I was a big fan of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy. If I didn’t see all three on opening day, I saw them opening week. There were a few liberties taken with the source material that I didn’t like (I still really want to see Pippin and Merry kick ass in the Scouring of the Shire), but the overall result more than made up for those few, small things. Yet, for some reason, when last year’s The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey came out, I couldn’t muster up any interest. Months later, I saw it on the small screen at home and immediately regretted not seeing it in a cinema. So when the next installment came around, I made sure I was in front of a big screen, in full blown High Frame Rate, to see The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug.
The first movie ended with Hobbit Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) finding the magic ring that grants him invisibility, and his dwarf comrades, lead by Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage), finding respect for the little, hairy footed fella. It also ended with Ian McKellen’s wizard Gandalf, discovering a great evil had returned to Middle Earth. But the central story is still that of the dwarves and Bilbo, headed for the Loneley Mountain, filled with stolen dwarf gold, and the stealer of that gold, the dragon Smaug (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch).
The first obstacle is the dark and foreboding Mirkwood Forest, home of giant spiders and some not so friendly elves, both of who have a crack at imprisoning the Hobbit and his dwarf mates. Here’s where a little story adaptation and franchise crossover liberties are taken to not only shoehorn in Orlando Bloom as Lord of the Rings sharp shooting elf Legolas, but also a completely fabricated for the movie character played by Evangaline Lilly as a smoking hot elf and one corner of a love triangle between her, Bloom, and Aidan Turner as the controversially dreamy dwarf, Killi.
As someone who generally thought there was no reason to blow the small source book out into three bloated movies, I was surprised by how much I liked this addition. Lilly makes a great, ass kicking lady elf, and Bloom is back in one of the only roles I’ve ever liked him in.
Gandalf leaves his travelling friends early to go face the growing evil, and beyond Mirkwood, the dwarves and Bilbo have an adventure in Laketown (with Stephen Fry cast perfectly as the pompous, corrupt leader) before reaching the mountain and confronting the dragon.
That’s a whole lot of story and there’s a lot I haven’t even mentioned. But I found The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug to be a rare example of quantity adding to the quality. It’s long. Really, really long. Yet the nonstop momentum means it’s never boring.
Having missed An Unexpected Journey in cinemas, The Desolation of Smaug was my first experience with the controversial and polarising High Frame Rate. Some people say it looks too much like cheap video, that it highlights the sets and makeup and that it just looks weird. I agreed with all of that for about the first 20 minutes. Then my eyes adjusted and I liked it more and more as the movie went on. Sure, some things look like cheap kids’ adventure dramas I used to watch on telly in the afternoon after school, some of the sets look overlay artificial, and the CGI characters look worse than ever, but when it looks right, it looks amazing. I don’t think the problem is the 48 frames per second. I think the problem is that it’s such new technology, Jackson doesn’t quite know how to use it yet and get the most out of it.
Like the first installment, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug picks a great place to end makes sure you’re excited for the next part in the series. Like I said earlier, I thought expanding one small book into three epic movies was overkill, but the more I think about it, the more it makes sense. When I read The Hobbit as a kid, I thought it was amazing. When I re-read it, after having also read The Lord of the Rings, it felt inconsequential and childish. Since Jackson began with the Rings trilogy, there’s no way he could have stayed completely faithful to the preceding book, without it too coming off as inconsequential and childish.
I’m no longer a skeptic and am officially pumped for a year from now when I get to see the final chapter, in all its High Frame Rate glory.
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
Directed By – Peter Jackson
Written By – Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson, Guillermo Del Toro