Movie Review: “The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug”

Director Peter Jackson had high expectations to live up to when it was announced that he would be at the helm for “The Hobbit” movies. After all, how do you top his “Lord of The Rings,” one of the greatest trilogies of all time? The third film, where many franchises go to die, “Return of the King,” won several Academy Awards, including Best Picture.

So the stakes were high in 2012, when “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” was released. Despite massive (and predictable) box office success, it wasn’t all smooth sailing. Some critics were put off by the announcement of stretching the originally-announced two film series to three just months before its release.

Some fans were also disappointed with some pacing issues. It simply takes a while to get going. Also, many found Jackson’s decision to shoot the film in a new high frame rate (48 fps) to be a dubious one. Some likened the look of the film to daytime soap operas. Though “An Unexpected Journey” had a lot going for it, ultimately the film failed to recapture the magic of “Rings” or create its own identity.

But what a difference a year makes. “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” soars as high as the fierce dragon featured in the film. Where the first “Hobbit” lacked,” Desolation” shines, most notably in the pacing.

“Desolation” includes several more memorable action scenes, and unlike its predecessor, it doesn’t take very long for them to start. There’s a scene which features dwarves in barrels drifting down a river that is sure to excite audiences.

Computer-generated imagery (CGI) has been both a blessing and a curse for the movie industry.

When done right, it’s a true work of art. But too often, CGI distances the audience from any type of realism and has them longing for the days of practical effects. The newer “Star Wars” trilogy is a prime example of how CGI disconnects viewers rather than engaging them.

Luckily for fans of Middle Earth, Jackson is one of the greatest in terms of CGI usage, most notably in the character of Gollum, arguably the greatest computer animated character of all time.

The director continues his streak of excellence in this film, mostly due to Smaug, who will likely go down as the most impressive and intimidating dragon on film. Voiced by Benedict Cumberland, this character is pure evil. And it’s riveting watching the protagonists attempt to destroy such a massive villain.

The cast is still stellar. Martin Freeman’s portrayal of Bilbo Baggins continues to be incredibly earnest and charming, which was one of the main strengths of “An Unexpected Journey”. However, he’s been given slightly less to do in this film.

That’s not to say he doesn’t have his moments to shine. His first encounter with Smaug is memorable.  There’s just so much going on that his character, too often, takes a back seat, which is expected yet a slight disappointment. Ian McKellen continues to own the role of Gandalf. There is simply no one else who was meant to play this role.

Additional characters were introduced and fortunately, they were all welcome additions. Evangeline Lilly’s Tauriel brought a strong female presence that the film desperately needed, as well as a subtle yet sweet love triangle. The return of Orlando Bloom’s Legolas was not just a simple attempt at rekindling the magic of the original films. His performance was strong, as was his chemistry with Lilly. The addition of the ring and its tempting yet evil power continues to compel.

The main downside of this film was its conclusion. We’ve seen this with recent serialized films, where the first two films in a trilogy tend to lack an acceptable ending. Viewers want to be satisfied after investing well over two hours in a film. “Lord of The Rings” was good at this despite having more stories to tell. “The Hobbit?” Less so. Perhaps that’s because this was originally slated to be a two-film project. Either way, the audience collectively groaned once the credits rolled.

There are worse things than viewers not wanting a film to end. “The Hobbit” franchise has found its groove, its own identity. And fans will be waiting with baited breath for one more year to see how it ends.

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