The Hobbit returns to the big screen with The Desolation of Smaug, and while it’s on par with the first I think most people will appreciate its added momentum; even if it loses its characters at times.
Zac: Bilbo and the dwarves are on the next phase of their journey to the Lonely Mountain and there are a number of new and familiar faces along the way. While the story takes its time to introduce these new players in the story, it also ups the set pieces for the front half of the film. This is all good, but I’m not quite sure how I feel about the film’s final act, even if I loved the note they end on. What says the naysayer of the dwarves?
***Warning: Spoilers throughout this discussion!***
Lauren: I liked them much more this time because they did not introduce themselves with the thievery of food, my biggest pet peeve. And there was no stupid singing! Big step up for me, though I still am not a big fan of a lot of the character designs… Those noses are so distracting… And when do they find the time to maintain that hair!?
But enough about the dwarves; a good enlarged and hairy foot to start on is that overall I did enjoy this film more than the first, though I will swap the portions of the film I enjoyed most with you. The first half of the film seemed to drag for me, no matter the set pieces, because we’ve seen it all before. Here’s a simple list: orcs chasing our main group to add momentum to the story, a hobbit looking really sickly thanks to the ring, really gross spider webs and giant spiders wrapping our main characters up in sleeping bags, Gandalf side-questing on his own only to be captured by an evil force, a creepy dark-haired man whispering manipulative words into a leader’s ear… The list goes on and on. And what was with the family tree that seemed to make its way into the film? This person is that person’s father, and this is so-and-so’s son… Middle Earth must be pretty incestuous if all the characters of this film have ties to those in the latter trilogy…
To sum that up, my main problem with the first film is that it doesn’t really seem to have focus and is a story made out of set pieces instead of a film with set pieces to help tell the story, if that makes sense. The first half of this film felt the same way to me in many ways, but you weren’t wrong in mentioning earlier that the focus that this film finds does seem to keep the momentum going. Even if we already know that they’re going to get inside that mountain thanks to the previews…
Zac: I loved all the retconning going on to connect to the LotR. In fact, I think Jackson is going to make these play beautifully if you start with Hobbit and move on to LotR; we just need to update Bilbo finding the ring and Gollum in FotR. I was loving Bilbo feeling the Ring’s power (nicely paralleled with Thorin’s yearning for the Arkenstone), the trippiness of Mirkwood, the spiders being understood, and Jackson really just lets his imagination run wild. There are some crazy, R rated, kills in this film. In fact, the barrel sequence is one of the best action scenes of the year and is worth the price of admission alone.
The biggest thing I had a hard time connecting to was the Kili and Tauriel romance thing that was going on. It felt wrong almost. I also wished she and Legolas getting involved felt a bit more natural, but that all goes back to the romance being the stimulus for their involvement, post Mirkwood.
Lauren: Whatever, Kili is the cutest one of the group, and an archer (sigh), so it’s only right that Evangeline Lilly falls for him. But really I think what she likes about him is just what he represents as a way of getting into the outside world. He was the catalyst to get her out of creepy Lee Pace’s home, so I will take the good with the bad when it comes to Kili and Tauriel. But if you still don’t approve, you can always hope for one of them to die to end it because I’m feeling if anyone goes it will be one of these two. Psych! In the Hobbit films, no one dies! OK, bad people and bad creatures die, but no heroes die! They will live forever through all the craziness and danger that should have rightfully killed plenty. Heck, even the hedgehog in the first film was brought back to life.
I didn’t really have a problem with this romance for what it is in idea because I like both characters for the most part, but Lilly was asked to do a whole lot of crush smiling that I couldn’t help giggling at, when all I really wanted to see her do was fight. The elves are always my favorites just because it is so fun to watch the fluidity and grace to their combat, though I will say in these moments is also when CGI awkwardness is most noticeable as the elves leap around as they chase the dwarves/orcs down the river. At least in a few shots, anyway, but like with you the barrel sequence was the best bit of the film for me, deserving of the laugh it also gets as the camera swoops around following the action.
Oh, and Thorin can suck it! I’ve always been a little iffy towards this stoic leader because as much as I want to like him there is just something there that keeps me from completely connecting, so that whole pull you mention with him towards the Arkenstone pushed me further away from him. How dare you hold a sword to someone with as precious a face as Bilbo! I really thought he was going to sacrifice himself somehow to save Bilbo from the dragon in the end because of this, and there is definitely still time for it, but at this rate I don’t doubt the likelihood of another happy ending like with Aragorn getting his crown at the end of Return of the King. Well, during one of the endings of that film anyway.
Zac: No spoilers, but your Dwarven bloodlust will be satiated in the last film.
The back half of the film has plenty of fun, but after we get introduced to Bard the film just ends up all over the place. Jackson fills the film with cool, but the bouncing back and forth between Lake-town and Smaug action never felt entirely coherent, nor smooth. A nit pick for sure, but that mixed with the lack of character moments made it not work as well as the first half for me. Maybe it will improve on a second viewing (Unexpected Journey did), but I also think my expectations of how they ending would play out threw me off as well. I was anticipating the Battle of Mirkwood in this one, but alas that is not the case.
I will say that I also loved everything with Gandalf and the Necromancer, which was another fantastic piece of LotR connecting that will help these play beautifully as one piece. The Gandalf action scene was right there with the barrel chase for me.
Lauren: Meh. I still prefer the original “You shall not pass!” to this attempted recreation.
As cool as Sauron is, I still think I would have actually preferred something that would live and breathe on its own, and would have been fine without these larger connections. Then again, re-watching the LotR trilogy could change my mind on this front, so I won’t push the issue as we move to another grand scale battle based on the orc hordes prepped and ready to do some damage.
But before we get to that, we still have to deal with Smaug. He’s not the greatest villain as he taunts Bilbo on his massive pile of gold for a rather lengthy amount of time, but I do think this scene came out pretty well overall. The graphics were pretty great if you ask me, and I loved seeing the dwarves completely failing in their attempts to take back their home because we got to see exactly what they were fighting for as they are chased around all over the place. And it all leads to this pretty great cliffhanger. Usually I am not a fan of those “endings” handled as this one does because there isn’t that much of a conclusion to create a film on its own within the context of the trilogy, but instead of being aggravated by this I am pumped to see where this story is going. Just don’t make me wait too long!
Zac: You got a year to wait!
Smaug was a lot of fun, and I loved the finale to that fight along with the cliffhanger. I think most of my issues with Smaug’s scenes probably came from the awkward cutting between the mountain and Lake-town. The effects were great, and I actually will be going back to see this in 48 FPS, just to see Smaug in all of his glory.
I keep ragging on the Lake-town stuff, but it actually isn’t that bad at all. It’s just that the editing threw everything off in the finales. It is a lot of fun to watch Legolas mess up some orcs, but I couldn’t help but chuckle at the third and fourth time he bounded off, calling for Tauriel, and she just ignores him. Bard’s story also dead ends in a hurry, and that was a bit deflating to the film as well.
Lauren: Poor Legolas. Who would’ve thought Orlando Bloom wouldn’t get the girl? And that mean Orc made him bleed! I actually loved that though because he’s always seemed like the most perfect character among the original fellowship.
As for Bard, he’ll be back. He has to make everyone shut up about his father’s legacy and put that black arrow through the hole in the armor that no one believes exists. And to live up to his name, he can then finish up the 500 ending scenes this trilogy is bound to have with the overplaying musical retelling of this story and the heroes that rose to the challenge.
Zac: I know I’ll be there next December!
Lauren’s Final Grade: B-
Zac’s Final Grade: B+