Film review: The Hobbit – The Desolation of Smaug

So, I must begin by admitting that I did not particularly care for “The Lord Of The Rings” trilogy, although I am a great admirer of director Peter Jackson. I am inclined to agree with Randall in Kevin Smith’s “Clerks 2” about the content of the film. When you finish this review, you can watch a clip posted below of Randall in “Clerks 2” expressing his analysis of the epic trilogy. And like my very first film review for Romania-Insider.com, “The Great Gatsby”, I have not, in fact, read “The Hobbit” books either.

Yes, I have not read some of the most beloved, classic fiction out there. But give me “To Kill A Mockingbird” any day, the film version of which, starring Gregory Peck, I studied intensely in film school. I also didn’t see the first “Hobbit” film. So in the interest of disclosure, these are the factors which might influence my review of “The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug”. But my job is to discuss what a film achieved cinematically, not what it brings from the page. And I will critique it as a self-contained film, for those of you who also might not have taken “An Unexpected Journey” last year.

The buzz is that the first “Hobbit” movie satisfied and pleased hardcore fans, but the general casual moviegoers reaction was “meh”. This “meh”, however, still added up to USD 300 million at the box office in the States, and a USD 1 billion worldwide gross. “The Desolation Of Smaug” has to live up to that despite the lukewarm reaction to the first film.

Already working in the movie’s favor is the fact that it is the second movie in the trilogy. The middle episodes are often the best of a series, like “The Empire Strikes Back” or “Back To The Future Part II”. They tend to be the most exciting and engaging of the mythology. I don’t have a stick to judge by, nor know what to expect in the next film like readers of the book, but I will say that “The Desolation Of Smaug” is certainly an entertaining and action packed film. It is full of exciting sequences, which is really good because the abstract dialogue in between is hard to follow, full of metaphorical concepts that are probably more familiar to fans of the book and the whole series.

But it is well-paced, not feeling like the length of the almost three hour running time. It has a few hearty laughs too. The funny thing for me though is that it felt a little predictable at points, which is normal if you read the books, but not such a good thing if you don’t know the story in advance.

Peter Jackson directs the film very well. I have been a big fan of his since I accidentally stumbled upon “Heavenly Creatures” in 1993, Kate Winslet’s first film. Before “Lord Of The Rings”, Jackson was most adored for his campy horror schlock cult classics “Dead Alive”, “Bad Taste”, and “Meet The Feebles”. These movies are where he honed his talent for original and convincing effects. His experience is on display here, and he directs assuredly and with confidence. This is his world, and he knows how to portray it.

The shots are interesting and effective, and the editing fast paced but smooth and easy to follow. The gruesome wit Mr. Jackson experimented with in “Meet The Feebles”, a sort of X-rated muppet movie, and his other films, is on display here and used to great effect at the right moments during battle sequences. These sequences look great and keep you thrilled. The most charming and Wow! moments are when the dwarfs take to the river in a gaggle of barrels.

Probably one of the reasons the action sequences look so good and are so easy to follow is because Mr. Jackson made the controversial decision to shoot the films at 48fps, twice the normal rate of film capture. This reduces blur during action sequences, and flutter on the subjects of the frame. It brings a sharper clarity and I think is completely appropriate for this film, working to the viewer’s benefit. I definitely followed the action better. It makes the 3-D seem less unnatural during these sequences.

The effects themselves are great: The Dragon, who is also quite wise, witty and perceptive; Erogon, who is super creepy. The Orcs are very realistic. But still, again as in “Great Gatsby”, I don’t care too much for 3-D and could do without it. There are some moments where it is obvious that it is green screened, and I prefer the times when they had to shoot actual real majestic mountains. It just feels more breathtaking.

As for the acting, Bilbo Baggins’ main direction seems to be “look concerned”. Ian McKellen seems emboldened to bring out a little more of his gay tendencies in great wizard Gandalf. The dwarfs are whimsical and fantastical, and the warriors are strong and deep voiced. The stunts by the elfin archers, Evangeline Lilly and Orlando Bloom, are very impressive. I wish I could do that!

One last word of warning: This is an expat news site, and I am an expat myself, so a little hint to expats who may go see the movie, The elves speak in Elfin, and the Orcs speak their scary languages, and their dialogue is translated only into Romanian subtitles. So you will have to learn their languages if you want to know what those characters are saying, which I think is just as J.R.R. Tolkien would have wanted it.

By James Longshore, guest writer