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Thursday, December 12, 2013

The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug Review. Rewarding Follow-Up To Middle Earth's Growing Adventure.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug Review
By: MattInRC

TWIITER: #DesolationofSmaug is an action-packed and rewarding follow-up to Middle Earth's growing adventure.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is a more vigorous and livelier affair than its predecessor. Thank Middle Earth for that!

As a fan of good movies rather than a loyal fan to a particular franchise, my disappointment with the hugely-successful but critically marred The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey knew few bounds - our heroes felt less than those presented in the epic and totally satisfying Lord of the Rings trilogy, and the story itself felt like trudging through a rain storm. Luckily, one cannot say the same for its sequel: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is a wild, gregarious, and often pretty picture that should satisfy purists and casual fans alike. From the moment Director Peter Jackson makes a very Hitchcockian appearance in the opening scene, we get the feeling that this one will be different. Fortunately, he remains true to his word, delivering a better (if less slavish) adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkein's 1937 novel.

The movie starts with a sort of 'prologue to the prologue, trilogy-in-waiting' scene, recounting the reasons for the journey itself before fast-forwarding 12 months later as Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) scouts ahead for Orcs pursuers. Right away, you get a sense of the tension he and his Dwarf allies have been under since their rescue by The Great Eagles at the end of Journey. Smartly, we recognize this tension without ever needing a single scene of action to verify it. From there, it's a wild race to the home of a 'skin shifter' who transforms from a very angry bear to a towering Nordic, providing the team with needed shelter. The shifter's message is repeated by other characters throughout the film: "I hate Dwarfs, but I hate Orcs more." Bilbo and company are trudging towards The Lonely Mountain, deposed home of Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) and his people, hopeful that the dragon Smaug (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch) can be run out of town. Of course, there are hurdles in the way, including an untrusting Han Solo type named Baard (Luke Evans) and the isolationist Elven King Thranduil (Lee Pace). But there's also that pesky One Ring to contend with, along with the re-introduction of the Elven warrior Legolas (Orlando Bloom) and his female equivalent badass Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly). Angry Orcs pursue the Dwarfs and Bilbo, while the Elves follow the parade of violence right to Erebor, leading to a showdown with Smaug that leaves us hanging until the trilogy wraps up next December.

There's a lot Jackson crams into this 161-minute adventure without slowing down the pace - characters are better defined here, as is the world of Middle Earth being more populated by humans than we thought, but filled with all the impending danger of Saruman and The Necromancer (also voiced by Cumberbatch). The writing troupe of Jackson Philippa Boyens, Fran Walsh, and Guillermo Del Toro (who was supposed to direct this trilogy) deviate from the original book, imagining Tauriel and importing Legolas, while centering the story on several very good action set pieces. The result is a movie that seemingly flies by, until Jackson closes the second chapter with Bilbo pondering 'What have we done?' as Smaug prepares to attack a nearby village. The choreography is intense and highly staged, especially during a river scene as both dwarves and elves race in barrels while Orcs pursue them.

Andy Serkis, who played Gollum in the previous films, is absent here but serves as an effective Second Unit Director, realizing his run of that iconic character is soon to end. Meanwhile, our actors turn in excellent performances, from Armitage's stoic Thorin, to Lily's breath of fresh air with arrows; Freeman plays a lesser yet no less satisfying role as the Hobbit who is using the One Ring to gain courage without knowing the damage which prolonged exposure to it will soon have. Evans and Cumberbatch - among my favorites in Hollywood - continue to see their stocks rise by immersing themselves in their roles, with one as an unsung hero and the other a hated villain. Both command the screen in different but highly effective ways, making us wish the final There and Back Again was being released next month. Be careful if you plan to take small children, as Smaug is a thoroughly scary beast that will deliver enough nightmares to fill a Christmas stocking.

And while it gets tantalizingly close to the original Lord of the Rings trilogy, Smaug isn't quite there yet. We liked the lean mix of warriors in Legolas, Aragorn, and Gimli more than this band, many of whom have names we can't remember. One day, fans of this franchise will pull a Star Wars, watching the 'prequel' series before the epic IV-VI. Let's hope they appreciate Smaug as much as we do - it's smart, funny, and livelier than we expected. We'd go there and back again in a heartbeat. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is rated PG-13 for extended sequences of intense fantasy action violence, and frightening images, and has a pre-Extended Edition runtime of 161 minutes.

Discuss this review with fellow SJF fans on Facebook. On Twitter, follow us at @SandwichJFilms, and follow author Matt Cummings at @mfc90125.

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