THE HOBBIT: THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG review by Gary Murray – another long journey through Middle Earth

THE HOBBIT: THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG review by Gary Murray – another long journey through Middle Earth

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Way back in the golden days, going to the movies was often a long experience. It would consist of two features, a news reel, some cartoons, a few trailers and perhaps a serial. The serial was a series of chapter episodes with a cliffhanger ending that would encourage the audience to come back next week to see what happens. It was a trick to get return guests. Now these cliffhangers have become a standard of filmmaking by themselves. The Hunger Games, The Matrix and Star Wars have all been part of these serial series. It becomes a built-in audience and a merchandising juggernaut. Perhaps the biggest recent series has been The Lord of the Rings. Peter Jackson, the mastermind behind that Oscar winning trilogy has decided to take the much smaller work (JRR Tolkien’s “The Hobbit”) and stretch it out to three flicks. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is the second in the trio.

The film picks up exactly where the last one left off. The gangs of dwarfs with the hobbit Bilbo (Martin Freeman) and the wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen) have made it through the mountain. Now the group must go through Mirkwood, a giant and thick forest. Gandalf takes his own path that splits him away from the dwarves.

In one of the biggest action scenes of the film, Bilbo has to fight a group of giant spiders. It is a thrilling little bit of action that shows how the main character is growing into the hero mode. It also shows how the ring of power can be used in different difficult situations. Those with arachnophobia have been warned about this beat.

Eventually the dwarves are captured by the elves. Tauriel (Evangeline Lily) is the chief of the guards and knows that there is something more than the elf world. Our dwarf crew eventually escapes and has another adventure going down the river (easily one of the most entertaining bits of film of the year) that eventually leads them to Lake-town, the place where the famous battle with Smaug the dragon took place many years ago.

The last third of this adventure is of the heroes getting weapons and eventually confronting the dragon. Along the way they have to figure out the secret to opening the door to the underground cave where Smaug lives. The film ends with another cliff hanger with the dragon flying toward Lake-town.

Gandalf senses something is amiss and takes a different path that leads him to The Necromancer. This is a hideous beast and his minions have their own plans to conquer Middle Earth. Gandalf uses his staff to battle the enemies, which becomes another thrilling bit of cinema. These plot threads should be tied up in part three, which in a nod to Spaceballs should be called “The Search for More Money.”

Everything here is just a build-up to the third film in the series. This was originally supposed to be two films and the powers that be have stretched it out to three parts. The book is about 300 pages and the movies (all together) will be eventually be about 9 hours long. It takes the average reader less time to read “The Hobbit” than it takes the average movie-goer to watch The Hobbit.

These films are basically special effects showcases, and in that aspect The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug does not disappoint. This is a fully realized world from the opening at the Prancing Pony to the giant smelts of the dwarf mines. One believes that every aspect of this world exists and is not from the imagination of a CGI artist with a computer. Peter Jackson has been around these types of effects since King Kong and knows his way around an action story. The director keeps the action flowing at a brisk pace, better than the first episode. Now that he has his characters introduced and on the move, he can finally get them involved in different adventures and mishaps.

But, one of the biggest problems is with the abundant cast. With a good baker’s dozen of dwarves, it is hard to distinguish one from another. It eventually becomes a single character with many arms. The only standout is Richard Armitage as the dwarf “Thorin” who would be king. He is to be our epic hero of the tale and dons the heroic mask with a certain charming aplomb. The other problem is with Martin Freeman as Bilbo. He does a decent job but he is not Frodo from LOTR. The actor only finds a spark during one moment. When he looks at Gandalf, and says that he found his courage in the forest, is the only moment with any real emotion. The rest of the time he just reacts.

To be honest, the reason everyone will rush to see this entry of The Hobbit is to see the dragon… and Smaug does not disappoint. Voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch, he fills every scene with menace and fire. The last part of the film is the partial pay-off for the first five hours of cinematic investment. He could be the best beast/bad guy of 2013. Although set in the same universe of Middle Earth, The Hobbit is not The Lord of the Rings. There is just not the epic feel that the previous trilogy held. It almost feels like an afterthought.


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