Date Posted: 2013-12-25
Tolkien Fan Level: 8
Film Format Seen? 3D 24 fps
Will view again in a different format? Yes
Well, it was an arduous wait for the release of DOS. Living in Australia always came with the frustration of waiting that extra week back in the days of the LOTR film releases, but the increasing 24-hour news cycle on social media makes dodging spoilers even more difficult!
But at last, the day finally came - and what a great late gift from Santa it was. Let me be clear at the outset; I fell in love with Tolkien's world at the tender age of 11, when I was blown away by the FOTR film adaptation. I'd already read the Hobbit well before then, but it was really the expanded world of Middle-Earth that I found in LOTR, The Silmarillion, and UT that got me hooked. However, as the LOTR film trilogy unfolded I was never particularly bothered by the liberties taken with the film-makers in altering, adding, or removing characters. And again, despite the (extreme) liberties taken by Jackson and his team, I still find myself feeling that the more time spent in the visual world of Middle-Earth, the better - even if that's served to us by countless additions and alterations. After all, a faithful, un-embellished linear retelling of the events of the original book would barely make one solid movie, let alone three. While I enjoyed AUJ and several re-watchings since, it still felt somewhat lacking behind the brilliance of the LOTR trilogy. Here, that brilliance is restored. Unlike AUJ, DOS drops us into a frenetic energy right from the beginning. Our dwarven company is still being pursued by Orcs, but their antagonistic role is much more purposeful here than in the first instalment. Likewise, the importance of the growing darkness in Middle-Earth and the return of Sauron is outlined much more clearly in this film, unlike in an AUJ where it seemed to be more of a half-baked excuse to justify the importance of the story. The portion of the story that takes place in Mirkwood was, in my mind, a brilliant piece of film-making. Mirkwood oozes a sense of bizarre horror, aptly displayed by the both comic and frightening ease with which the dwarves are mentally and physical overcome. The real treasure here though is the scene in which Bilbo brutally dispatches of the spiders - and in the process begins to realise how the Ring is changing his very nature. I realise that the portrayal of the Elves has caused a great deal of controversy, but I thought their part in the story here was consistent with both their previous film portrayals and the spirit of the novel. Lee Pace's performance as Thranduil is both intimidating and vulnerable, and it's obvious that this character is a real wildcard - seemingly both cowardly and brutal, bitter and bold. Orlando Bloom - sporting was looks to be a nice digital facelift - fits comfortably back into the world, proving that his addition to the film was a wise choice. On to the most discussed matter of Tauriel; I may be biased as a female viewer, but the character was a genius addition. Humanising the otherwise unrelatable Mirkwood elves and embodying the sense of duty to contribute to her world's safety - an incredibly important theme throughout both the Hobbit and LOTR - Lilly's performance is at once tough, sincere, and soft. One of the few things I did get spoiled on before seeing the movie was the apparent relationship between Fili and Tauriel - and to be honest, I was concerned. Having seen the way it was played out in the film, I actually found myself really feeling for this storyline. It gives a sense that Tauriel is a fish out of water with her own people - even Legolas, who we know turns into a much 'nicer' person by the time of LOTR, can barely understand her opinions - while Fili is far more open-minded than many of his peers. And as for Legolas - if you give this guy a bloody nose, you know you're going to pay for it. Regarding one of the film's iconic set-pieces, the barrel chase - I know there has been much discussion of its altered nature from the book, but I truly loved this sequence. One of the issues I took with AUJ was that it made the dwarves seem fairly inept as warriors; for a group aiming to slay a dragon, they seriously struggled to make an impression against the trolls, goblins, orcs, or any foe they encountered. This sequence, from Fili's hero turn to Bombur's uproarious and imaginative moves, proved our heroes could really hold their own. Bard and the people of Esgaroth did indeed exceed my expectations - portraying a town and a people in ruin but with clear potential to turn their fortunes around - but it's clear their real moments are yet to come in TABA. And as for Smaug? What is there to be said - much like Bilbo, I was speechless at the accomplishments made in the portrayal of this iconic villain. Aside from Benedict Cumberbatch's outstanding performance, the actual design and creation of the dragon is a groundbreaking and stunning visual achievement well worth the wait.
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