Movie Review — The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
December 13, 2013 4 Comments
Not so much the Desolation of Smaug as it is the Ambling of Our Group. This is the in-between movie in the series, and it feels like it. Where An Unexpected Journey is filled with action, laughs and general funtimes, Smaug feels bloated. Worst of all, it feels padded. Are these extraneous bits from canon? For the most part, as long as you’re fine with stuff from apendices and other works like The Silmarillion. But when scene after scene feels as if they’ve gone on too long? When the fun of watching an expertly crafted CGI dragon starts to grate? Then you know the film would have been better served by the judicious use of editing software.
That’s not to say I didn’t like it. I liked it well enough. But for fans of the books — like me — well enough doesn’t cut it. So I’ll make a list of items I liked, and ones I didn’t. That’ll keep things simple and to the point. Something I hope PJ does with There And Back Again.
* Every single thing about the look of the film: the set design, art design, costuming, makeup…hell, even the props are awesome. They tie together for a seamless look that is utterly believable. For that matter, the painted backdrops are so beautiful that even if they don’t look “real”? They’re stunning. And let me say this; New Zealand is fucking gorgeous. Peter Jackson could have filmed someone walking a dirt road in NZ for two hours and I’d have been transfixed.
* Beorn: the bear/man skin-changer is fleshed out perfectly. His bear-self is majestic and terrifying, his man-self is larger than life, but with just enough humanity to keep him from being a character in The Dark Crystal. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. But keep that stuff outta my Tolkien.
* Bard: Luke Evans (The Raven) brings the rabble-rousing Laketown man to life, layering his performance for a look at the F-Tha-Police dude and the opposite side of the coin; the family demons that haunt him.
* Spiders!: Mirkwood ain’t a jaunty day trip, and the gigantic spiders that live there are horrifyingly realistic. Somebody must have studied how real life web-spinners move, and feed. They’re chilling.
* The prologue: Desolation of Smaug starts us off with a trip back in time. But it’s not just a patchwork of what went before, it’s a bit that fleshes out the first film a bit better, while maintaining the integrity and interest of what’s to come. Ahh, if only there were more scenes like this here.
* The addition of the elf Tauriel: when I read these books as a kid, I always wanted to be in on the action. But considering the stories are pretty much a sausage-fest? A little gal like me had to make up a character and go for broke. Luckily I was just fine with that. And so I’m fine with the addition of Tauriel, a Sylvan elf that holds allegiance to Thranduil. Did y’all think the dwarves did it all on their own? Nup. During the Battle of the Five Armies (surely to be covered and then some in There And Back Again) there are tons of elves bringing the pain. So why not pick out one and give her a voice? No problem with that whatsoever. Plus, Evangeline Lily makes quite the fetching elf, and her time on Lost gives Tauriel a nice backbone. She’ll need it, I’m guessing.
* Kili: still hot.
* Wargs: still want one.
* PJ sighting!: and there’s no chance you’ll miss this one; PJ and his carrot are front and center at the start of the film. But unlike some other directors (talkin’ about you, Tarantino. Shyamalan), he’s a brief, fun blip on the screen. And also, welcome blips also include….
* Pug Glamor Shot!: a fawn and a black pug walk along the road for a second or two. Aww they’re adorable! Why are they onscreen? Who cares? That’s two seconds I’m happy to let PJ squander. Because pugs.
* Stephen Fry: this man could read the phone book and I’d happily listen. So to see him as the Master of Laketown was a real treat. He’s got the ham factor up to 11, and it’s glorious. Greasy, barely-there long hair, a moustache that makes pedofiles shiver with revulsion, and a holier-than-thou attitude? Oh Mr. Fry, you’re madly skilled.
* Smaug: Benedict Cumberbatch’s voice can do no wrong. It even makes R Kelly lyrics palatable. So it’s no wonder that he’s able to carry off the dragon’s grand Basso Profundo as if to the sulphur born. The combination of WETA mastery and Cumberbatch’s performance created a thoroughly believable fantasy. However….
* Smaug’s facetime: lawds there’s a lot of Smaug here. Too much, in fact. There’s enough blah-blah-blah between Bilbo & Smaug, Smaug & Thorin, Smaug & Smaug, that it starts to get boring. I know! Keep the mystery alive y’all. One should never be bored in the company of dragons. But it’s as if PJ himself became hypnotized by the creature. That happens a lot here, because…
* The movie’s overabundance of everything: Like a character? Well, get ready to spend a lot of time with him or her. A lot of pointless time. Tauriel, the written-in character that manages to feel intrinsic to the storyline, overstays her welcome in several scenes, including a healing ritual that seems thisclose to cheesy elvish bow-chica-wowwow. Thorin mopes about like a kid that didn’t get his Red Ryder BB Gun. Thranduil (the usually fantastic Lee “Pusing Daisies rocks!” Pace) does a weird bit of neck movement here and there, as if being on camera too long brings out the ham in the elf. Wanna give me more? Fine. But make it worth watching, instead of serving up over-extended scenes.
* Wherefore art thou, Beorn and Bard?: I said I liked their characterizations. But did there have to be so little of it? Okay, Bard gets more (often padded-feeling) screen time, but Beorn is nothing more than an extremely brief nod to the fans. Something that could have easily been written out, and considering how the film drags? As much as I love me some bear-man, I’d have said nix it.
* Legolas has had work done: Yep, I know that Orlando Bloom ain’t 19 anymore. But Legolas is a different elf than what we’ve seen in LOTR. He’s a helluva lot more butch, and his style skews more to the Mad Max school of armor, by way of the Misty Mountains. Plus, there’s so much LOLA Photoshop-like work in the close-up shots that I wanna touch the bizarre smoothness of his cheek. Mostly because I’m afraid that smoothness is alive. Alive! Speaking of everyone’s favorite flaxen-haired elf….
* The Love Triangle (SPOILERS, SWEETIE): Seriously! If you’re gonna write in a chick, that’s awesome. Kudos, applause, yada yada. But just because someone has a va-jay-jay doesn’t mean she’s gotta be plopped into a love triangle. What is this, Twilight? Tauriel and Legolas seem to get on a bit of alright, and then Thranduil tries to quash it. So what does Tauriel do? Gets her pointy ears twitching over Kili. Not that I blame her (see above), but really? Do we have to do this right now? Mostly because I’m guessing that with a love triangle like this, she’ll kick the bucket by the time There And Back Again’s credits roll. Oh well.
In a nutshell, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is a beautiful thing to behold. It’s as close to canon as can be without boring us to death. Unfortunately , it manages to do that very thing without any help from Tolkien’s often rambling prose. With An Unexpected Journey getting things off to a rip-roaring start, it’s that much more a shame that Desolation of Smaug is all flash and no substance. Here’s hoping boyfriend will reel himself back & steer There And Back Again back into the warm waters of awesome.