The tiny band of thirteen dwarves, one hobbit and a wizard have survived their ordeals crossing the Misty Mountains. Now, they face the dangerous trek through the Mirkwood Forest and the humans at Laketown to complete their journey to Lonely Mountain – the end of the quest that will pit them against a most ferocious fire-breathing dragon in “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug.”
When the first of “The Hobbit” trilogy came out at the theater, I questioned the necessity of taking the 310 page story that JRR Tolkien wrote in the 1930s to entertain his children and turning it into a nine-hour screen epic. After all, when director Peter Jackson announced the adaptation of the author’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy into a big screen three-part adventure, he was working with over 1200 pages of source material. I felt that the first entry in “The Hobbit” was over-bloated and lacked the spirit of that seminal book.
“The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” continues with that over-bloated feeling as the not-so-merry band of dwarves pick up where they left off in the first, “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.” This 161-minute special F/X extravaganza is indeed extravagant as the odd band of brothers must face battle after battle and escape after escape from the bloodthirsty Orcs. This is tempered with the prolonged sequence where the band is caught in the webs of massive spiders. Other than these frequent, bloodless action scenes (the only blood I actually saw was in a four or five second shot of several dead Orcs), there is the occasional conversation that may actually come from the book.
Peter Jackson is the New Zealand film industry’s one-man jobs program. Between the LOTR trilogy, which began in 2001, and the “Hobbit” series, the man has employed hundreds, maybe thousands, of actors, technicians, special F/X artists and film crews for what will be nearly 15 years. However, that is no reason to make a trilogy that should be, at best, a three hour stand-alone film. The effects, especially for Smaug, are excellent but the screenplay is clumsily handled. For instance, the band of adventurers has withstood the most horrible ordeals to make their way to Lonely Mountain. They have a key to a door to enter the mountain but cannot find a keyhole. The entire band, except for Bilbo, through up their hands and walk away. Huh?
I guess the target for this “epic” extravaganza is those that loved the first trilogy and, after seeing “The Hobbit 2,” eagerly anticipate the finale next year. For those who read the book (and loved it), the films are merely a way to garner more billions from fans – “The Desolation of Smaug” is being shown in 3D venues, forcing the moviegoer to pay a premium for the “privilege” and to shell out more bucks for that format. Personally, I could have done without it.
I notice that I did not mention the characters or the actors who play them. That is because the characters play second fiddle to the F/X department. The only one that I noted through the entire film (besides Smaug) is the warrior she-elf Tauriel, very well-played by Evangeline Lily. She is the only character that gets any sympathy from me. I would like to say I am looking forward to the last installment but I am not. I give “Hobbit 2” a C+.
As Bilbo (Martin Freeman) continues his journey with Gandalf (Ian McKellen) and the thirteen dwarves led by their King Thorin Oakenfield (Richard Armitage) to reclaim the dwarves' lost kingdom of Erebor, they will cross paths with ferocious skinchanger Beorn (Mikael Persbrandt), be beset by giant spiders, imprisoned by the Elvish King Thranduil (Lee Pace) and bedeviled by the corrupt Master of Laketown (Stephen Fry). But the tentatively brave little hobbit has a twofold obstacle on his hands as Oakenfield comes under the spell of the treasure at their destination, guarded by a monstrous dragon in "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug."
The second part of cowriter (with Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens and Guillermo del Toro)/director Peter Jackson's bloated Hobbit trilogy, padded with additional story from Tolkien's 'Lord of the Rings' appendices and newly created characters (most notably the female elf Captain of the Guards Tauriel played by 'Lost's' Evangeline Lilly), is mostly a slog of repetitive themes and visuals, however magically rendered. Ironically, the only real glimmer of interest in this outing is from that newly invented character and her conflicted attraction to the comely dwarf Kili (Aidan Turner). But how many times must we be treated to the sight of some talisman tumbling just out of reach (Kili's runestone, the key to Erebor's hidden door, the Arkenstone, that Precious ring) or a line of travelers crossing some high arch bridge? With Jackson, it's all lather, rinse, repeat.
Jackson's is the first face we see, gazing off from the corner of the frame against a backdrop that resembles Harry Potter's Diagon Alley. He's leading us into his world and the impression is of entering a theme park attraction. The many fights (and subsequent escapes) taken on by our questers with Orcs, spiders, etc., often feel like watching someone else play a video game.
I've been faced by the threat of 'darkness' coming once too often in this movie going season and Jackson's stretching of this material like taffy that's about to snap has become akin to torture. Even the great Smaug (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch) wears out his welcome. Fans will more than likely embrace this, but I found "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug" to more old same old. The final episode's title, "There and Back Again," appears to bear my sentiments out.
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