The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

The 380th film I have seen in theaters…

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Last December, I had to drive 45 minutes north to find a theater that was playing “An Unexpected Journey” in HFR 3D. This year, I had to travel 1/4 of a mile. We attended the “Marathon” screening of Hobbit 1 followed by 2, both in HFR. It is worth every extra penny to see it in this fashion. Last Year, I had some adjusting to do in regards to this new 48 frames per second HFR projection. For comparison we also saw it in regular 2D in theaters followed by a few viewings at home on our 2D television. From the start of last week’s screening, the wife and I were shocked at how good the HFR looked. We had gotten used to seeing it on TV and it was really wonderful to see such depth on that giant screen. Once again, the motion blur (which can cause eye strain) was completely absent. The 3D trailers were straining my eyes but the Hobbit films were perfectly comfortable to watch. This needs to be the new standard for ALL 3D films.

As always, all images are the property of their owners, in this case MGM, New Line Cinema, Warner Bros and however many other studios or entities joined together to finance these behemoths.

The Plot

After escaping the White Orc in Chapter 1, our heroes make it to Mirkwood forest where they face spiders, elves, and more orc, on their journey towards Erebor, the lonely mountain. Gandalf has to leave the party at the entrance to the woods and spends the remainder of the film dealing with the rising threat in the old fortress of Dol Gugur where the evil Necromancer (whom Gandalf suspects is Sauron) is raising an army. The Necromancer captures him and sends his army on the march.

The Dwarves have some problems and are captured by the Wood Elves, escape and are chased by Legolas and Tauriel- a new female Elf creation for this film. They make it to Laketown and are welcomed by the people as heroes who will retake the mountain. They find their way to the Dwarf kingdom, Bilbo burgles his way into the treasure room and awakens Smaug the Dragon. After some fighting with the Dwarves, Smaug flies towards Laketown to get revenge upon them for assisting the Dwarven expedition.

The Cast

By and large, the terrific casting continues in this film. Trivia: Stephen Colbert has a cameo as the one eyed man in Laketown who knocks on the wall with a piece of wood.

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Martin Freeman’s Bilbo becomes almost secondary to this tale. Yes, he plays an important role in keeping the action moving and has a wonderful scene with Smaug, but this is almost more Thorin’s movie. What we do see however is a new Bilbo. He says at one point that “He has found his courage”. This is a throwaway line used to hide his discovery of The One Ring, but it really is true. In the first chapter it was Gandalf saving the Dwarves every other scene from certain death. Here that task falls to Bilbo. It is a testament to Freeman that he has navigated this character arc so wonderfully. I look forward to seeing it all flesh out next summer where (spoilers) Thorin casts him aside.

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Richard Armitage take center stage as he leads his band to the lonely mountain and is prepared to sacrifice all to see his people restored to their home. It is really a powerful performance. You can already see the seeds of Thorin’s downfall being sown with his desire for the Arkenstone.

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The wonderful Ian McKellan is little used here, but in all fairness, he doesn’t even appear in these chapters of the book. All of his scenes with the Necromancer, in fact the entire Necromancer storyline, were lifted from the Appendices of Lord of the Rings. McKellan does a wonderful job with what is given him- but sadly it is not much.

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Luke Evans enters the series as Bard of Laketown. He is a descendant of the last King of Dale, who failed to destroy Smaug. After smuggling the Dwarves into laketown, we discover that he is a rabble rouser and something of a renegade to the corrupt Master of the town. Upon discovering that the Dwarves intend to fullfill the prophecy of taking back the mountain he actually becomes an obstacle to their quest, fearing the danger of waking Smaug. Evans brings everything you could possibly want to this role. The scofflaw attitude mixed with incredible guilt over his family’s failure to save their Kingdom. Part three should give him plenty more moments to shine.

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Speaking of the Master of Laketown, his few scenes are marvelously played by Stephen Fry who absolutely NAILS it. Perfect casting.

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Returning here is Orlando Bloom as Legolas. He falls right back into it. He owns this character and he need do little other than fire an arrow to win over the crowd. A far tougher hill was climbed by Evangeline Lilly as Tauriel, a low born elf whom Legolas is in love. His father knows they can never be together, as does she. There is a some hint that she is instead falling for Kili, the Dwarf. I wonder if she will buy the farm in #3 professing her love for the Dwarf, thereby reinforcing Legolas’ distrust of their kind. Anyways, she was fine in the role. She was a controversial character to the die hards, but it worked.

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Speaking of Legolas’s father, Lee Pace, unrecognizable, appears as Thranduil- King of the wood elves. MAN…is this guy a douche. Truly epic douchebaggery is tougher to act than you’d think, especially the smugly royal brand dealt by Pace. With a single glance you know all that needs to be known about this guy. Seriously, look at him. Total asshat. REALLY good acting.

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Finally we come to Benedict Cumberbatch. He plays dual roles in this film. He is the voice of Necromancer/Sauron, as well as the voice of Smaug. Smaug is the juicier role in this film, and he is wonderful. He is blessed with a magically deep voice that lends itself to roles like this. Combined with world class acting talent, Cumberbatch makes this role something special.

The Skinny

This film faced some plot problems, but I place absolutely no blame on the writers or Peter Jackson. The fault lies with Tolkien. The novel is a extremely serialized. Each chapter leads from one random adventure to the next. Being set in the middle of this episodic story, the film had no main narrative beginning or ending. It was one long bridge to the finale next year. Many are griping about this, but I think it is perfectly appropriate. Faced with the choice of creating a fake narrative arc on this film at the expense of being as faithful to the spirit of the tale, I am glad they chose the former. It is another visit to Middle-Earth with characters we all love. Images of our childhoods are being brought to life in a way never before possible thanks to our technology. These are damn good films, and I will be sorry to see this series end next Christmas.

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