I went to see the Hobbit: the Desolation of Smaug yesterday. I saw it three times, twice in 3D and one in 2D.
It is an excellent film. It is better than the first part, both in terms of story and pacing. This film clocks in at two hours and forty minutes, five minutes shorter than An Unexpected Journey. The film starts with a quick flashback explaining how Gandalf met up with Thorin, and then jumps back to the group in the mountains being chased by orcs. If you did not see the first film or have not seen it in a while, this might be jarring.
Visually, the film is flawless. The 48 frames-per-second work much better this time around. There are fewer shots that play on the 3D effect as well as the first film did. There are some scenes, however, that stand out. The Mirkwood scenes look real, as if you could reach out and touch one of the branches. The reveal of Smaug’s head is another example where the 3D works well. It really looks like he could eat you. That said, I still prefer the 2D version.
Peter Jackson took many liberties with the story. If you go in expecting to see afunny scene with the dwarves coming into Beorn’s home two at a time, you are wasting your time. This film still has funny moments, but it is much heavier and darker in tone. This is necessary if you read the book. This is the part where we begin to see Thorin’s changing character. We cannot have tons of laughter ruining that moment.
The most obvious change is the addition of Legolas and Tauriel. Legolas is not mentioned in the Hobbit book, although he is likely in Mirkwood at the time. Tauriel is a completely new character made mostly because there are no other prominent female characters in the film. Purists might complain, but the character works very well and fills a gaping story hole.
Here is the problem: later on in the book and in the third film there will be a war called the Battle of the Five Armies. It includes orcs, men, elves, dwarves, and eagles. Jackson needs to set up why Thranduil, King of Mirkwood, who dislikes Thorin as much as Thorin dislikes him, would help the dwarves. In the book, Bilbo and Gandalf handle this, but in the film this is not enough. More so, if Jackson followed the book, we would not see Thranduil again until the tail end of the third film. That would be almost five hours without any hint of his mind.
That just does not work. However, if you add in some other elves who can leave Mirkwood and interact with the dwarves, we can know see how Thranduil can be convinced by Bilbo, Gandalf, and the other elves to change his mind. It also allows the audience to see the difference between the elves from Rivendell and those from Mirkwood.
That brings us to the performances, which were fantastic. Evangeline Lily does an awesome job as Tauriel. She makes her a likable, believable character. While her portrayal may not be true to what Tolkien would have done, it does work within the context of the film. Lee Pace gives us the aloof, otherworldly feel of Elrond and Galadriel, then adds arrogance smugness to get Thranduil. Orlando Bloom falls right back into Legolas mode. This time around, he is more like when we first meet Legolas, but more smug, like his father. He also outshines his LotR action scenes in his first five minutes on screen.
Martin Freeman continues his great work as Bilbo. Jackson adds in something that was not in the book that allows Freeman to further explore the character: the seduction of the Ring. We get to see how the Ring is starting to work on Bilbo, and how Bilbo notices the change in his behavior. It is a nice nod to the LotR films, and something I think Tolkien would have approved of given the changes he made to the Hobbit following the release of the LotR books.
Ian McKellan continues to deliver as Gandalf. Richard Armitage lets us see how greed is slowly creeping up on Thorin. Aiden Turner gets more screen time as Kili. There is a reason for this, but I cannot mention it without giving away a plot point. Luke Evans does an excellent job as Bard, giving us a slightly more traditional fantasy character.
But the biggest hit is Benedict Cumberbatch as Smaug. He does for this film what Andy Serkis did for Two Towers. The performance is mesmerizing. Smaug’s voice alone reads as dangerous and deadly. Weta outdid themselves with his design and animation. It is perfect, and that is a rare thing.
Indeed, most of the special effects look much better this time around. It is harder to tell the difference between CG and stunt performers acting as orcs. Most of the digital doubles look real, and the only time you can tell something is off is when the figures are in direct sunlight.
Overall, it is a solid film. Better than the first installment in every way, and with one hell of a cliffhanger at the end that made all three audiences I sat with groan for more when the screen went black.
At the end of the film is a song by Ed Sheeran called I See Fire. It is a beautiful song that fits the tone of the film. Last year, I ended up singing Song of the Lonely Mountain at my third viewing. A friend asked if I knew the song yet, and to answer I sang it. This was as people were walking in. Apparently my voice carried enough for people to think it is was part of the film. When the film ended and the credits rolled with the song playing in the background, one of the girls behind me asked me to sing with the song, so I did.
This time around, my godson started singing on his own with the song, and I joined him, along with two of his bandmates. Normally I would have been embarrassed to see people standing there watching me. However, considering the number of them dressed as elves and dwarves, I think singing the song was the least nerdy act happening at that moment. I suppose I will have to sing at the next one.
Seeing a film three times in one day was tiring, yet enjoyable because of how great a film this is. I want to see it again, and that is saying something. I am curious to see how Jackson will tie the next film in with LotR. He sets up quite a bit of that in this film, so I expect that we will get more in the next. I am also curious if he will re-cut Fellowship to add in Freeman’s portrayal of Bilbo and correct the changes he made as a result of An Unexpected Journey.