so much, because I loved The Lord of the Rings trilogy and the first part of The Hobbit, An Unexpected Journey, but The Desolation of Smaug is further proving that perhaps Peter Jackson should have just made The Hobbit one long three-and-a-half hour movie, rather than three separate three hour films.

In this installment, we catch back up with Bilbo and the thirteen dwarves, still pursued by a pack of orcs as they try to reach the Lonely Mountain and take back the dwarf kingdom of Erebor from the vile dragon, Smaug.  Of course, as is par for the course, nothing goes according to plan and our heroes must face many trials and tribulations before they actually get there.

The biggest difference between The Desolation of Smaug and An Unexpected Journey is that this film just isn't as much fun as its predecessor.  An Unexpected Journey was a lighthearted adventure film that perhaps played to a far younger crowd than most diehard Tolkien addicts would have wanted, but it is what made that film both different from The Lord of the Rings trilogy, and also an enjoyable adventure film in its own right.

This time around, most of the humor is gone and there is a serious lack of emotional beats, which was one thing An Unexpected Journey had in ample supply.  A large part of this is because the events that are adapted here are purely action beats that have been dragged out in every possible way, adding in characters that never existed before, while also expanding upon characters who perhaps didn't need as much screen-time as they've gotten.  Personally, I loved seeing Legolas again, as portrayed by Orlando Bloom, and I rather took a liking to his elf love interest, Tauriel, played by Evangeline Lily, but these characters were not necessary for this film, the same goes for the extremely broadened role for Bard the bowman.  All of these new characters take the focus off of Bilbo far too often.

Unlike The Lord of the Rings trilogy where these films were really ensemble films, featuring multiple character arcs, The Hobbit has always been purely about Bilbo Baggins and his going from a mild-mannered hobbit, to a great hero.  We kind of already saw that arc play out in its entirety in the first film of this trilogy, so now there is very little room for Bilbo to continue growing, and therefore I guess that's the reason that there is so much more focus on everyone else, but this is still supposed to be Bilbo's story, right?  Then why do we spend so much time fleshing out all these other characters and not showing how these events that Bilbo is experiencing are affecting him?  Without any moments for Bilbo that really test him emotionally in this film, I never felt tested emotionally by what I was seeing, and it saddens me, because the emotions of all the previous Middle Earth films have always been so potent, to see a film set in that world that isn't as emotionally potent is just heartwrenching.  Even still, this makes me sound like I hated The Desolation of Smaug, but that couldn't be farther from the truth.

What I've been speaking mostly with is disappointment, but there are elements of The Desolation of Smaug that delivered, in particular the action sequences.  The spiders of Mirkwood are creepy and realized beautifully, the same goes for the titular dragon Smaug, but perhaps the most awesome sequence of the film is when the dwarves escape the woodland elves by jumping inside wine barrels floating down a river, all while fighting off orcs.  Then there are the new and expanded characters that manage to at least create a nice diversion, even if they are not essential and might have been better served being relegated to an Extended Editon Blu Ray.  I for one enjoyed Tauriel and her story arc, and I really enjoyed seeing this odd romance that she develops with the dwarf Kili.  As well, I found Bard the bowman a welcome addition that, while does not replace the gaping hole that is Aragorn, it at least gives you a human hero to root for.

Ultimately, if you have loved every film set within Middle Earth up to this point, you will find enough in The Desolation of Smaug to enjoy, and hey, you might even love it, but this outing just left me disappointed.  I think the truth of the matter is, is that Peter Jackson and company just spread this small children's book out too thin and have already resolved majority of the primary story and character arcs, therefore there is nowhere to go other than to introduce new characters that draw away focus from our main heroes, while barreling forward with action.  Plus, am I the only one that was underwhelmed by the special effects and Howard Shore's music this go around?  The effects often looked very rushed and unpolished, which is very unlike Peter Jackson and WETA, and Howard Shore's score completely ignored the awesomely memorable main theme he wrote for the last film centered around, "The Song of the Lonely Mountain," which is also very unlike him.  Here is hoping they step up their game in order to make next year's final installment in the trilogy, There and Back Again, the film that rights the ship.

I give The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug a B+!

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