By Ed Sum (The Vintage Tempest)
Fans anxiously waiting for The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug may feel dissuaded by the long length, but every moment is well worth the effort. Peter Jackson has provided a very meaty story that picks up the pace from where the last movie left off. He felt that there needed to be at least a quick summary of what the first film was about, and that was deftly handled without weighing the rest of the film down.
Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) finds himself having to deal with Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) more often than with the wise old wizard, Gandalf (Ian McKellen). The mage has to forge ahead and look into more disturbing manners. If this movie was to foreshadow anything about a fellowship, then what it foretells is more like the parting of the ways in order to get the last job done. There will be more issues to come that readers of the book will know about when the final chapter, The Hobbit: There and Back Again, releases at the end of next year.
By then, fans of the cinematic series will have plenty to think about before seeing what Jackson and writers Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, and Guillermo del Toro have in store for this cinematic rewriting of J.R.R. Tolkien’s material.
Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly) is an addition to the narrative. She adds a bit of cinematic fire to what would otherwise be a lengthy tale about a band of brothers looking to reclaim their lost kingdom of Erebor. All Bilbo has to do is to find the Arkenstone. Curiously, he’s caught sight of it multiple times in the film’s best moments, but he has never bothered to snag it. As many readers of the book knows, he will claim it and return it to the “wrong” persons, mostly to stop an impending war. But for people who have forgotten details in Tolkien’s story, they may well wonder why did he not try to grab it right away.
Character motivations aside, this cinematic retelling is at least compelling enough to see again just to try to understand what has become of Baggins, Thorin and crew. Apparently, Kili (Aidan Turner) has taken a liking to a particular character, and some fans may have issues with it. The astute viewer will have to think of Legolas (Orlando Bloom), who may be honouring some secret promise with this dwarf that will be made later.
To see how The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings tie in together will be interesting. Some of the details are introduced in The Desolation of Smaug, and that alone makes this second film a better one to watch. Fans do not need to remember much from the first to continue this journey. And this movie is technically a notch better than the first.
An Unexpected Journey suffered from technical issues. The Red Epic cameras used to record the film at a higher film rate only made the effects heavy with live-action shots stand out in a terrible way. The characters stood out a lot more over most of the CGI rendered backdrop. Fortunately, Jackson and cinematographer Andrew Lesnie learned from their mistake and the second film did not have many moments that were that noticeable. The torrentous river scene was too digitally crisp to make it all that believable. And even later, a few set pieces suffered from digital overkill. To downgrade a film from a fast frame rate to slower can only introduce artifacts than seamless blends.
Having the eye to notice those flaws or find those trinkets is what makes a burglar effective. Although Bilbo by trade was never a true bandit, his keen vision is important to the ongoing narrative being developed for this film version. The production team is doing a great job in tying together the visual elements from the standalone story and the megalithic trilogy together. Even the sound editing was epic, especially with the talented Benedict Cumberbatch pulling double duty as the voice of the whispery Necromancer and monstrous Smaug. Even Khan would cringe at facing this dragon. But will all these elements in the movie-making process be enough to make this movie spectacular?
The eyes are the window to each person’s soul. Sauron’s eye is all-knowing, all-seeing, and Bilbo’s descent to madness in wanting to own “precious,” is just as enlightening. How the second movie brings it all together certainly shows that at least for Peter Jackson and the WETA team, these movies are fantastic eye candy to feast upon. The 3D presentation was decent, and it added some moments where the world felt alive, but ultimately the power is with the second (and potentially the third) film. The first movie felt more like a set piece to wet people’s appetite.
If there’s any other movie to be made in Tolkien’s universe after this film series is done, there really is not much usable material left to adapt.
4 Stars out of 5