The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug reviews

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Re: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug reviews

Postby dws1982 » Sun Dec 22, 2013 6:10 pm

I thought this was just awful. Ridiculously, insanely bloated in every section. They spend way too much time in the forest, fighting those huge spiders; far too much time spent with the love triangle between Orlando Bloom/Evangeline Lily/Aidan Turner; far too much time spent between Bilbo and Smaug after they reach the Lonely Mountain. One of my close friends, who is a big Tolkien fan and a big fan of the original trilogy (and the first Hobbit film), said after it was over that he didn't really care for it at all. It's truly an ordeal to sit through.

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Re: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug reviews

Postby MovieWes » Wed Dec 11, 2013 11:57 am

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug: It Lives!

Peter Jackson's middle episode of his Middle Earth saga revs up the action, the peril and the wonder
By Richard Corliss Dec. 09, 2013

A heavyset man of gross demeanor lurches out of an inn, gnawing a meat bone, and a chuckle of surprise runs through the audience. Peter Jackson, the directorial lord of The Lord of the Rings, the man who made a habit of Hobbits, has granted himself a Hitchcockian cameo appearance. Jackson may not actually wink at the audience, but his fleeting presence in the opening scene of The Desolation of Smaug seems to announce that this second of three film adaptations of J.R.R. Tolkien’s 1937 novel The Hobbit will be livelier, ruder and less slavishly faithful to its source than last year’s initial episode, An Unexpected Journey.

Jackson is as good as his implied word. The first movie did allow Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) a creepy-lovely encounter with Gollum (Andy Serkis). But in following Bilbo’s journey with Gandalf (Ian McKellen) and the dwarves to reclaim the Lonely Mountain they had lost, it was also dedicated to the proposition that any long walk requires a lot of trudging. An underfed foot soldier’s grumbling view of war, rendered as fantasy with the addition of wizards and monsters, An Unexpected Journey was a handsome, academic picturizing of the Tolkien book’s first 100 pages.

(READ: Corliss’s review of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey)

Smaug is different: a really good movie, superior to the first in that it brings its characters to rambunctious life, to joust not just with Orcs but with a bear-man, a clutter of giant spiders and the grim dragon that gives the movie its title. The Desolation of Smaug — a strangely oppressive name, by the way, for such a sturdy rollick — satisfies both as a Saturday-matinee serial and as a tempting fanfare for the climactic There and Back Again, due next December.

That opening scene is an early clue to the intention of the screenwriters — Jackson, Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens and Guillermo Del Toro, who was originally meant to direct the series — that Smaug will be less studiously canonical than its predecessor. In the teeming pub that Jackson has stumbled out of, two imposing figures are bent in urgent debate. Gandalf is conferring with the dwarves’ leader, Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage). Thorin wants to kill Smaug, the dragon who guards the Lonely Mountain, so his people can again possess the land and its gold. Gandalf, who suspects that Smaug may be of use to the evil wizard Saruman (Christopher Lee) in his scheme to possess the Arkenstone, convinces Thorin to take Bilbo on the trip; the dragon would not be familiar with a hobbit’s scent. This scene, which occurs a year before the events in Smaug, is adapted not from The Hobbit but from “The Quest of Erebor,” a tale that Tolkien wrote in the 1950s as an appendix to The Lord of the Rings. His son Christopher finally published it in 1980; and Jackson uses it here to explain why the whole quest was set in motion. It is not the only straying from the sacred text.

(SEE: the first and second trailers for The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug)

The first film in the trifecta, An Unexpected Journey, was often content to duplicate the book’s characters and situations, like the Xerox of an illuminated medieval manuscript. In Smaug, the characters step from the book’s pages and leap vividly out of the 3-D screen — at 48 frames per second, in some theaters, a technique less distracting than it was the first time. One such character is Beorn (Mikael Persbrandt), the fearsome skin-changer who may show up as either a huge bear or a Nordic giant. Detecting invaders of his realm, but alerted by Gandalf that he might have company, the creature shifts from ursine to human form to provide the famished Bilbo and the frightened dwarves with the rough courtliness of a forest hermit unused to strangers.

Drastically and sensibly reducing the book’s passages in which the dwarves complain about the long slog and lack of food, Smaug packs them all into a scene where the questers have every reason for grievance: they and Bilbo make a river crossing hidden in barrels packed with fish. Their ferryman, Bard (Luke Evans), brings them to Laketown, an outpost of humans plunged into depression by the nearness of Smaug. The questers step into the middle of a citizens’ revolt against the mean, preening Master (Stephen Fry) and his conniving, Gollum-like today Alfrid (Ryan Gage). They also get a rare glimpse of Middle Earth family life, as Bard and his brood harbor the renegades.

(READ: Lev Grossman’s trip to Hobbitland)

The Wood-Elves, who in the first film spoke snobbishly of the Lonely Mountain quest as if it were too grimy a notion for an aristocratic race to consider supporting, deign this time to welcome — and actually capture — Bilbo and the dwarves. The Elven King Thranduil (Lee Pace) remains a haughty isolationist, but Legolas (Orlando Bloom, 10 years older than when he costarred in The Lord of the Rings, and playing the same character 50 years younger) thinks the dwarves may have a cause worth fighting for; and Thranduil’s chief guard Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly) has an itch for battle — and, perhaps, for a dalliance with Kili (Aidan Turner), the hunkiest dwarf. They certainly banter like a couple who could fall in love. “Aren’t you going to search me?” he asks when he enters the Elven fortress. “I could have anything down my trousers.” Pert Tauriel replies, “Or nothing.”

Wait a minute. That doesn’t sound like Tolkien, the Oxford scholar who wrote an adventure book for children and populated Middle Earth with few woman warriors. In fact, Tauriel, a combination Joan of Arc and Florence Nightingale — and kin to the feisty archers Katniss from The Hunger Games and Merida from Brave — is an invention of the screenwriters. (They also imported Legolas, who doesn’t appear in the Hobbit book.) “She’s our redhead,” Boyens has said. “We created her for that reason. To bring that energy into the film, that feminine energy. We believe it’s completely within the spirit of Tolkien.” Maybe, maybe not, but it works, lending the story a touch of gender democracy and warm Arthurian romance.

(SEE: Top 10 Alternative Places to shoot the Hobbit movies)

Smaug, though, is primarily an action picture — often splendid action. The battle with the giant spiders that have bound the dwarves in silk cocoon coffins, and in which Bilbo first gets to show a hobbit’s heroism, is an intricately woven piece of choreography. Bilbo and the dwarves escape the Elven castle in barrels that course down a stream, raging-rapids-style, in a kind of flume Olympics whose degree of difficulty is raised by Orc attacks from the shore. Kudos to Serkis, absent as Gollum this time but serving as second-unit director with spectacular skill.

The Orcs and spiders are mere supporting villains to Smaug, the ferocious creature wakened by Bilbo’s entrance. “I am King Under the Mountain!” he roars, in Benedict Cumberbatch‘s majestically importunate voice. “I am Fire! I am Death!” (Smaug, who speaks in capitals, is a very chatty dragon; he hasn’t had anyone to intimidate for a while.) The tremulous Bilbo tries diverting his captor with fulsome praise: “Truly songs and tales fall utterly short of your enormity, O Smaug the Stupendous.” A neat balance of wit and threat, this confrontation nearly matches the first film’s Bilbo-Gollum face-off — literally, since the hobbit vanished when he first slipped the Ring on his finger — and leaves receptive viewers wondering if they can wait a year for the finale.

(FIND: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug on TIME’s ‘Top 10 Best Movies’ list)

“Starlight is a cold light,” someone says to Tauriel as she gazes out at the heavens; and she mistily replies, “It is the light of memory” — the memory of suns that died before their radiance reached Middle Earth. That was also the cool light of An Unexpected Journey: a memory of Tolkien that only fitfully came to cinematic life. Who could guess, after that meandering first feature in a seemingly unnecessary eight-hour trilogy of films based on a novel of less than 300 pages, that Jackson had such a vigorous middle episode in store?

In all, The Desolation of Smaug is a thrilling achievement, nearly matching the grandeur of Jackson’s Lord of the Rings films. Having been there, I would promptly and happily have gone back again.

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The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug review: Game on in Middle-earth

A child’s tale becomes more of a grown-up’s one in The Desolation of Smaug, the fire-breathing second chapter of Peter Jackson’s ongoing screen trilogy of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit.

By: Peter Howell Movie Critic, Toronto Star Published on Wed Dec 11 2013

A child’s tale becomes more of a grown-up’s one in The Desolation of Smaug, the fire-breathing second chapter of Peter Jackson’s ongoing screen trilogy of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit.

Now is the time to put away the silly squabbling and interminable nibbling of the first film, An Unexpected Journey.

Danger has become much more real for our Middle-earth travellers, as the feared dragon Smaug rouses from ancient slumber, while orcs, wargs, wood-elves, giant spiders and an evil Necromancer threaten their easterly quest to reclaim the lost dwarf Kingdom of Erebor.

Reluctant hobbit hero Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) finds his courage and his possible curse, the latter threatened by the enchanted ring that will fuel further Tolkien adventures.

Bilbo’s still in the restless company of 12 dwarf warriors, led by exiled Prince Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage), and they’re joined by characters repurposed and new: elf archer Legolas (Orlando Bloom), who isn’t supposed to appear until the following The Lord of the Rings trilogy; and elf wonder woman Tauriel (Canada’s Evangeline Lilly), an entirely new creation designed to add a needed jolt of estrogen to the proceedings.

It’s a lot to take in, whether in standard 24fps projection or high-definition 48fps, either in 3D. Jackson’s audacity and folly both come to fore in this picture, which is much more than a placeholder but something less than a fully satisfying saga in its own right.

He and co-screenwriters Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens and Guillermo del Toro get right to work, setting a determined mood with a flashback meeting between Thorin and benevolent wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen), as they discuss plans to liberate Erebor and its gold-laden Lonely Mountain, which is inhabited by the rapacious and greedy Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch).

“War is coming!” a shadowy figure soon hisses, and it is enjoined throughout this episodic and bladder-testing film, almost to the point of ludicrous overkill. There are innumerable set pieces in which it seems all is lost, only to have a well-timed arrow or sword save the day.

But many of these same set pieces make for thrilling viewing.

A shortcut through the dark forest of Mirkwood brings Bilbo and the dwarves into the webbed domain of giant and voracious spiders, who threaten to make lunch of them all.

An abduction by wood-elves leads to an amusing river adventure involving oak barrels and astonished dwarves, in a caper improvised by Bilbo, who could make MacGyver his middle name.

Best of all is the pas de deux between newly brave Bilbo and ever-boastful Smaug, as hobbit and dragon face off over dwarf land and gold.

Lustrous lensing and the natural beauty of Jackson’s New Zealand continue to provide an otherworldly aspect, although this film is arguably the darkest Tolkien trek yet for Jackson, in imagery if not in psychology.

The acting continues to be strong, with Freeman’s Bilbo becoming much more interesting as he ceases whining and discovers his cojones along with the magical properties of the ring he riddled out of Gollum in chapter one.

Newcomer Lilly is also praiseworthy, turning a potentially superfluous new character — one that risks enraging Tolkien purists — into a welcome presence, as deadly towards evil as she is entrancing to male minds.

So it’s game on in Middle-earth as battle lines are fully drawn and deepened, but the suspicion remains that this is a fantasy that could have been better served by two films rather than three: just “there and back again,” to use Tolkien’s original subtitle for The Hobbit.

Yet for all that, The Desolation of Smaug serves to move the story forward, making us anticipate next year’s final chapter and confrontations.
"Young men make wars and the virtues of war are the virtues of young men: courage and hope for the future. Then old men make the peace, and the vices of peace are the vices of old men: mistrust and caution." -- Alec Guinness (Lawrence of Arabia)

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Re: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug reviews

Postby MovieWes » Mon Dec 09, 2013 9:54 pm

Review: New 'Hobbit' breathes fire into trilogy

By JOCELYN NOVECK / AP National Writer / December 9, 2013

Sleeping dragons, as we know from our childhood literature, eventually awaken. If they didn't, there wouldn’t be a story. So it’s hardly news that in the second installment of Peter Jackson’s ‘‘Hobbit’’ trilogy, the dragon rouses from his slumber.

What IS news: the franchise wakes up, too.

Die-hard fans might disagree, but to many, the first film, last year’s ‘‘The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey,’’ took way too long to get going and then dragged for much of its 169 minutes. ‘‘I do believe the worst is behind us,’’ noted Bilbo Baggins at the end of that film, to which some of us wanted to reply: ‘‘Well, we hope so.’’

‘‘The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug’’ is not much shorter — 8 minutes, to be exact — but it feels brisker, lighter, funnier. The characters are more varied, more interesting; We'll take a comic turn by the entertaining Stephen Fry over another Orc any day. There’s even an added romantic subplot.

The whole enterprise, it must be said, involves a huge dollop of cinematic hubris. J.R.R. Tolkien’s ‘‘The Hobbit,’’ after all, is a book of some 300 pages. With these three films, a prequel to his ‘‘Lord of the Rings’’ trilogy, Jackson devotes about two film minutes to each page. Imagine if they did that with Tolstoy’s ‘‘War and Peace.’’ The movie would have been 40 hours long.

On the other hand, the first ‘‘Hobbit’’ installment brought in some $1 billion. So it’s rather beside the point to argue with Jackson’s approach.

Happily, ‘‘Smaug’’ is vastly better from the get-go. Instead of a drawn-out intro, we get right to the action, which is of course the quest of Bilbo (Martin Freeman, himself livelier and funnier) and the band of dwarves, led by Thorin Oakenshield (a suitably noble Richard Armitage) to reclaim the kingdom of Erebor, under the Lonely Mountain, from the frightening dragon Smaug.

As always, trouble takes many forms: not only the menacing Orcs, but giant spiders with sticky webs, too. Then there are the elves, who come to the rescue at an opportune time but then imprison Bilbo and his mates. (Gandalf — the always grand Ian McKellen — has other business, and leaves for long stretches.)

Lee Pace is fun as the campy and authoritarian Thranduil, leader of the elves. His son Legolas (Orlando Bloom, back from ‘‘The Lord of the Rings") is talented as ever with a bow. And he has a love interest: Tauriel, a newly invented character, played with spunky sweetness by Evangeline Lilly. Tauriel, it turns out, has a soft spot for the dwarf Kili, a rather hunky Aidan Turner. ("He’s quite tall for a dwarf,’’ she says. ‘‘But no less ugly,’’ retorts Legolas.)

Bilbo, ever bolder, helps the dwarves escape their jailers in a terrific scene — involving barrels, river rapids, and an endless supply of Orcs — that rivals a Busby Berkeley dance number. (Side note: These dwarves are awfully durable.) Further entertainment comes in Lake-town, led by a greedy Master (the engaging Fry) and his underling Alfrid (Ryan Gage, also fun).

It should be noted that Jackson has again shot his film at 48-frames-per-second, double the standard speed, to make things look sharper. But this time, the fanfare is gone; critics were not even shown the film at the faster speed. Jackson clearly doesn’t want the technique to dominate the discussion.

In any case, it all comes down to the climactic confrontation with the dragon; Unfortunately, the film sags somewhat here. It’s fun to hear Benedict Cumberbatch, as Smaug, hurl seething epithets at Bilbo, and Freeman is at his most pluckily adorable. Still, they really could have shortened this confrontation by a good 20 minutes.

But what’s 20 minutes when you’re taking nine hours to tell a story? Onward to the third installment. Jackson is back on track.
"Young men make wars and the virtues of war are the virtues of young men: courage and hope for the future. Then old men make the peace, and the vices of peace are the vices of old men: mistrust and caution." -- Alec Guinness (Lawrence of Arabia)

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Re: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug reviews

Postby MovieWes » Mon Dec 09, 2013 12:01 pm

The Great and Terrible Hobbit
Desolation of Smaug is the fullest realization of the fantasy-entertainment complex

By Alan Scherstuhl, The Village Voice, Monday, Dec 9 2013

Elves snore, it turns out. Their maidens make teensy-peen jokes and pine for the hottest of dwarves. And Bilbo Baggins, so concerned about his doilies just three hours of screen time ago, now punches his sword right through the trachea of a goblin -- and then looks rather proud of himself. Now more than ever, the Middle Earth films of Peter Jackson (of which this Hobbit constitutes hours 15 through 18) are less adaptations of the novels of J.R.R. Tolkien than the fullest realization of the fantasy-entertainment complex the Oxford don's pastorals have inspired. Here are the proper nouns and broad outlines of Tolkien's gentle stories, but play-acted with the thunderous swords-and-sorcery heroics of the pulps, the creature-building zeal of Ray Harryhausen and young George Lucas, the wouldn't-it-be-cool riffing of cosplay and fanfic, and a belief in self-improvement through joyous, comic violence.

That last one -- mostly absent in Jackson's brooding Lord of the Rings films -- is so profoundly American that, as the orc heads fly (four decapitations!) and the characters discover their courage (or level up), there's high comedy in the realization that a Kiwi director mined all this relentless, inventive mayhem from the work of a mostly pacifistic academic's fairy stories yearning for a pre-industrial England. Many people worried about the state of modern cinema share something of Tolkien's nostalgia: an ache for Hollywood before Industrial Light & Magic. That's fair. But I still adore much of Jackson's latest Christmas pudding, despite its garish extravagance, its moral cluelessness, its disorganized bulk, and its discomfiting belief that battle is a kind of weaponized freeze tag, where any touch of the good guy's axe or sword means the bad guy immediately collapses.

Sure, all the studios offer anymore are big, dumb adventure spectacles, but that's not a knock against the achievement of this one, which at least parades wonders before us, not the least being the greatest dragon in the history of movies. Before this miraculous Smaug expectorates his flames, orange smolders between the scales of his neck -- and you might be tempted to duck in your seat.

This Hobbit dwarfs its sleepy-eyed predecessor, An Unexpected Journey, and not just because this time Jackson and his co-writers have bothered to include, say, incident. It's as packed with highlights as the last one was stripped of them: better-than-usual orc raids, a horrific spider attack, much more dragon than you'd expect, an exuberant river escape that somehow turns into the old Super Nintendo game Donkey Kong Country, a too-quick visit with a were-bear. Seriously, here's a Peter Jackson movie where we actually spend too little time with one of the monsters.

Again, much of the character drama feels stiff, especially when Ian McKellen is offscreen. But no previous Jackson Middle Earth extravaganza has had so little of it. Last year, Jackson lingered over that Shire feast like he was making My Dinner with Bilbo, and the Rings movies invested what felt like an age of man in the ennui of elves. Now, he's touched with something of the showy too-muchness that animated his cheap-o early horror flicks. His camera soars and surges through wonderfully rotted caverns and tombs, as liberated as Cuarón's in Gravity or Spielberg's in that giddy curio Tintin, which Jackson co-produced. He packs the frame with his riot of dwarves, and then fractures it in a disorienting sequence in the sepulchral tangle of the Mirkwood forest, where he arranges his heroes above and below each other on different, snarling paths, an image so rich and fearsome you'd return to linger over it again and again if you were a last-century kid lucky enough to find it in a picture book.

Such grandeur abounds. Relish Gandalf spelunking into a ghoul's trapped prison, Martin Freeman's Bilbo freaking out in the first throes of his ring-lust, the long and thrilling dragon climax, or Jackson's signature swoops over mountain vistas, a move copied in every nature documentary to hit since The Fellowship of the Ring. At moments like this, Jackson demonstrates that his true competition isn't Thor or the Transformers. It's every fantasy or adventure film ever made, including the ones that will be dreamed up by kids weaned on this, kids who won't ever read Tolkien without imagining Freeman cycling through his bag of tics: finger pointed up in confusion, brow furrowed in mild exasperation, eyes blinking like a man about to tell a truth but then thinking better of it.

Not that the result is always transcendent. The only interior conflict is whether head dwarf Thorin (Richard Armitage) will share his gold pile once he gets his mitts on it, although Jackson does wring some minor feeling from that; perhaps he was inspired by those lawsuits he had to file over the profits from the last trilogy. Every moment of balletic elf fighting -- and there's heaps -- feels invented to top the previous films, doing so more often in cartoonishness than in impact. (This time, Orlando Bloom's Legolas improvises two silly skateboard-like stunts.) Then there's the dreary meaninglessness of PG-13 hack-and-slash: We're supposed to fear these villains who can't bring down one dwarf out of 13, not even that porcine red-bearded one who looks like Harry Knowles of Ain't It Cool News?

The movie's biggest unintentional laugh, other than that brief elf-dwarf-elf love triangle, comes after Legolas has snuck up on Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly), a warrior she-elf who has as much to do with Tolkien as Tim Burton's patriarch-overthrowing Alice does with Lewis Carroll: "If I had been an orc, you'd be dead by now," he says. That's not true: Had he been an orc, she'd still have fired an arrow straight through his CGI face and into the forehead of the orc behind him.

It's up to you whether it's forgivable that Jackson's Middle Earthers are forever sneaking up on their own companions for dramatic effect, or that they speak with pauses so pregnant you can't believe no water has broken. Asked if the calamitous rumbling in the mountain beneath the dwarf posse might be an earthquake, Santa-bearded Balin replies like he's the host of a Lonely Mountain reality show just about to throw to commercial: "That, my lad -- " Breath. Breath. Switch to camera two. " -- is a dragon."

A complaint you'll likely hear about The Desolation of Smaug is that it's all "middle." That is, as the bridging film in a trilogy, it must suffer from shapelessness and a lack of resolution. If this were a true adaptation of a well-structured novel, that argument might make some sense. But this isn't. This is pure serial, just complications and cliff-hangers, nothing but what kids might think of as the good parts. In its form it resembles nothing more than a string of Dungeons & Dragons game nights: dangers gaped at and triumphed over, usually via slaughter, with another danger waiting at the next session and the heroes growing into even better versions of themselves; think Horatio Alger as filtered through Gary Gygax. And remember that, with such material, a lack of resolution is actually the ideal. Once the heroes have nothing left to kill, how do we know they're heroes? And we should dream instead of this life?

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Review: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
Dec. 9, 2013by: JimmyO, JoeBlo's Movie Emporium

PLOT: Furthering Bilbo Baggins and his company of Dwarves adventures through Middle-earth, the ragtag group discovers that their journey is getting more and more treacherous. On this quest to take back the Lonely Mountain from the dark and powerful dragon Smaug they find themselves fighting a myriad of foes. With a collection of giant spiders, orcs and enemies of old, they find they must rely on a few unlikely allies along the way.

REVIEW: There is no doubt that THE HOBBIT: THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG is spectacular. Early on when Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) and his company of Dwarves are under siege by the descendants of Shelob – the massive spiders are incredible – it is clear that the second chapter is just as relevant to THE LORD OF THE RINGS TRILOGY as it is AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY. There is a foreboding sense of urgency and exhilaration with this continuing saga. The action this time around is becoming darker and a little less family friendly as it appeared in the previous chapter. Bilbo himself is changing as the effects of the “one ring” are beginning to rear its dark and manipulative head.

With the story already underway, Peter Jackson continues the saga while once again not simply sticking to the original source material “The Hobbit, or There and Back Again” by J.R.R. Tolkien. The script by LOTR alum Jackson, Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens as well as Guillermo del Toro – who was once set to direct – expands on this world with the help of Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings Appendices.” What may have some purist crying foul will most likely have fans of the films eager to see how this beloved world has been expanded – this second chapter is bigger in scope than the first in nearly every way. Even the controversial 48 FPS seems to be far less divisive this time around.

The second chapter begins near the arrival of Bilbo and company at the entrance to the black forest of Mirkwood after an exciting sequence with a “skin-changer” named Beorn (played by Mikael Persbrandt). Once the massive spiders attack deep inside the dark woods, it was beyond thrilling at the same time helping Bilbo come into his own. Freeman is once again fantastic in the character as is the rest of the cast including the terrific Richard Armitage as Thorin. It is the two unlikely brothers in arms that develop a stronger emotional core as Gandalf (Ian McKellen) has other business to attend to off on his own adventures for most of the film. As well it is great to see the roles of this motley Dwarf crew expanded including Fili and Kili (Dean O’Gorman and Aidan Turner), Balin and Dwalin (Ken Stott and Graham McTavish) and the rest of the bunch.

Turner is especially good as he finds himself caught up between a strangely compelling triangle between the Wood-elves Tauriel and LOTR fan favorite Legolas (Evangeline Lilly and Orlando Bloom). Lilly is a great addition to the cast for an original role not created by Tolkien. She is a much needed dose of femininity and strength – as she is just as powerful a force as her male Elven counterparts. After the Wood-elves successfully fight off the giant spiders, they take the Dwarves prisoner and lock them away. Tauriel finds herself drawn to Fili and his stories much to the dismay of Legolas which adds a little melodrama to the proceedings. The return of Legolas yet again adds another strong connection to the world of LOTR. His welcome arrival opens up the character in a way that even the original trilogy hadn’t accomplished as much as it could have.

Without having to set up the characters as he did the first time around, Jackson is able to present one incredible action set piece after another. From the exciting trek through the dark forest with Shelob’s family attacking to a daring escape from the Wood-elves capture courtesy of a few large barrels, the edge-of-your-seat theatrics are reminiscent of LOTR. Visually it is an improvement over the first film with slight overuse of CG early on, yet this dissipates as the story plays out. Things slow down a bit with the arrival of Luke Evans character as he unwittingly introduces the Dwarves to the people of Lake-town. Even so Evans gives a strong performance here and makes for another inspired addition as he plays an important part in the THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG and beyond. Thankfully both Evans and Lilly are very talented actors along with the already impressive returning cast.

I cannot give enough praise to Benedict Cumberbatch and the effects team for the marvelous creation of Smaug himself. This beast of a character living with only the company of wealth is a mesmerizing creation. Once Bilbo faces this behemoth of a dragon, it is just as compelling for the wordplay as it is for the visual effects. This confrontation is the centerpiece of SMAUG and it is a ferociously good one. Cumberbatch’s booming voice gives this mythical monster a sinister quality as he plays with this impossibly small creature that he is toying with. Yet for those of you expecting a clear ending, this final sequence leads to one hell of a cliffhanger similar to the recent THE HUNGER GAMES: CATCHING FIRE.

As a LOTR fan I thoroughly enjoyed AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY yet it lacked some of the intensity and power of the original trilogy. As this current story continues, it manages to blend both THE HOBBIT and LOTR together in a satisfying way. At one point in a simple moment with Bilbo and “the ring,” the familiar Howard Shore theme begins to play I was fully reminded of the power of this incredible cinematic adventure.

My only real qualms are that I didn’t get to see the film in HFR 3D which I’ve heard has been improved greatly. I also feel that there are just a couple of moments particularly in the middle section with a few edits and pacing issues that didn’t quite seem to work – I tend to prefer the extended editions as opposed to the theatrical cuts. However, THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG is a near perfect blend of the previous trilogy as well as giving Bilbo Baggins his own fully realized story with another brilliant creation in the form of Smaug.

9 out of 10
"Young men make wars and the virtues of war are the virtues of young men: courage and hope for the future. Then old men make the peace, and the vices of peace are the vices of old men: mistrust and caution." -- Alec Guinness (Lawrence of Arabia)

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Re: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug reviews

Postby MovieWes » Sun Dec 08, 2013 1:05 am

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
Reviewed by: Edward Douglas
Rating: 9 out of 10

After getting the first installment of his triumphant return to the world of J.R.R. Tolkien bogged down in the high-frame rate fiasco, director Peter Jackson dusts himself off and reminds us why we loved the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy with a middle installment offering new characters, new locales and situations, yet much of the same fun and excitement that made the original trilogy so beloved.

After a quick preamble showing the first meeting between Ian McKellen's Gandalf and the dwarf Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) in which they decide to team on a quest to retrieve the Arkenstone from the former Dwarf kingdom within the Lonely Mountain, we're back on the road with Martin Freeman's Bilbo Baggins, Gandalf and the dwarves. Hot on their heels is the beastly Orc Azog, who has to stop the dwarves from regaining their source of power. The group soon arrives at the black forest outside the Elvish city of Mirkwood and they proceed into the gnarled woods without Gandalf where they encounter a large group of the same giant spiders faced by Frodo. When they're saved by a group of Wood-elves, they're taken prisoner, but as Bilbo helps them escape again, the band of Orcs is still on their trail, leading to an amazing water-bound escape sequence that's one of those unforgettable Peter Jackson set pieces that will have audiences applauding. Eventually the group arrives at Laketown with the unwilling but paid help of the human Bard—Luke Evans, looking a lot like Orlando Bloom in his "Pirates of the Caribbean" role—as they get closer to Lonely Mountain and their confrontation with the dragon that stands between them and the Arkenstone.

"An Unexpected Journey," the first chapter of this adaptation already was veering away from Tolkien's text, but it also had other problems, one of them rectified simply by being more familiar with the representation of the characters, particularly Freeman's Baggins and Armitage as Thorin, both who seem to have stepped up their game this movie.

Even so, the best new addition to the film and an original character not taken from any of Tolkien's work, is Evangeline Lilly's Tauriel, a bad ass fighting elf who shows up alongside Orlando Bloom's fan favorite Legolas. She immediately grabs your attention while Lilly brings true emotion to the role as a romance brews between her and the jailed dwarf Kili, played by Aidan Turner, one of the few dwarfs with fairly normal features and hair.

Right there are three reasons why "Smaug" is more on par with the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy. Having a female hero fighting alongside men may be cowtowing to the series' female fanbase, but having a central female character makes the world feel more real while the romance helps give viewers something emotional to latch onto than the quest for a trinket. More importantly, the dwarves are given far more personality and identity, setting them apart from each other rather than just being a group of little men with funny names and facial hair.

Along the journey, they frequently go off on tangential side-missions, much like the best video games, allowing us to have new visual experiences unlike anything we saw in "Lord of the Rings." This includes Gandalf sneaking into the Orc kingdom along with fellow wizard Radagast the Brown (Sylvester McCoy), which offers some of the real tension that made "Lord of the Rings" such an exciting ride. It's actually one of the more endearing aspects of "Smaug" that Jackson's roots as a horror director are on full display with tension building up to a number of jump scares as well as the use of practical make-up to show decapitations and a particularly nasty scarred elf.

At first, the use of CG seems somewhat obtrusive with Jackson overdoing the number of birds and bees and butterflies thrown into every shot, that on top of Azog and his lieutenant Bolg seemingly having CG facial enhancements that detract from their menace. But those distractions don't last for long before you're fully absorbed into the world and by the time you get to see Smaug in all his glory, it's another jaw-breaking achievement in terms of visual FX. Smaug and his cavern are so fully realized, as Jackson's team create an absolute behemoth of a creature, completed by the booming baritone vocal prowess of Benedict Cumberbatch, as he slithers through mountains of gold coins with so many ways to kill any intruders. The first encounter between Bilbo and Smaug is classic, on par with the Bilbo/Gollum moment in the first movie or any of the Gollum moments from the "Lord of the Rings" films. The fast-paced last act that follows more than makes up for any slow moments the film may have suffered over the two hours leading up to it.

Franchise movies based on books sometimes aren't believable because no matter how much danger is thrown the way of the protagonists, you never get the feeling any of them can die—they'll figure a way out or someone will come along to save them. In this case, Jackson creates so much tension you honestly think that he'll go "off book" and that some of the key players might not survive what they're forced to overcome during the journey.

To some, "The Desolation of Smaug" will certainly be seen merely as a "linking movie" since it does pick up in the middle of the story and ends on a cliffhanger, forcing us to wait a year for the conclusion, but like the recent "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire," it also leaves you breathlessly wanting to see more, knowing that the biggest battle and some of Jackson's most fantastic set pieces are still yet to come.

The Bottom Line:
Captivating and exciting from start to finish, "Desolation of Smaug" is a welcome return to form for Jackson that should help remind everyone why they loved "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy so much.
"Young men make wars and the virtues of war are the virtues of young men: courage and hope for the future. Then old men make the peace, and the vices of peace are the vices of old men: mistrust and caution." -- Alec Guinness (Lawrence of Arabia)

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Re: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug reviews

Postby MovieWes » Sat Dec 07, 2013 5:41 pm

A negative 2-star review by Slant Magazine.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
By R. Kurt Osenlund ON December 7, 2013

"You are being used, hobbit," the great dragon Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch) growls at Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) in Peter Jackson's latest jaunt through Middle-Earth. "You were only ever a means to an end." J.R.R. Tolkien purists especially will need to fully embrace this fact if they hope to tolerate the freewheeling liberties taken in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, chapter two of Jackson's at once sprightly and ominous Lord of the Rings prequel trilogy.

That these films even carry the title "The Hobbit" is something of a joke, as Bilbo, Tolkien's first beloved halfling, and the burglar who finds the One Ring that will determine the fate of this whole blessed universe, has been reduced to a fuzzy-footed tool—a faux protagonist who's only called upon when other characters are in a tight spot. This wasn't so much a problem in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, which at least began by patiently grounding Bilbo and showing his roots in the verdant Shire, while confidently asserting that this new series would primarily serve as an expansion of Middle-Earth's depiction on screen. And it wouldn't be so troublesome in the second installment either if the spotlight-hogging characters and events were drawn with the richness so expected of this saga.

In An Unexpected Journey, criticisms of Jackson's choice to vastly extend Tolkien's lean Lord of the Rings precursor were largely dispelled, as the narrative filling-out didn't feel labored, as many feared, but naturalistic. In The Desolation of Smaug (or in its first half, at least), Jackson serves up something else entirely: a lightning-paced, nuance-deprived succession of busy set pieces, many of them exasperating in their breathless insistence on pandering to the blockbuster crowd.

Picking up just after the closing skirmish of the last film (yet beginning with a flashback prologue that suggests the Hobbit flicks will copy the structure, if not the spirit, of the Lord of the Rings trilogy), The Desolation of Smaug almost immediately gets down to fantastical business, pitting Bilbo, Gandalf (Ian McKellan), Thorin (Richard Armitage), and 12 other dwarves against orcs, a shady "skin-changer" (Mikael Persbrandt), and an army of CG spiders in the hallucinatory Mirkwood Forest. This is hardly laborious entertainment. If anything, Jackson seems to have surrendered to the demands of your typical fantasy spectacle, hurtling from one characterization-trumping stunt to the next. (Even Gandalf, whose wise words have always embedded this brand with regal gravitas, is often relegated to being the house deliverer of over-declarative one-liners.)

It isn't until the company is rescued—or, rather, captured—by the elves of the Woodland Realm (home of Orlando Bloom's Legolas, who makes a lukewarm return here) that we get a moment to breathe in Tolkien's peerless talent for weaving grand historical grace into dazzling fantasy. Instantly showing frowned-upon feelings for handsome dwarf Kíli (Aidan Turner), the warrior elf Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly, in a role invented for the films) speaks to her crush about the Light of the Eldar, the memory-laden, life-sustaining force of the elven race. Moments like this, so pleasantly prominent in the Lord of the Rings films, are far too few in The Desolation of Smaug, which prefers to bombard its audience with, say, a rather deplorable, dizzying whitewater-rapids action sequence, wherein Jackson leaves no circus-act gimmick unemployed, tossing in excessively choreographed orc-head impalements, and elves crossing the river by running atop the heads of dwarves, who are all riding in barrels as if they're about to descend Niagara Falls.

It should be understood at this stage that the Hobbit films are on a more whimsical wavelength than the full-on wartime Lord of the Rings movies, and Jackson has always had a taste for both creature clashes and free-for-all, Mouse Trap-style scenes. But he abandons so much restraint in this film that Legolas slaying a giant elephant in The Return of the King, and then playfully surfing down its trunk to triumphant safety, feels like a quaint and distant memory.

Tolkien's fascinations with mythology, lineage, and intimate detail are what have made his books such enduring doorstoppers, and they're what filled Jackson's initial, masterful trilogy with vast, era-spanning transcendence. It's an unexpected journey indeed to reach a point in The Desolation of Smaug when it feels as if the film is touching this sort of classical greatness. Finally, when Bilbo and the dwarves encounter Bard the Bowman (Luke Evans), a gruff archer who smuggles them ever closer to their destination of the Lonely Mountain (the dwarves' home base that's been taken over by the treasure-hoarding Smaug), there's a trickling out of themes and visuals that feel expressly Tolkien-esque, not to mention reminiscent of Jackson's former glory. From Bard to Thorin, there are issues here concerning the great stories and sins of ancestors, issues we know will be echoed in future tales, be it through Aragorn's need to restore peace after relative Isildur fell to temptation, or through Frodo's need to destroy what his uncle Bilbo snatched from a glittering cave. Greed and power struggles are also familiarly present, and they thankfully come to fruition when proceedings descend into the cavernous Lonely Mountain, one of few settings in the sequel to rightfully showcase the relics and monoliths of ages past.

Of course, the climax involves Bilbo's eventual encounter with Smaug, whose monstrous bed of gold coins slopes like desert hills in the mountain halls, and contains, somewhere, the dwarves' Arkenstone, a sacred gem seeming to have corruptive powers like those of the One Ring. Awesome to behold, the thick-scaled, fire-bellied, fluidly enlivened dragon is one of the single most magnificent creations to emerge from effects house Weta Workshop, which is to say it's one of the greatest CG creatures to hit the screen. Along with a jaw-dropping encounter concerning Gandalf and the ethereal Necromancer, whose true identity is one of a handful of Lord of the Rings-related reveals that doesn't feel proud of itself, Smaug's dwarf-realm standoff with Bilbo and friends exemplifies this brand at its history-filled, aesthetically wowing best, and it raises the bar for Middle-Earth-ian cinematic spectacle, if you can believe that. Sadly, it's still a rare pleasure in a once-precious franchise's weakest installment, which forgets these adventures' magic was never conjured by bells and whistles.
"Young men make wars and the virtues of war are the virtues of young men: courage and hope for the future. Then old men make the peace, and the vices of peace are the vices of old men: mistrust and caution." -- Alec Guinness (Lawrence of Arabia)

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Re: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug reviews

Postby MovieWes » Sat Dec 07, 2013 5:39 pm

‘The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug’ Review: Peter Jackson’s Second Verse Is Better Than the First

By Todd Gilchrist on December 6, 2013 @ 5:03 pm

Clearer and more engaging than its predecessor, this second installation in the “Hobbit” trilogy deftly brings out the human side of dwarves and elves while upping the action quotient

If “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” was a single-serving tribute to the fans of the J.R.R. Tolkien book that inspired it, its follow up, “The Desolation of Smaug,” offers a nod to the uninitiated moviegoing audiences that made a prequel trilogy possible.

Eschewing the kitchen-sink minutiae of the first installment (or maybe just having used all of it up) Peter Jackson creates a rousing, immersive sequel that offers the same sort of sweeping action — and more crucially, emotional engagement — that helped the “Rings” films become a cultural phenomenon, regardless whether or not you were familiar with the source material.

Picking up more or less immediately where the last one left off, Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) and the band of dwarves led by would-be king Thorin (Richard Armitage) continue their journey to the Lonely Mountain. On the run from Azog (Manu Bennett), an Orc with a bloodlust for Thorin’s head, they flee into Mirkwood, where they are attacked by giant spiders until elves Legolas (Orlando Bloom) and Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly) intervene and subsequently imprison them.

Despite long-unresolved animosity between most dwarves and elves, Tauriel discovers an unexpected bond with one of them, Kili (Aidan Turner), even as Bilbo plots an escape. Advancing closer to the Lonely Mountain with the help of a boatman named Bard (Luke Evans), Thorin hurries the group toward their destination, hoping to unlock its secrets and restore him to the throne. Meanwhile, Gandalf (Ian McKellen) visits Dol Guldur to get a closer look at the mysterious Necromancer (Benedict Cumberbatch), only to discover an army forming to unleash the latter’s evil upon Middle Earth.

While the specificity of these destinations probably doesn’t mean much if you’re unfamiliar with Tolkien’s book — admittedly, I had to look a few of them up even after watching the film — Jackson unveils the second chapter in his trilogy with a clarity that should restore fans’ faith in his storytelling. As compelling as its mythology was, the “Lord of the Rings” films really found their footing when they uncovered the universal, relatable emotions that the characters experienced, and then applied that to the story and the action.

Where the first “Hobbit” was an expository slog that, quite frankly, failed to distinguish the dwarves from one another in the way it hoped to, this one narrows its focus on the “important” ones – Thorin and Kili – and establishes stakes that make us care as the rest of them fill in the background.

Additionally, Jackson (with co-writers Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens and Guillermo del Toro) creates a new character especially for the series, Tauriel, who might seem like one too many – especially given the indistinguishability of the dwarves. As it turns out, Tauriel gives the film an emotional core that reminds the audience that, even among dragons and elves and Orcs and dwarves, all of their feelings are completely human.

Of course, Jackson also stages the action in the film with considerable flair and imagination, creating in “Smaug” some of the best set pieces of any of his Tolkien adaptations. The centerpiece barrel chase is by far the most thrilling of these sequences, in which the dwarves flee their elven captors only to encounter Orcs, but in all of them Jackson finds time to include character details – such as the elf-hating Thorin saving Legolas’ life – that enhance their dramatic impact.

Then of course there’s Smaug himself, a spectacularly-rendered creature with more than enough gravitas to give this film’s final act real impact. In fact, the film’s only real shortcoming is its acquiescence to middle-chapter–itis; like “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire,” “The Desolation of Smaug” ends abruptly at the exact moment when you most want to see what happens next.

Nevertheless, it’s triumphantly engaging in a way that rivals Jackson’s magnificent “Two Towers” — and best of all, it makes you eager to see the next film in a way that “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” didn’t. Powerful and provocative, “The Desolation of Smaug” not only surpasses its predecessor but also stands on its own; where “Journey” took material audiences thought they knew and made it feel foreign, this one creates a uniquely original experience that also feels securely familiar.
"Young men make wars and the virtues of war are the virtues of young men: courage and hope for the future. Then old men make the peace, and the vices of peace are the vices of old men: mistrust and caution." -- Alec Guinness (Lawrence of Arabia)

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Re: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug reviews

Postby MovieWes » Sat Dec 07, 2013 5:34 pm

A surprisingly mediocre review from fan site TheOneRing.net, whose major gripe seems to be that it strays too far from the source material.

The Great Schism: Splendid Smaug Splits Fandom?
or
Hobbit Version 2.0: Jackson Does it Differently


I know it’s been a long year to wait. Ringer fans are going into ‘The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug’ with high hopes for another thrilling chapter in the ongoing saga adapted by our fellow fan, Peter Jackson. Indeed it is thrilling. And indeed it bears all the hallmarks of a P.J. film, replete with energetic action set pieces and gorgeously realized creatures and places that only cinema can properly provide to our senses.

Be forewarned Book Fans, because of the extent DOS deviates from J.R.R. Tolkien’s original, you can bet your bottom dollar there will be a very vocal fan reaction, if not an outright scream of frustration from one or two up in the balcony. The filmmakers have certainly delivered the goods; it is a very enjoyable movie that pretty much blows the audience away with well-crafted storytelling. It is by turns breathlessly paced and frightening and funny and gorgeous (Smaug especially has much of his “muchness”). But by the end credits, it no longer resembles the book you read as a kid, not by a long shot.

Which is something I must mention up front because of the laborious efforts towards fidelity in ‘An Unexpected Journey.’ In fact, much of the LOTR Trilogy was a concentrated effort to (mostly) honor the source material. True, there were odd bits that didn’t ring true to Tolkien; like Faramir dragging the hobbits to Osgiliath and Frodo sending Sam home (piffle) but what happens in DOS is just completely off the rails, especially in the third act.

You guys certainly got a ton of fan-service with AUJ — you got to linger in Bag End for nearly an hour before the adventure begins, you got Dwarven singing, Chip the Glasses merriment, you got yourself a perfect Riddles in the Dark sequence and more geeky exposition from the White Council. THAT was all fan-service; and undoubtedly those were the highlights of AUJ for me. I guess that tells you Hobbit Sky Movieswhat kind of Ringer fan I am; the meandering and pleasantries that others complained about, well, I was grateful for. Last year I called AUJ “a leisurely Sunday drive, with the top down.” But the reverential approach has now left the filmmakers, evidently, as P.J. has been quoted in Empire as saying “I’m quite enjoying deviating from the books!” But I was still a bit surprised at how far afield things actually went here… This stuff *really* deviates. I also found some repetition of things we’ve seen in LOTR that gave me pause.

What’s best about the 2nd Hobbit installment? A script teeming with incident and great characters. An opening prologue that makes you want to read the Appendices in LOTR again. The confident hand of the Editors and the Director while taking these characters deeper into peril. Fabulous acting from several new performers (especially Luke Evans as Bard, Stephen Fry as the Master of Lake-town, and a returning Orlando Bloom, looking beefier actually). A really good and ultimately too brief turn from Mikael Persbrandt as Beorn. Spiders attacking with superb “gotcha!” moments. A rollicking water flume ride with Barrels Out of Bond, executed with precision. Particularly intriguing are Dol Guldur, the Elven-king’s Halls and certainly the Lake-town environments; which are all realized with ass-kicking verisimilitude.

There is so much to enjoy here from the technical side — the cinematography, music, effects, sound design. You know WETA has the Midas touch — and all that gold Bilbo walks around on within the halls of Erebor really indicates that Richard Taylor and artists such as Daniel Falconer have perfected their craft. The incredibly appealing atmosphere of Thranduil’s halls; the way shafts of light dance among “tree columns” while the rushing Forest River flows right under extended walkways; the noticeable difference between how Dwarves live underground (Moria) versus how Elves do it — these are the great aesthetic pleasures to be savored.

Special praise where it’s due: the animators who worked on Smaug deserve a new award we haven’t invented yet. As much fun as we had seeing him on the side of Air New Zealand’s jet, the cinematic experience of Smaug is unforgettable. His silky smooth Benedict Cumberbatch-fueled voice is delicious. Witness the greatest ego Tolkien ever created — and then witness Martin Freeman walking around the dragon’s hoard like a tiny mouse. Yet Bilbo has a great deal of pluck and that’s why we love him. Again, when he is offscreen you really want him back; the more of him the better. The Dwarves are still getting dialogue at the same level as in AUJ (mostly Thorin, Balin, and Bofur). Alack, poor Bombur has no lines (but a nice shining moment or two) and Bifur doesn’t even give us any ancient Khuzdul. Drat….. I really like what William Kircher has been doing.

I was already comfortable with the addition of new female elf Tauriel (a winning Evangeline Lilly) but I didn’t expect the story to go where it did. Her confidence is different than Legolas’ bravery, and her willingness to listen to someone from a different walk of life seems to be the key to understanding her raison d’etre. Spoilers will be discussed after a break — but I expect an eye-opening conversation/ argument will rage within the ranks of Tolkien fandom after this film’s release. If you can relax and enjoy the ride — you’ll be fine. The filmmakers confidently take us into uncharted territory, yet still within Middle-earth. How far are you willing to go on this unexpected detour?

DOS is the litmus test that will separate Book Fans from Movie Fans more distinctly than anything before it, or I’ll eat my knickers. Casual movie fans will embrace this film rigorously. It’s a slam dunk for them. Those Ringers longing for a properly buttoned-up faithful adaptation of ‘The Hobbit,’ one that resembles the printed page, may have a different response. I quite enjoyed everything I saw (up to a point) and then admittedly found myself distracted by the story changes — which I suppose couldn’t be helped considering my deep involvement with Tolkien since I was young. I had to stop reacting to it like “What a perversion of the story!” so that my thoughts could be more “The Dude abides, and so does Smaug.”

If it sounds like I am of two minds about ‘The Desolation of Smaug’ I probably am. The Smeagol side of me was delighted over and over again while munching popcorn and spilling drinks on myself when action scenes caught me off gaurd (Gakk! Spiders! Aghhh!). But the Gollum side of me came out during the final 20 minutes because of so many deviations. I found myself wondering where the heck we will end up in the final film: ‘There and Back Again.’ Anything… and I mean *anything*… is possible. Peter Jackson and Co. have shown chutzpah by swerving so far around the bend and being so unafraid to take liberties with the text. But your level of pleasure with what you get may be directly determined by your ability to be flexible.

An interesting time to be a Ringer, that’s for sure!
"Young men make wars and the virtues of war are the virtues of young men: courage and hope for the future. Then old men make the peace, and the vices of peace are the vices of old men: mistrust and caution." -- Alec Guinness (Lawrence of Arabia)

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Re: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug reviews

Postby jack » Fri Dec 06, 2013 5:01 pm

It's getting some very good reviews thus far.


Todd McCarhy, The Hollywood Reporter:

Nearly everything about "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug" represents an improvement over the first installment of Peter Jackson's three-part adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien's beloved creation.

Beginning with the blessing of not being stuck with a bunch of hungry and thirsty dwarves in Bilbo Baggins' hut for a half-hour at the outset, nearly everything about The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug represents an improvement over the first installment of Peter Jackson's three-part adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien's beloved creation. The “unexpected journey” launched in last Christmas' box-office behemoth becomes the heart of the matter this time around, making for plenty of peril, warfare, theme-park-ride-style escapes and little-guy courage. For Jackson and Warner Bros., it's another movie, another billion.

After exhibiting an almost craven fidelity to his source material the first time out, Jackson gets the drama in gear here from the outset with a sense of storytelling that possesses palpable energy and purpose. Toward the end, his perennial tendency to let bloat creep in reasserts itself to an extent; as in the Lord of the Rings films, not to mention King Kong, he has a hard time knowing when enough is enough even as the three-hour goalpost looms dead ahead. But for the most part he moves the episodic tale along with reasonable speed for a leviathan while serving up enough fights, close shaves and action-filled melodrama for an old-fashioned movie serial or a modern video game.

Part two is almost entirely devoted to the dangerous expedition of 13 dwarves recruited by the wizard Gandalf with the aim of reinstating Thorin Oakenshield to his rightful place as monarch of the underground kingdom of Erebor, lost in the devastating battle that opened the first film. Although dangers lurk every step of the way — even more than exist in the book — the one looming over all is Smaug, a huge dragon that lives deep in the bowels of the Lonely Mountain who must be subdued if evil is to be denied an enduring triumph.

Although they have mined Tolkien's extensive appendices to The Lord of the Rings to flesh out the story — roughly nine hours will be expended in adapting a book of less than 300 pages — Jackson and habitual co-screenwriters Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens, along with original intended director Guillermo del Toro, have further expanded the dramatis personae by recruiting Legolas from Rings and inventing a welcome female character named Tauriel, a foxy archer fancied by Legolas but who herself shows an interest in Kili, one of Thorin's companions. Women action figures and romantic subplots were not Tolkien's thing, so even the acknowledgment of sexual attraction represents a radical step in this context.

With prolonged exposure to this tale comes awareness of some of the premise's limitations as performed drama. There is incident and confrontation galore, beginning with the portentous, tavern-set opening scene in which Gandalf lights a fire under Thorin, followed by the dwarves' arrival at their first destination, the farm of the “skin-changer” Beorn, first seen in the form of a bear. Then, once Galdalf leaves them to their own devices, the diminutive ones must contend with the dangers lurking within the vast Mirkwood forest, foremost of which are giant spiders that quickly spin webs around the morsel-sized travelers. Always, they are stalked and, as often as not, attacked by the fearsome Orcs, muscle-bound uglies in league with Smaug to continue their dominion over Erebor.

However, as one skirmish follows another, it becomes clear that suspense cannot be a factor here because the rules of the game mitigate against it. Where the elves are concerned, there is no danger because they are, by nature, immortal. This is not the case for the dwarves but, with the exception of one injury, the little guys consistently escape unharmed while the humongous and ferocious orcs go down as easily as shooting gallery ducks. Just as a token bow to credibility, you'd think a few dwarves might be sacrificed, but nope, they're all charmed.

With Ian McKellen's ever-imposing Gandalf bowing out for a long stretch on other pressing business (consult the appendices), it might seem that the heavy lifting would be taken up by Martin Freeman's slowly flowering Bilbo Baggins. At times it is. He does have a nose for gold, first in the form of the inevitable and mischievously errant ring, then with the treasures in the deepest sanctum of the ruined mountain kingdom now occupied by the slumbering titular dragon. Feeling his way, Bilbo gradually accepts the call to greatness Gandalf has thrust upon him.

Still, Bilbo also steps to the side through a middle stretch that provides time not only for Legolas (with a blond-tressed Orlando Bloom not missing a step, nor an arrow shot, since Ring) and Tauriel (a winning Evangeline Lilly, of TV's Lost) but for a significant layover in a port called Lake-town. The central player here is Bard (Luke Evans, excellent), a barge man and trader who smuggles the dwarves into a Middle Ages-style backwater in which working stiffs, struggling families, layabouts and criminals are lorded over by the smart and venal Master, brought to vibrant Dickensian life by Stephen Fry. As they are preoccupied by the real-world concerns of commerce, politics and personal intrigue rather than monsters, mythology and regal destiny, Bard and Master are the two most recognizably human characters in the film.

Once Bilbo provides the key to the kingdom under the mountain, his main order of business is to avoid being swallowed whole or burned to a crisp by the fire-bellied Smaug, who's almost too big for the human-built quarters he occupies. Like some Bond villains who talk too much instead of quickly offing 007 when they have the chance, Smaug seems much enamored with the sound of his own voice. And a fine voice it is, supplied by Benedict Cumberbatch, but too unnaturally deepened and electronically modified to afford pure enjoyment of the actor's menacing readings. The ending is a true cliffhanger, the resolution to which audiences will be lining up for on Dec. 17, 2014.

Visually, the predominance of CGI in most scenes is consistent not only with the previous entry but all the Rings films and too many of Jackson's and cinematographer Andrew Lesnie's carefully calibrated swooping and circling camera moves look like they were generated by a computer program. On the other hand, the distractingly vivid images provided by the 48 frames-per-second in the first film appear to have been massaged properly this time, and there is a notably lower-than-average reduction in image brightness when using the 3D glasses.


Nick de Semlyen, Empire Magazine

You've seen his King Kong. Now prepare for Peter Jackson’s Donkey Kong. About an hour into the raucously entertaining middle slab of the Hobbit trilogy, having already tangled with hissing arachnids, a fearsome bear-man and sundry other perils, our posse of undersized heroes clamber into wooden casks and are lobbed into what’s not so much an action sequence as an unrelenting pile-up of lunatic, barrel-based gags. As they rocket down-river, pursued by elves and orcs (who are simultaneously waging war in the branches above), oak cylinders fly at the camera, plunge down fizzing waterfalls and bounce off rocks to scatter servants of evil like skittles. As rousing and inventive as Kong’s triple-T-Rex face-off, this multi-million-dollar flume ride is — with apologies — barrels of fun. And to think that at this stage in the last film, the dwarves were still loading the dishwasher.

While An Unexpected Journey had plenty of bucolic charm, it did, for a Middle-earth film, feel oddly inconsequential. The Desolation Of Smaug remedies that. Moody, urgent and, for want of a better word, Ringsier, it’s a much more satisfying film. If anything, it dispenses with early events with something approaching impatience: Beorn (Mikael Persbrandt), the aforementioned bear-man, is left behind before we’ve really had a chance to savour his peculiar brand of beastly intensity (though no doubt he’ll be back to claw up baddies in the Battle Of Five Armies), and the same goes for Mirkwood’s hallucinatory boughs, which have the company tripping balls in a variety of amusing ways.

One problem with the former film was that it re-trod too closely the footsteps of the Fellowship: it was difficult to share Bilbo’s awe at entering Rivendell, given that we’d already been there 11 years before. Here, you can feel Jackson’s relief at having entirely new worlds in which to play. The forest domain of the Silvan Elves has beauty edged with menace, plus it gives Lee Pace (great as the dagger-eyed Thranduil) an amazing elk-horned throne. But the real standouts are Lake-town and Erebor, contrasting but equally stunning showcases of production design. The former, a fog-shrouded, Dickensian burg that we’re informed “stinks of fish oil and tar”, is a new, pleasingly earthy flavour for Middle-earth. Like Edoras in The Two Towers, it was largely built for real and bristles with detail. Kingdom-under-the-mountain Erebor, on the other hand, is the kind of mad location that could only exist on a Weta mega-computer, its centrepiece a stash of wealth so vast it would give Scrooge McDuck a quacking fit.

As Bilbo (a still spot-on Martin Freeman) and co. near their destination, the film gets increasingly busy, splitting the group in two and intercutting between those strands and Gandalf (Ian McKellen), who’s off poking around the ruins of Dol Guldur. That storyline still hasn’t quite caught fire (it basically amounts to the wizard yelling at a giant, evil ink-blot), and it could be argued that more screentime might have been usefully given to the dwarves, who remain largely anonymous. Besides Thorin (Richard Armitage), whose facade of nobility is beginning to crumble, revealing baser motives beneath, the only one who gets much attention is Kili (Aidan Turner), vying with a returning Legolas (Orlando Bloom) for the attentions of auburn-haired elf ninja Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly). As love triangles go, it’s fairly rote — and might have been more dramatic were Kili not the one dwarf who looks like an elf anyway — but Tauriel, a character created for the film who’s already got some Tolkienites raging, fits seamlessly into the world and gets to execute several pleasingly brutal orc-kills: at points, the film’s one arrow-in-the-head away from turning into The Raid.

Stephen Fry and Ryan Gage give good sleaze in their brief appearances as Lake-town’s venal Master and his aide, Alfrid. Luke Evans is surprisingly Welsh as hero-in-waiting Bard The Bowman. But the standout new character is, predictably, the titular beast. He’s played Khan; now Benedict Cumberbatch draws on Shere Khan for his performance (vocal and mo-cap) as the blazing-eyed, honey-voiced, spike-helmed “serpent of the north”. We’ve seen many a dragon on screen before, but nothing with this much personality: Smaug is a startlingly well-executed creation, toggling between arrogance, indolence and rage as he uses his wyrm-tongue to try to draw out Bilbo. And once he does, the film kicks into full throttle for an immense, half-hour finale that threatens to bring down the mountain itself. It’s Jackson once more at the top of his game; God knows what he has in store for part three.

Verdict
Middle-earth's got its mojo back. A huge improvement on the previous instalment, this takes our adventurers into uncharted territory and delivers spectacle by the ton. And in case you were wondering, yes, someone manages to say the title as dialogue.

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Re: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug reviews

Postby dws1982 » Fri Dec 06, 2013 4:34 pm

I'll be seeing it out of friendly obligation. I practically hate-watched the first one.

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Re: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug reviews

Postby Mister Tee » Fri Dec 06, 2013 2:34 pm

Don't know if anyone but MovieWes cares. Apparently, this is enough of an improvement it might win Makeup. I'll be DVDing.


After a bumpy beginning with 'An Unexpected Journey,' Peter Jackson's 'Hobbit' trilogy finds its footing in this much more exciting and purposeful second chapter.

Variety
Chief Film Critic
Justin Chang

If “An Unexpected Journey” felt like nearly three hours’ worth of throat clearing and beard stroking, the saga gets fully under way at last in “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug,” the similarly massive but far more purposeful second chapter in Peter Jackson’s latest Tolkien enterprise. Actually shorter than the first film by nine minutes, this robust, action-packed adventure benefits from a headier sense of forward momentum and a steady stream of 3D-enhanced thrills — culminating in a lengthy confrontation with a fire-breathing, scenery-chewing dragon — even as our heroes’ quest splits into three strands that are left dangling in classic middle-film fashion. Jackson’s gargantuan undertaking can still feel like completist overkill at times, but that won’t keep the Middle-earth enthusiasts who pushed the first “Hobbit” film past the $1 billion mark worldwide from doing the same with this Dec. 13 release, which should see Warners’ and MGM’s coffers overflow like Erebor’s.

Although Jackson’s “Hobbit” pics have maintained an impressive visual continuity with his incomparable “Lord of the Rings” trilogy (technological upgrades like 3D, Imax and high frame rates notwithstanding), the fundamental difference between these two series may be as simple, yet instructive, as the contrasting stories they tell. Whereas the “Rings” movies felt as pure, vital and heroic as the Fellowship’s mission itself, this three-part prequel can’t help but seem like a more mercenary endeavor as it drags out Tolkien’s slender tale of a band of dwarfs seeking to reclaim a lost fortune. Good and evil are still very much at stake, sometimes grippingly so, but even the staunchest Tolkien loyalists may feel they’re on an overly protracted journey to an inevitably less exciting destination.

Still, “The Desolation of Smaug” reps a major improvement on its predecessor simply by virtue of picking up at a more eventful place in the narrative, and as scripted by the returning team of Jackson, Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens and Guillermo del Toro (who was slated to direct at one point during “The Hobbit’s” troubled production history), the film immediately evinces a livelier pace and a heightened sense of urgency. The writers’ key structural innovation here is to incorporate material from “The Quest of Erebor,” one of Tolkien’s supplemental “Unfinished Tales,” starting with a prologue that flashes back to a secret early meeting between the noble dwarf Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) and the gray wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen). Together these unlikely allies lay out a plan to recover the powerful Arkenstone and reclaim the dwarfs’ underground kingdom from the clutches of the foul dragon Smaug.

Crucial to their success will be the participation of Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), the mild-mannered but resourceful Hobbit chosen to accompany Gandalf, Thorin and 12 other dwarfs to the Lonely Mountain, as recounted in “An Unexpected Journey.” The story proper resumes with the travelers receiving shelter and supplies from gruff skin-changer Beorn (Mikael Persbrandt) in preparation for their trek through the black forest of Mirkwood. It’s here that Jackson pulls out the first of many stops: When Gandalf departs on a private errand, Bilbo and friends are left to do battle with an army of hideous giant spiders, in a scene so creepily visceral (especially in 3D) that it makes Frodo’s tussle with Shelob in “The Return of the King” look like a romp in the Shire.

The sense of danger rarely flags as the company is rescued and imprisoned by the forces of Thranduil (Lee Pace), haughty king of the Wood-elves and father of a familiar face, the dashing warrior Legolas (Orlando Bloom, reprising his old role with a more impetuous air but the same deadly aim). Middle-earth purists will find plenty of cause for griping here, not merely because Legolas never appeared in the original novel, but because the screenwriters have taken the further liberty of devising an entirely new character, the elf warrior Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly, almost a dead ringer here for Liv Tyler’s Arwen), as a tentative love interest for Kili (Aidan Turner), probably the tallest and most handsome dwarf in Thorin’s party. The problem isn’t that Jackson has dared to tamper with Tolkien’s sacred text, but rather that he has done so to relatively minor effect; although these character additions are meant to up the dramatic stakes and foster a sense of continuity with the “Rings” movies, the emotional gains are minimal.

In pure action terms, the picture’s indisputable high point arrives when Bilbo leads the dwarfs on a daring escape from Mirkwood, floating downriver in barrels while fending off some particularly vicious orcs; it may be a Roaring Rapids-style theme-park ride in the making, but the sequence is thrillingly sustained, orchestrated with a giddy B-movie exuberance that feels like vintage Jackson. From there, things settle down somewhat as the travelers, aided by a wily bargeman (Luke Evans), smuggle themselves into Laketown, a strikingly designed waterfront village that suggests an old English variation on Venice. Overseen by a drunken, venal master (an unkempt Stephen Fry), this once-thriving center of commerce has fallen on hard times since Smaug took over the nearby Lonely Mountain, although the depressed villagers retain their hope in an old prophecy foretelling the dragon’s demise.

At a certain point, “The Desolation of Smaug” becomes a veritable treatise on the different geopolitical factions of Middle-earth: the elves with their hostile, isolationist stance; the humans of Laketown with their desire for prosperity, democracy and ethical governance; and the dwarfs with their yearning for a once-glorious ancestral homeland. It’s weighty, not especially stirring stuff, but necessary insofar as it foreshadows the showdown to come in next year’s “The Hobbit: There and Back Again”; in similar fashion, Gandalf’s secret mission, adapted here from “The Quest for Erebor,” plays a crucial role in anticipating the events of “The Lord of the Rings.”

But the strongest point of connection between this adventure and those yet to come is the Hobbit himself, specifically his growing fascination with the mysterious artifact he acquired in “An Unexpected Journey.” Even at this early stage, the ring’s insidious pull is unmistakable, and Freeman allows a few dark shadings to creep into his otherwise charming embodiment of Bilbo Baggins, whose gradual transformation from reluctant tag-along into stealthy and reliable asset helps sustain viewer engagement through the picture’s occasional laborious stretches. The journey builds to a suspenseful peak as Bilbo finds himself eye-to-eye with the imposing Smaug himself (voiced in seething, unctuous tones by Benedict Cumberbatch), even if their drawn-out confrontation and the dragon’s endless monologues dissipate the tension somewhat en route to the cliffhanger ending.

As ever, in terms of logistical mastery and marshaling of resources in service of a grandly involving bigscreen entertainment, one couldn’t ask for a better ringmaster (so to speak) than Jackson. There’s an unmistakable pleasure in being transported back to his Middle-earth, in being cushioned by the lush strains of Howard Shore’s score and dazzled by the elaborately detailed sets created by production designer Dan Hennah and his team, seamlessly integrating Weta’s topnotch visual effects. Although Andy Serkis’ inimitable computer-aided performance as Gollum goes missing this time around, the actor once again serves as second unit director, as he does on the other two “Hobbit” films as well.

The New Zealand landscapes look as majestic as ever in Andrew Lesnie’s richly textured lensing, which retains all its dreamlike luster in the standard 24-frames-per-second version screened for review. It’s hard to imagine the 48fps version, which drained so much of the magic from “An Unexpected Journey,” doing much to enhance the experience here, especially given the marvelous tactility of the imagery, from the layers of gossamer webs in the spider-attack sequence to the mountains of gold shifting beneath Bilbo’s feet in the Erebor sequence. In these scenes, the immersive, eye-tickling quality of the 3D conversion is especially apparent, though there are also a few in-your-face sight gags — an arrow flying through the screen, a bumblebee hovering close enough to swat away — that exemplify this particular trilogy’s rough-and-tumble spirit.



Hollywood Reporter
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug: Film Review

8:33 AM PST 12/6/2013 by Todd McCarthy

The Bottom Line
Non-stop peril and action in the improved middle section of the Middle-Earth saga.

Beginning with the blessing of not being stuck with a bunch of hungry and thirsty dwarves in Bilbo Baggins's hut for a half-hour at the outset, nearly everything about The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug represents an improvement over the first installment of Peter Jackson's three-part adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien's beloved creation. The “unexpected journey” launched in last Christmas's box office behemoth becomes the heart of the matter this time around, making for plenty of peril, warfare, theme-park-ride-style escapes and little-guy courage. For Jackson and Warner Bros., it's another movie, another billion.

After exhibiting an almost craven fidelity to his source material the first time out, Jackson gets the drama in gear here from the outset with a sense of storytelling that possesses palpable energy and purpose. Toward the end, his perennial tendency to let bloat creep in reasserts itself to an extent—as in the Lord of the Rings films, not to mention King Kong, he has a hard time knowing when enough is enough even as the three-hour goalpost looms dead ahead. But for the most part he moves the episodic tale along with reasonable speed for a leviathan while serving up enough fights, close shaves and action-filled melodrama for an old-fashioned movie serial or a modern video game.

Part two is almost entirely devoted to the dangerous expedition of 13 dwarves recruited by the Wizard Gandalf with the aim of reinstating Thorin Oakenshield to his rightful place as monarch of the Dwarf Kingdom of Erebor lost in the devastating battle that opened the first film. Although dangers lurk at every step of the way—even more than exist in the book—the one looming over all is Smaug, a huge flying dragon that lives deep in the bowels of the Lonely Mountain that must be subdued if evil is to be denied an enduring triumph.

Although they has mined Tolkien's extensive appendices to The Lord of the Rings to flesh out the story—roughly nine hours will be expended in adapting a book of less than 300 pages—Jackson and habitual co-screenwriters Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens, along with original intended director Guillermo del Toro, have further expanded the dramatis personae by recruiting Legolas from Rings and inventing a welcome female character named Tauriel, a foxy archer fancied by Legolas but who herself shows an interest in Thorin. Women action figures and romantic subplots were not Tolkien's thing, so even the acknowledgment of sexual attraction represents a radical step in this context.

With prolonged exposure to this tale comes awareness of some of the premise's limitations as performed drama. There is incident and confrontation galore, beginning with the portentous, tavern-set opening scene in which Gandalf lights a fire under Thorin, followed by the dwarves's arrival at their first destination, the farm of the “skin-changer” Beorn, first seen in the form of a bear. Then, once Galdalf leaves them to their own devices, the diminutive ones must contend with the dangers lurking within the vast Mirkwood forest, foremost of which are giant spiders that quickly spin webs around the morsel-sized travelers. Always, they are stalked and, as often as not, attacked by the fearsome Orcs, muscle-bound uglies in league with Smaug to continue their dominion over Erebor.

However, as one skirmish follows another, it becomes clear that suspense cannot be a factor here because the rules of the game mitigate against it. Where the elves are concerned, there is no danger because they are, by nature, immortal. This is not the case for the dwarves but, with the exception of one injury, the little guys consistently escape unharmed while the humongous and ferocious orcs go down as easily as shooting gallery ducks. Just as a token bow to credibility, you'd think a few dwarves might be sacrificed, but nope, they're all charmed.

With Ian McKellen's ever-imposing Gandalf bowing out for a long stretch on other pressing business (consult the appendices), it might seem that the heavy lifting would be taken up by Martin Freeman's slowly flowering Bilbo Baggins. At times it is. He does have a nose for gold, first in the form of the inevitable and mischievously errant ring, then with the treasures in the deepest sanctum of the ruined mountain kingdom now occupied by the slumbering titular dragon. Feeling his way, Bilbo gradually accepts the call to greatness Gandalf has thrust upon him.

Still, Bilbo also steps to the side through a middle stretch that provides time not only for Legolas (with a blond-tressed Orlando Bloom not missing a step, nor an arrow shot, since Ring) and Tauriel (a winning Evangeline Lilly, of TV's Lost) but for a significant layover in a port called Lake-town. The central player here is Bard (Luke Evans, excellent), a barge man and trader who smuggles the dwarves into a Middle Ages-style backwater in which working stiffs, struggling families, layabouts and criminals are lorded over by the smart and venal Master, brought to vibrant Dickensian life by Stephen Fry. As they are preoccupied by the real-world concerns of commerce, politics and personal intrigue rather than monsters, mythology and regal destiny, Bard and Master are the two most recognizably human characters in the film.

Once Bilbo provides the key to the kingdom at the mountain, his main order of business is to avoid being swallowed whole or burned to a crisp by the fire-bellied Smaug, who's almost too big for the human-built quarters he occupies. Like some Bond villains who talked too much instead of quickly offing 007 when they had the chance, Smaug seems much enamored with the sound of his own voice. And a fine voice it is, supplied by Benedict Cumberbatch but too unnaturally deepened and electronically modified to afford pure enjoyment of the actor's menacing readings. The ending is a true cliffhanger, the resolution to which audiences will be lining up for on Dec. 17, 2014.

Visually, the predominance of CGI in most scenes is consistent not only with the previous entry but all the Rings films and too many of Jackson's and cinematographer Andrew Lesnie's carefully calibrated swooping and circling camera moves look like they were generated by a computer program. On the other hand, the distractingly vivid images provided by the 48 frames-per-second in the first film appear to have been massaged properly this time and there is a notably lower-than-average reduction in image brightness when using the 3D glasses.

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The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug reviews

Postby MovieWes » Wed Dec 04, 2013 9:26 pm

Not an actual review, but it's a short blurb by Richard Corliss of Time Magazine. The film came in at #10 on his Top 10 list for 2013.

Who could guess, after the meandering first feature in a seemingly unnecessary eight-hour trilogy of films based on a novel of less than 300 pages, that Peter Jackson had such a vigorous and thrilling middle episode in store? With Bilbo (Martin Freeman), Gandalf (Ian McKellen) and the dwarves finally done with introductory dawdling, they dive into a nonstop adventure among the noble Elves, the rough-hewn humans of Laketown and the ferocious dragon Smaug (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch). This time, Andy Serkis has not lent his presence to Gollum, but his work as second-unit director is spectacular. Each complex encounter, especially a flume-ride escape of the dwarves, boasts a teeming ingenuity of action and character. A bonus: the budding romance of the warrior Elf Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly) and the dwarf hunk Kili (Aidan Turner). In all, this is a splendid achievement, close to the grandeur of Jackson’s Lord of the Rings films.
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