Review: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
I have been quite excited to see The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug despite my disappointment with last year's The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. Like many viewers, I was disengaged by the overblown focus created by filmmaker Peter Jackson's technique of shooting and playing back at 48 frames per second (fps), especially upon the practical effects of makeup and the jerky movement in action scenes.
Thankfully, for The Desolation of Smaug, moviegoers will be able to choose for themselves whether to see the film in 24 or 48 fps, as well as in 3D. I watched the 24 fps 3D format, and am pleased to report that the overall viewing experience is much improved. The artificial hair and prosthetics could still be improved upon for some of the dwarves, but it's not nearly as noticeable as in An Unexpected Journey.
In the latest installment of The Hobbit, the journey for Bilbo (Martin Freeman), the wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen), and the band of dwarves led by Thorin (Richard Armitage) to the Lonely Mountain continues. Along the way the group must elude and fight multiple creatures and enemies, as well as escape the dungeons of the Woodland Elves.
Peter Jackson and his fellow screenwriters including his wife Fran Walsh took a risk with the introduction of a female character, wood elf Tauriel played by Evangeline Lilly. For the most part I was quite satisfied with the character of Tauriel as an assertive woman who is not at all helpless in battle against giant spiders or invading Orcs. What I did find displeasing was the immediate placement of Tauriel into a love triangle between Legolas (Orlando Bloom) and the dwarf Kili (Aidan Turner).
The characterization of Bilbo and Thorin in The Desolation of Smaug is quite well done, as we witness the development of internal conflict influenced by external powers. Bilbo struggles from the effects of the Ring which he has secreted away, and Thorin becomes apathetic as he becomes more obsessed with reclaiming his ancestral home.
What I enjoyed most in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, though, was both the physical comedy and humorous dialogue. Both aspects of humor are at their zenith in the fascinating setting of Laketown, governed by The Master, portrayed excellently by Stephen Fry with his assistant Alfrid (Ryan Gage) to rally his spies. The comedic pair are quite reminiscent of the witty interaction between Rowan Atkinson's Blackadder and sidekick, Baldric.
The special effects are best represented by the combination of the stop-action and CGI of Smaug in his lair beneath the mountain. At times the CGI is a bit heavy-handed, especially during an extended escape and fight while on a barrel run down a river. This scene would have been better served with more practical effects and fight choreography rather than the injection of characters quite obviously in CGI format -- most notably Legolas and the Orcs.
Overall, while not meeting the epic and sweeping masterpieces of The Lord of The Rings film trilogy, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is a much improved cinematic experience from An Unexpected Journey, and should be experienced on the big screen.