Monday, January 20, 2014

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug Review

Thoughts: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is the highly anticipated followup to An Unexpected Journey that fully lives up to, and exceeds my expectations entirely. Cutting right to the chase, The Desolation of Smaug is the best movie of 2013, hands down. Everything about it is better than the first Hobbit movie, and it actually lives up to the standard set by the Lord of the Rings trilogy. The movie was fun, exciting, engaging, and delivered on the character development. The Desolation of Smaug manages to balance a much darker tone with excellent characterization and a lot of epic action. It is the first movie since The Avengers to give me a feeling of complete and total satisfaction. As soon as I left the theater I knew that this is a modern classic that I will watch and re-watch for years to come.

First things first, Holy Smaug! Wow, just wow, seeing the gigantic dragon in IMAX 3D might be the most awe inspiring thing I have ever seen on the big screen. Benedict Cumberbatch voiced the role perfectly, although a few of his lines were so deep that I could not understand them. Regardless, he is certainly going to be a villain for the ages after There and Back Again. Smaug might be the largest fully featured character I have ever seen in a movie. His size and the quality of effects was simply stunning! Just like Bilbo's dialogue with Sméagol in the first Hobbit was the highlight of the film, Bilbo’s dialogue with Smaug was the highlight of this film. During several parts of the scene, I literally had chills. While dragons have been adapted to the big screen before, none of them compare to Smaug’s stupendousness. He is the definitive dragon that all subsequent dragons will be compared to.

Second, Elves in general are cool, but the Mirkwood elves are particularly awesome. Seeing Legolas again was great, although he has certainly aged since filming The Lord of the Rings. He has gained a lot of weight or something, because he looks different; however he was no less awesome. Some say his eyes are different, but when comparing pictures side by side, there is not much desirable difference other than the higher quality of camera used for the recent film. Mirkwood looked amazing! It would appear that Peter Jackson used more sets for those parts of the movie than he did in An Unexpected Journey, either that or the CGI looked that much better. Now, here are my thoughts on the controversial addition of Chief of the Guards, Tauriel. Surprisingly, she was a good character that had some great scenes. She was not the annoying stereotypical "Miss Perfect" type female character, but she was more like Black Widow from the Avengers. *Minor spoiler* The love triangle between Tauriel, Legolas, and Kíli was actually handled unexpectedly well. Kili's line “Aren't you going to search me? I could have anything down my trousers” was somewhat humorous, and so was Tauriel's line, "He's tall for a dwarf." *End Spoiler*

To be perfectly clear, An Unexpected Journey is one of my all-time favorite films, which is evident by its ranking 10th place on my favorite movies list, and even though I may reference it as being bad, that is only because The Desolation of Smaug is even better. Granted, An Unexpected Journey did have some noticeable flaws.

Directed by: Peter Jackson
Genre: Fantasy, Action Adventure,
Release Date: 13 December 2013
Running Time: 161 minutes
MMPA rating: PG-13

The Good: Smaug was impressive, Darker tone, Epic scale, Perfect pacing, Strong character development, Elves!, Effective foreshadowing, Well choreographed battle scenes, Stunning special effects, No goofy humor, Impressive 3D, More practical effects, Good soundtrack, Epic decapitations, Cool new character, Spiders were major creepy!,

The Bad:

Plot: 10/10- Desolation of Smaug's plot played out similarly to The Two Towers in that it is the darker, Empire Strikes Back, middle chapter of the trilogy that takes the characters to an ultimate low. Bilbo's character showed a lot of development in the film from where he was in An Unexpected Journey. He is a much stronger character, and I wish he was not left out of the middle portion of the film as much. Tonally, the film nailed it perfectly! The darker, less humorous tone may not have exactly fit with tone of the source material, but it worked perfectly at making the film closer to the Lord of the Rings in all the right ways. Due to the overall epicness of the story, Desolation of Smaug comes very close to the Lord of the Rings in terms of quality, although actually matching or surpassing it is nearly impossible. The pacing was also excellent as it balanced characters, action, and plot. There was never a dull moment throughout the 161 minute run-time, and I fully engaged in what was happening on screen. While some have complained about the abrupt ending, it actually worked for me because it ended the best way it could have, and it reminded me of Catching Fire's ending.

Action: 10/10- The movie's action was skillfully executed throughout with impressive choreography and epic scale. Peter Jackson's action direction was nearly perfect. Almost all of the scenes were well lit and clear despite the often blurry and darkening effect 3D has on a film. The Elves' fighting technique during the action scenes was particularly impressive with fluid choreography and stun work. There was almost no annoying shake-cam, which is always a good thing. The often talked about barrel chase scene was a lot fun and it was a very engaging experience. The battle with Smaug was incredible to watch, especially since Smaug is such a large and imposing creature. Considering that he is fully computer generated, pulling those scenes off was an impressive feat. In addition, the early fight scenes with the spiders were creepy and suspenseful. My only minor complaint is that one or two of the shots during the scene with the water splashing on the camera looked odd and lower quality than the other footage.

Acting: 10/10- Martin Freeman was particularly on his A game in the movie. Even though he could have used more screen time, he owned every scene he was in. Richard Armitage gave a much improved performance compared to his last outing as the dwarf king. He portrayed the character's inner struggle excellently. Ian McKellen's role was limited this time around, although considering that he was basically the star of the last Hobbit film, making room for Bilbo, Thorin, Smaug, and a few new characters made his absent worth it, however he was of course fantastic as always as the old Wizard. Not enough can be said about Benedict Cumberbatch's Smaug. Never before have I seen such an impressive and imposing creature and Cumberbatch's menacing voice adds so much to the character. The dialogue exchange between him and Freeman was a joy to watch. Orlando Bloom steps up his previous performance as Legolas, making his character a welcome addition to the already strong cast. Evangeline Lilly as Tauriel was surprisingly great, despite her character being added solely to provide a strong female lead. Luke Evans as Bard the Bowman was another impressive new character added to the franchise and Evans performance was much better than the previous roles that I have seen him in. Lee Pace as Thranduil also gave a fine performance. As before, some of the dwarves were noticeably good like Aidan Turner's Kíli, but they all did a fine job in their roles.

Special effects: 10/10- Aside from Smaug's stunning stupendousness and sheer size, the effects in The Desolation of Smaug are a vast improvement compared to the overly CGI heavy previous Hobbit film. Many of the sets appeared to be real and not green screened, and even if they were, they looked fantastic, particularly Laketown and Mirkwood. The spiders were incredibly creepy and literally made my skin crawl! Although making Orcs mostly computer generated is not preferred, they looked good in 3D. The only negative with the CGI was the melted gold that looked fake.

Soundtrack: 9.8/10- While generally epic and fitting for the film, Howard Shore's was lacking in some areas. For whatever reason, the exciting main theme from An Unexpected Journey was absent from the score. There was a slower rendition, but why not have the most memorable tune from the previous movie return? Despite this, the soundtrack was very good, particularly the ambient music that added to the atmosphere of many scenes. The end credits song by "I See Fire," by Ed Sheeran, was good as well.

Humor: N/A- Surprisingly, The Desolation of Smaug was light on humor, especially compared to the first movie. Some of Kili and Tauriel's interaction was rather humorous, and so were the few other remarks by the characters. However, this lack of humor actually worked out for the better in the film since it aided to the darker tone.

Would I Watch This Again: The Desolation of Smaug is the type of movie that left me wanting to watch it again as soon as I left the theater, which has not happened in a long time.

Overall: 10/10- Overall, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug comes close to matching the greatness of the Lord of the Rings with the darker tone, better characterization, more action, and an unforgettable villain. It is everything that a Middle Earth film should be.

Closing comments: If you have not seen The Desolation of Smaug and you can find a theater that is still showing the film, go watch it now! It is more than worth your time and money.

Recommended for: Everyone, Fantasy fans, Action fans,

If you want a chance to win a free copy of Iron Man 3 please click here to enter my giveaway.

Note: If you hate the movie for the sole reason that it is different from the book, read this excellent post telling you why the movie needed to be different than the book. However, I have not actually seen anyone that truly hates The Desolation of Smaug for that reason, but I know that some are out there.

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  1. Awesome review!! I agree, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug was definitely the best film of 2013 and, like you, I wanted to go back and watch it right after leaving the theater. Now I want to see the third film(or at least the trailer)! I also was surprised by how much I loved Tauriel's character. Usually when they add a girl character to a film(which I do want to see), I worry she'll be there just to be a love interest, and even though there was a love triangle with her character, I never felt like that's why she was there. And I agree, her interactions with Kili were great :). (Evangaline Lilly apparently is a huge fan of the LOTR/Middle Earth world, so I thought it was great she got the chance to be in the films :) )
    The darker tone was very much appreciated, and I was glad they did it in this film(since the last one is going to be pretty dark as well), and Smaug was just perfect! Definitely the best dragon I've seen in a movie! And yes, the decapitations, those were great! XD. I also enjoyed the elves of Mirkwood, and the character of the Bard, and I am glad Peter Jackson decided to develop them.
    Hopefully we'll get the trailer fairly soon. :D

    1. Thank you! :D As expected, we agree again! :) I can't wait for the Extended Edition and DVD to come out so that I watch it again, and again. Exactly, most of the time female characters that were not originally in the source material are added for the reason of being a romantic interest, but she definitely seemed to have more to do than just that. :) That's cool about Lilly! Thanks for the info.
      Decapitations are always a good thing! XD I look forward to more Bard in TABA, Luke Evans was a great choice for the role.
      Yes! We need a trailer! :D


  2. Great review, James! I too thought it was very nearly just as good as any of the Lord of the Rings films. And the people furious about the changes need to calm down. Peter Jackson is practically the second coming of JRR Tolkein. If anyone is ever allowed to change that material its Jackson. He knows it backwards forwards and sideways. I also thought Tauriel was a good addition.

    My only disagreement is that I found the CGI to be really poor in some areas, probably because so much of it was spent on Smaug. I also think Gravity was by far the best movie of the year, but in all fairness that might have been one of my favorite experiences at the movies ever. Smaug was certainly a strong second for me.

    1. Thanks, Jordan! Exactly, no one living knows the source material better than Jackson, and he almost all of his changes in both trilogies have been for the betterment of the story.

      I have heard similar complainants about the CGI. For whatever reason, the theater that I watched the movie in made the effects look better, because I watched some clicks online and I agree, some of the CGI was not very good. I have not seen Gravity yet, but I am sure it would rank among my Top movies of the year. I look forward to seeing it when it comes out to rent.


  3. Great Review James. So far I am going to put Wolf of Wall St, Gravity and American Hustle ahead of it, but it is a great movie for all.

    1. Thanks Steve. I still need to watch those movies, but I am sure they would rank high on my list if I have.


  4. Good review, James, I'm glad you liked it so much. Overall I definitely agree with you, but I did find a few things less than perfect, like, the scenes with the orcs and Gandalf I thought slowed to movie down slightly... minor complaints like that, especially if I ignore deviations from the book. I can't get over how amazing Smaug was! He definitely lives up to his reputation. :D

    Interesting about the score, isn't it? I miss the themes from Journey too. I was just listening to it, and the only theme I found really memorable was the Lake-Town theme, which is awesome, and makes the rest of the score a bit dull by comparison. I do like the Asian sounds used for Smaug's lair though, that was cool.

    1. You know, I actually enjoyed those Gandalf parts, although he is my favorite character from the entire franchise, so I suppose I am biased. But yes, Smaug was amazing! :D

      I agree, the Lake-Town was the only memorable one. As a whole, the soundtrack is quite good to listen to, I have already listened to it twice in its entry, but there were not many tracks to note other than Laketown theme of course. I did not notice the Asian sounds for Smaug, I will have to go back and listen to that specifically.


  5. I'm so glad you got to see this at last! Hooray!

    I thought Legolas looked odd too -- I put it down to the fact that Orlando Bloom is more than a dozen years older now than he was in FOTR, but they wanted him to look possibly a bit younger because this takes place fifty years earlier. So he has a lot of makeup going on, possibly some CGI to try to make him look younger, but the fact is that no one in their late thirties looks like they did in their early twenties. Jawlines change, as do noses. So whatever -- he was still quite cool, lol.

    I loved Tauriel. Like, want to be her, that level of loved. She was awesome. And I'd choose Kili over Legolas too, I must admit.

    I have the 2-disc version of the soundtrack for DOS, and the extended version of AUJ, and I have to say I think I like DOS better. Not as many stand-out themes, but the music as a whole flows really well and is awesome for cleaning and cooking.

    I also loved Bard. Really, really loved him. And Smaug. A friend thinks Smaug talked too much and wanted him to just shut up already, but I was beyond entranced by him. Especially his voice -- I couldn't really hear a lot of Sherlock in it, it was such an awesome vocal characterization that's so different from the few other things I've seen BC in. Well done.

    1. I suppose you are right, being a dozen years older is probably the reason why he look so strange, but I do wonder if CGI was used to alter his appearance, if so, it didn't work.

      Tauriel was such a pleasant surprise wasn't she? Her was all kinds of awesome!

      I think the different in the soundtracks is that DOS is better to listen to from start to finish, whereas AUJ has a few memorable tracks. I have already listened to DOS's soundtrack in its entity three times, but for the AUJ soundtrack, I usually skip a couple of tracks that are not particularly great.

      I agree, the Bard was great! And of course Smaug! He blew my mind! Again, I agree, the voice was different than anything I have heard before, and I only really heard Sherlock when it was not in his deep bass tone, but if I did not know it was Cumberbatch voicing the character, I probably would not noticed it. Thanks for the comment!


  6. Just watched this movie the other day, and while I didn't love it, I didn't hate it either, it was kind of in-between for me, but I didn't watch the first film (my Dad did), so it might just be because of that. Great review James!


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