Date Posted: 2013-12-27
Tolkien Fan Level: 6
Film Format Seen? 2D 24 fps
Will view again in a different format? No
Unfortunately, I have to start my review by saying that The Desolation of Smaug is to me the worst of Peter Jackson's Middle-Earth films. I can't quite judge it against An Unexpected Journey, having only seen that film once a year ago, but I've seen the LOTR trilogy many times and this movie just doesn't measure up where it matters most - in editing, pacing, script and execution. It feels like an imitation rather than a companion.
This isn't to say that Desolation's a terrible movie. There are so many parts of it that are wonderfully true to the book version of The Hobbit, and so many other parts that are original - or taken from other sources with which I'm unfamiliar - and yet, much of it fails because of the execution. Take, for instance, the way Thranduil and the Wood-Elves are portrayed. Rather than coming off as suspicious, shy, yet good, as Tolkien wrote of them, they appeared to me as suspicious and almost cruelly introverted. They're willing to let disasters take place outside their borders not because of pacifism, but because they simply don't care. Since Tolkien's elves have always been portrayed as innately good, this was a moment both out-of-character and disturbing. While it's a good idea in theory, it just doesn't fit. The same concept holds true for Beorn, who became a sort of brooding and bearded Bela Lugosi rather than a Rivendell-esque breather at the end of a long first journey, and unfortunately didn't interest me with his apparent tragic backstory. I understand the attempts to make the story darker - a lot of the lighter elements of The Hobbit are clearly meant for children and wouldn't fit into the movies, plus these stories need to be linked to the upcoming events of LOTR. However, quite simply, I feel that most of those attempts were botched. It's difficult to pinpoint exactly what was wrong about them, but there was something wrong all the same. My least favorite parts of the film were the battle sequences, especially those involving orcs. To me, every one of them went on too long, and were much more violent than previous battles - seeing Aragorn behead the Uruk-Hai leader at the end of FOTR holds much more impact for me than the countless beheadings done by the elves during some battles in this film. By the time the orcs appeared in Lake-Town, I was frankly unhappy to see them. They served the role of story catalyst well in An Unexpected Journey, but at this point I feel they would be better off disappearing until the Battle of Five Armies necessitates their return. The scenes in Mirkwood were, sadly, far too short. I was hoping for a longer battle between Bilbo and the spiders, or at least more time spent exploring the Wood-Elves domain, but those parts seemed cut short in favor of battles. Seeing nothing of the elves' Starlight Festival was very disappointing! The same was true of Gandalf's explorations, which were interspersed very quickly between long sequences with the dwarves - I wanted to see more of his journey through the tomb and Dol Guldur. However, I quite liked the character of Tauriel, and was happy to see her keep appearing throughout the movie. Also, once the Company reached Lake-Town and continued to Erebor, and especially when Smaug appeared, I enjoyed the movie much more. I wasn't completely content with the Smaug sequence, as it seemed to be drawn out a bit much and rather implausible in places, but it was definitely one of the most enjoyable parts of the whole film. The characters of the Master and his assistant were slightly predictable, but I liked Bard and most of the portrayal of Lake-Town itself. For the movie's technical aspects, the direction was basically average. I found that it focused often on what could be called "set pieces", such as the obviously purposeful framing of Thorin's profile against a large dwarf statue, which was a little distracting. Other scenes, such as a slowly spinning wide shot in Thranduil's hall, were a bit too similar to some from the LOTR films. The music was also slightly underwhelming, but the track "Kingsfoil" is one of the most beautiful pieces I've ever heard from Howard Shore. The art direction, special effects, costumes, makeup, and so on were at their usual high quality, barring the occasional strange-looking CG (Beorn's bees) or green-screen effect (some of the barrel sequence). Anyway, to reprise my opening statement - I was disappointed in this film, mainly because I was hoping for one of the same quality as the previous Middle-Earth films. However, I don't hate it in its entirety, it remains fast-moving, and there were many parts that I enjoyed tremendously. The main weaknesses lie in its general execution, pacing, script and editing. Otherwise it's a high-quality film.
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