Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug (2013) - Philip Vandy Price

The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug
Director: Peter Jackson
Starring: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Richard Armitage, Orlando Bloom Evangeline Lilly, Andy Serkis, Lee Pace, Benedict Cumberbatch
Rated: PG-13

Revenge? REVENGE?  I will show you revenge!

Here's our final guest piece for this fantastic and flavorful little retrospective.  It comes from Philip Vandy Price who you might remember I talked Robocop with on Out Now With Aaron & Abe.  He's got a terrific little film review blog I enjoy following called Reviews From A Bed that you can check out HERE!  

We knew at some point the fact a trilogy of movies, at three hours a piece no less, drawn from a 300-page book and its appendices as well as further Tolkien notes would begin to feel a bit drawn out and if anything best exemplifies that fact it is the last half hour of The Desolation of Smaug. Each year we come to the fantasy world of Middle Earth that director Peter Jackson has now made a cozy home of and each year we hope for the best. While the need to stretch things across three films for financial reasons is understood if not the Achilles heel of this particular series, there still seems to always be something to help us really appreciate the directors craft.
With The Desolation of Smaug being the middle chapter what we have is a series of obstacles to overcome that lead to others, each one more dangerous than the next and likely concerning a more confusing set of circumstances intended to up the tension. While middle chapters typicall benefit from not having to introduce character or wrap everything up at the end, much of what happens here feels as if we’re just wading in the water. There does come into play somewhat of a love story between dwarf Kili (Aidan Turner) and bad ass she-Elf Tauriel (Evangeline Lily), but even this feels more shoe-horned in than anything as we are expected to base the eventual affection and devotion off of one night of talking through a prison cell. This is not to discount any of the actors putting forth their best effort, but the story with which they are cooperating begins to feel more and more patched together as this film progresses to the point it’s hard to become as invested in the journey and as a result, the numerous characters. Though, while the inclusion of Bloom's Legolas might ultimately be unnecessary it was good to see him back in action as the grace and skill with which he takes out each enemy elevates any set piece he chooses to be a part of and effectively relays to the audience how competent he is when placed in high pressure situations that will no doubt come in hand later.
Though much of what The Desolation of Smaug represents is off-putting there is still a good portion of things to enjoy here. Most of these have to deal with the large action pieces that occur periodically throughout the film. If I'd forgotten at all the skill it takes to bring these stories to the big screen I was quickly reminded of what an investment this was as Jackson concocts some pretty great sequences here that are thrilling to see unfold. The stand scene out being the one in which the dwarfs, still led by Richard Armitage's Thorin Oakenshield, escape the forest of Mirkwood where Lee Pace's King Thranduil and Orlando Bloom's Legolas dwell, and make their way down the river each in an individual barrel. As I sat watching the film, anticipating this scene I'd heard so much about, I wondered how Jackson as a filmmaker might creatively make it stand out. In the early stages I became concerned as nothing seemed overly-innovative and all too dependent on the saturated CG-world. As the speed of the river quickened so did my heart rate though as we were quickly reminded that the White Orc, Azog, and his minions are still hot on the dwarfs trail. It is when these foes come into play and the camera begins to move swiftly along with our heroes as they defend themselves does not only the camera work become fun, but the playful mentality of the characters in the scene that only elevates our involvement with the adventure.
On the other hand, the final sequence including the titular fire breather goes on much longer than it should no matter how menacing Benedict Cumberbatch sounds. There are so many facets, so many different levels to the space in which this final scene takes place that there is too much going on to even be able to comprehend. Instead of focusing on one plan and one goal in order to outsmart the dragon the characters are spread out and disconnected from their objective leaving the payoff to be less effective and feel lacking in any kind of weight or care.
Despite the fact Jackson has plenty of technical talent behind the camera (Gollum doesn't appear in Smaug, but Andy Serkis still served as second unit director) and acting talent in front of the camera we never feel the essence of what this trilogy of films is actually about and that is the development of Bilbo Baggins (a truly under-appreciated Martin Freeman in this installment). While this isn't necessarily set around the one ring to rule them all, it does take its title from our big-footed burglar that finds the ring and allows its influence to guide his life up through the Lord of the Rings films. And while I understand the major events of this trilogy are set around the quest to reclaim the dwarfs homeland, the most critical piece would still seem to be Bilbo's character development and sans for a few lines of dialogue between Bilbo and Ian McKellen’s Gandalf early on, there isn't much to indicate where Bilbo is at in his own personal journey. 
In retrospect, The Desolation of Smaug will likely be seen as a blip in the collective journeys of Peter Jackson to Middle Earth, but those who do choose to re-visit these mammoth epics certainly have an affinity for this world and these characters that likely endure the highlights of this middle chapter for years to come. I’d like to think that given the passage of time as we are all lent a little more perspective a greater appreciation might come for this prequel trilogy. It would especially be interesting to see the three films cut down into one, solid adaptation of the original source material sans the appendices and with that how much of this film would make the cut. In looking forward to the final installment of the trilogy I'm not so much worried, but more concerned Jackson has fallen into a rut and is simply running on fumes to finish it. I sincerely hope I’m wrong and hey, Two Towers was my least favorite of the previous series with Return of the King being my favorite so who knows, maybe we'll have something of a repeat. 

NEXT TIME: Battle Of The Five Armies brings our little Hobbit trilogy to a close

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