The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013)

The Hobbit 2Released: December 13, 2013. Directed by: Peter Jackson. Starring: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Richard Armitage. Runtime: 161 min.

Many thought “The Hobbit” franchise would have peaked with the first chapter, last year’s “An Unexpected Journey,” but that isn’t the case. Some may not find out because this made about $11 million less at the box office in its opening weekend, but box office performance isn’t relevant to the film’s quality. This is a great continuation.

In “An Unexpected Journey,” we left off with the group looking at the Lonely Mountain. The film opens with Gandalf (Ian McKellen) and Thorin (Richard Armitage) discussing how Thorin should take back his homeland. The conversation turns out to be the time where they first discuss the journey. The dwarven company, along with Gandalf and Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) continue their journey to reclaim the Dwarve’s homeland of Erebor from Smaug the Terrible, the flying furnace. Meanwhile they encounter other companies in order to achieve their goal, Bilbo found his “courage” in his encounter with Gollum in the previous film, and they are still being chased by the Orks led by Azog the Defiler.

I think it’s a better film, as well, because it has a better handle on its tone. Last year, some may have been thrown off by its often silly tone; this is a bit more serious. It still has its fair share of comedy, but it isn’t as constant. When it is present, it’s entertaining – and very funny. The adventures of this company is consistent and memorable. A scene where the hobbits are in barrels is directed so well by Peter Jackson. It’s one of the best scenes of the film because it’s so fun, creative and the action is incredible. There’s also a great action scene where they encounter giant spiders that were mentioned in the first installment, and I liked it even more because it made me think of Ronald Weasley say “Can we panic now?” from “Harry Potter 2.” Those are the action scenes I’ll discuss; they’re awesome. Anyway, I also like Peter Jackson knows how to please his fans because there are some familiar characters, here.

Legolas (Orlando Bloom) appears when the dwarves encounter elves and the Elven King Thranduil (Lee Pace). It’s a real treat. He has a lady friend he’s interested in, Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly); and she acquaints mostly with Kili (Aidan Turner). Evangeline Lilly is completely badass here, and even outshines Legolas occasionally. She’s a great actress portraying a great, noble warrior. I think her character is fascinating when she talks about the Elven beliefs, like saying that starlight is precious and brings hope. She is a character full of wonder, and that is something that makes her entrancing. It also makes the viewer feel full of wonder.

Interestingly enough, she is an original creation for this film – because the film makers felt they needed both a red head, and some female badassery. She certainly kicks ass, and one of my favourite visual sights from the film is the way her auburn hair looks in the sunshine. That’s poetry, folks, am I right? It’s cool that original characters get made for Tolkien’s universe. I love the world J.R.R. Tolkien has created, with all of its mythology, even if some names might be difficult to pronounce or remember.

Anyway, it is also nice to see some dwarves get more chances to shine, and they’re not just another number to the company – we’re actually starting to care about them. So the main dwarves, meaning the ones that get the spotlight shone on the most, are Thorin, Balin and Kili. Thorin seems to be warming up a bit, but he hasn’t lost sight of that badassery. Balin is the voice of reason, which I enjoy. I noticed that Ori (Adam Brown), a dwarf who had a lot of funny lines in the first film, wasn’t used very much in this; another testament that the filmmakers are trying to improve the tone, and try to give everyone a good time whilst watching the film. I’m sure this will be loved by many, because it has good comedy and it’s a fantastic adventure film.

Bilbo has found his bravery within the One ring, but he is evidently changing. (It’s funny to see that men are sometimes obsessed with jewellery, too. Haha!) Martin Freeman is a hysterical source of comedy in occasions where he doesn’t exactly know what to next. It’s simple but effective, and that is a favoured type of comedy. I love Freeman as Bilbo, because he is a little man with much care but a whole lot of bravery that cannot be measured. Gandalf went out on his own in this film when they split up at a forest, which was a bit disappointing to me. The film was switching between the main company, to Gandalf. It is nice that Gandalf isn’t the one saving the day all the time, so Bilbo gets some chances to do so, but it also takes away some of the great presence.

One presence that makes up for that is the villainous Smaug, and oh boy, is he worth the wait. Benedict Cumberbatch uses motion capture animation for his movements, and he moves graciously. He is a scary dragon, and he is a chilling villain. What a beautiful CGI-creature he is, too. The visuals are phenomenal, like the first, as is the New Zealand scenery. I really enjoyed the darker scenery, too, when characters had to go through caves. I guess the only thing left to say is bring on the next film, because I need to see how it ends. Maybe I’ll just go buy the original book that is, what, 75 years old now? Yeah. There’s an idea. I will read the book, but I will still eagerly await the film, because I love Peter Jackson’s direction of these tales.

Score85/100

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The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012)

The Hobbit -  An Unexpected JourneyThe Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Release Date: December 14, 2012

Director: Peter Jackson

Stars: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Richard Armitage

Runtime: 169 min

Tagline: From the smallest beginnings come the greatest legends

A curious Hobbit of The Shire, Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) is confronted by the magnificent wizard, Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellen), who wonders if Bilbo would enjoy going on a great adventure. The quest is to reclaim the lost Dwarf Kingdom of Erebor from the fearsome dragon Smaug. Bilbo soon joins Gandalf and thirteen dwarves, led by the legendary warrior Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Amitage). They must gander through Middle Earth, fighting the likes of Goblins, Orks, and many other creatures. Their mission is to get to the East where the Lonely Mountain is, but the Goblins and Orks are close on their tail. Bilbo learns how to muster up enough courage that he didn’t even know he had, with a little help from the creature Gollum (Andy Serkis).

Mostly everyone knows that Peter Jackson (director of The Lord of the Rings Trilogy) is a fairly innovative director. This time, he shows his innovative side by being the first person to film using 48 frames per second (f.p.s.). While it is an admirable experiment, it is mostly a needless one. The visuals have the tendency to get very distracting, even though the screen is very clear. However, the visuals are nonetheless beautiful and usually not that bothersome as other critics might say. It might deserve a second watch in a 2D regular 24 f.p.s. screening.

Everyone also knows that his features are usually lengthy (like The LOTR Trilogy, or his remake [more like new film altogether] of King Kong). He gives us another awesome, but long, adventure back to Middle Earth. He writes it with help from three other writers, including the also legendary Guillermo del Toro (writer/director of Pan’s Labyrinth) and it is adapted from J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit. All the writers express that they are not afraid to insert some silliness and foolishness into a great Middle Earth fantasy story. However, they insert some jokes so relentlessly, that you may forget that any of the story is intended to be serious. Usually, though, it isn’t bad – and you just can’t help but laugh and have a good time. Especially when the great Gollum shows up. There’s an exuberant amount of comedic dialogue inserted in that specific riddle scene shared between Gollum and Bilbo, but it also makes for one of the greatest scenes in the film. This time around, some of the more talky scenes are the best; while the action sequences are simply visually stunning and intense, but the material we’ve seen before outweighs the new and fresh content.

I am unsure of how faitful the writing is to its source material, but the fun that the cast and writers had making the film is definitely present. The writing is very smart; and the introduction of Old Bilbo putting his journey into writing for Frodo is a perfect touch for any fan of the adventures of Middle Earth. The antagonists (like the Pale Ork or the nasty looking Great Goblin) are also fine and the backstories for some characters and the plot lines are great.

There is never a dull moment in this feature, but there are some scenes that could have been so not over-the-top. When Bilbo, Gandalf, and company, visit the land of Rivendell, the introduction of Galadriel (Cate Blanchett) is just too over-dramatic. Sure, she’s beautiful as anything, but it didn’t have to be over-done like that. Also, when Saruman (Christopher Lee) does his brief cameo, the audience (those who have seen Lord of the Rings) will feel a certain loathing because we know what this character will do in sixty years. Often enough, the problem with prequels is we know some good characters will turn evil (like Saruman) or we know some will survive. SPOILER ALERT IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN THE LORD OF THE RINGS Like we do with Bilbo and Gandalf. END OF SPOILERS. It may take away from the suspense, but it’s all about knowing how they survive. The reappearance of certain characters (like Galadriel, Elrond, Gollum, Frodo) will be a treat for any fan of Tolkien’s magnificent universe. However, it’s a little difficult to get emotionally-invested with the new characters like we did the first time we saw the older characters.

There are just too many dwarves to keep an eye on. Thorin Oakenshield, the leader; Ori, the one with the slingshot; Balin, the charming elderly one; and Bombur, the chubby eater, are the ones that really stand out. If any dwarves decease, the viewer may feel sad for a minute, but it’ll soon wear off because there are many others. All share the same traits, and it feels as if the writers took traits from Gimli and Legolas (some dwarves are archers) and lent them to the new dwarves. The majority feel, unfortunately, expendable. They are just a little too alike, or don’t say much. Bilbo is both a new character, and an old one. Those who have seen Lord of the Rings are familiar with the older version of him. Now, we are introduced to the young Bilbo, before he learned all the life lessons or even left The Shire. He is great, and the fact we get to watch him grow is a scrumptious treat. Martin Freeman is the perfect actor to play him, as is the casting of the dwarves.

The first installment of a new Middle Earth trilogy is much like The Fellowship of the Ring; not a lot happens. They only complete a small amount of the journey, and upcoming antagonists and ones that are going to appear again in the series are established. However, please don’t forget that the story will all come together in the end of the trilogy. For what it is, it is a great experience, and there are enough action scenes to probably keep you satisfied. Though, some of those said action scenes are a little familiar. Am I complaining, though? Not particularly, because it’s still fun.

As a stand-alone feature, this is an awesome adventure-fantasy film. Compared to the likes of The Lord of the Rings, it is simply satisfying and usually visually stunning. Some of it is familiar, the visuals are distracting, and the dwarves are a little too alike. However, there is never a dull moment – even when one moment is over-dramatic. The cinematography, the visuals, the writing and the performances are stellar. The silliness is very enjoyable, especially the scene shared between Bilbo and Gollum (and Precious, of course). Simply put, this is the beginnings of a fine, new Middle Earth trilogy.

75/100