Darke Reviews – Mass Effect 1,2, and 3 (Video Game/Bioware)

I debated this and thanks to a couple of replies the debate is over. I have never done a game review before even in conversation really so this is sort of new territory for me. I think this will be closer to a “this is my experience on it” and I doubt I will talk about game play (controls/combat) much as what got me the most here was the story. For this review I know I am quite a bit late to the game as everything that could come out for it long since has and I will be talking about a game first published back in November of 2007 with Mass Effect 3 in March of 2012. That being said there will be spoilers through this as the statute limitations is long since dead and buried. That means I am going to talk about *my experience* with the controversial ending to the game. It may not be what you expect.

Now I started playing the first one around Thanksgiving weekend this year and just finished Mass Effect 3 last night around 2am after starting it the night of Christmas. It’s important to know what I ran as well.

Female: Lydia Shepard
Class: Infiltrator
Earth Born / Lone Survivor

Why did I post that? Well because every decision you make from the beginning of the game has some influence on the dialogue you experience through the entirety of the game. It’s fascinating since I’ve been playing games off and on since the very inception of home consoles and computer gaming I have never really encountered this. There are regular references to your experiences even in passing as you move through the amazingly complex story. You may hear something in a news broadcast, a single line from someone, or even a mini arc involving a part of your past. By the time you have reached Mass Effect 3 and its finale all your dialogue choices, all your roads taken or not have influenced how the world sees you and how you see the world.

I have only one play through right now, I am planning another with a male shep to see what’s the same and different with another background and some different decisions. It’s also important that I try it with a male as the romance options are now different for the male vs. female. This is probably one of my biggest gripes with the game play and story is that certain characters were not available in your crew for romance depending on gender. I hope that as BioWare is gearing up for DragonAge 3 that they consider the option to allow you to romance anyone in your party regardless. I love the fact that Romance is an option at all so don’t get me wrong, but when I looked at the dialogue in Mass Effect 1 between my Shep and Ashley Williams and always felt there was something there yet it could not be acted on. I suppose that’s somewhat like life, but to be hard coded against the option itself is…bothersome? Perhaps it’s my own psychology (likely) but I never felt through the dialogue anything with Kaidan Alenko. Instead I chose Liara, the Asari archaeologist; perhaps again due to my own psychology and attraction to that profession in my own game play choices, which I carried through to the finale.

Mass Effect:

The story of the first game I found largely to be straight forward and a solid opener to the trilogy in retrospect. You begin as a space marine drafted to investigate an attack on a colony world where a ship never before seen appeared. During the course of the mission you uncover that one of the Galaxy’s special ops members has gone rogue but as a human no one believes you. This was a nice touch where humans aren’t seen as equal and in fact generally speaking not liked. You also are touched by an ancient alien artifact which hints are something far more vast and threatening on the horizon. You are tasked with putting a crew together and finding the betrayer and stopping this new threat to the galaxy.

What I found impressive is the dialogue options with your crew and their unique personalities. Each one truly had a unique world view and I found it worth it to talk to each one between missions in the game. You could feel like these were real people that you were interacting with, not just static constructs. They had backstories, they have lives and they had opinions. They didn’t always approve of what you were doing and in some cases you even had the ability to convince them and give them faith in you and your decisions. This culminated into a few major decisions as the game nears its climax. You spend hours upon hours getting to know these people and fighting alongside them in a relatively immersive experience. Then, you are given a choice. A no win situation in which you must sacrifice one of your crew members. Sure other games have you make choice A or choice B and maybe people die, but here its someone you know and it resonates. Perhaps not as well as it could or should by comparison to the ones in ME3, but it still feels important. One of the final decisions you get to make actually has Galactic spanning results. Do you save the Council of leaders who have generally been dicks to you or let them die and humanity takes more control over leadership? I selected to keep them alive, it felt logical. They were jerks, but to be fair they had rights to be if you stop for even a moment to think about it. Which I did, so they lived. The end of course had the heroic score and reveal that some movies of this caliber and nature fail to achieve.

I really thought it all played out well and that victory was earned and sacrifices in the end worth it. Even the side missions you deal with carry through the rest of the game series. People you save, people you don’t. People you talk to may or may not live to see the end and have their own destinies altered by your impact on their life. The game play and graphics are solid and of course a bit dated six years later. They were intuitive enough for me, who hasn’t played a non MMO computer game in a decade, to adapt and use them effectively. I actually enjoyed the planetary exploration missions, but wished they were a bit “faster”. In types of gamers I tend to be a Lore/Exploration hound. In City of Heroes, for example, I was in the top 20 badge collectors. They had no real impact, but I loved getting the lore. Same holds true here. I did enjoy the sniper rifle mechanics and it lent itself to my style of combat in gaming.

The game, as I said, was a solid story and introduction to the world. Which leads us to Mass Effect 2

It opens with your death.
Then your resurrection.

It has a very Ripley like vibe, since I was playing a female Shep. The story here, I have some issues with. You spent a portion of game 1 uncovering the activities of a group of relatively bad mercs named Cerberus. You find out that they were responsible for the death of your own platoon once. Yet, here in the second game, they are the group that resurrects you and you work with them. You are allowed to have reservations and state them, but the railroading continues to the very end of the game. What kills me here in the story is the fact and lack of communication. It’s frustrating to watch people not want to talk to you that you once saved the Galaxy with. To have options removed because of a lack of conversation is odd in a game where conversation drives it.

The story here is that an alien race has begun Borg like attacks on colonies through the galaxy. Your job is to find out who they are, how to stop them and of course well stopping them. Once again you need to build a crew for your ship an equally resurrected SSV Normandy putting their skills and experience to the limits and trying to save the Galaxy once again.

The BioWare team wisely continued the option of letting your choices change the fates of so many individual stories. Decisions made in the prior game carry over and new decisions can be made that save the lives of entire colonies and you just “know’ will have an impact on the future. The romance options expand a bit in this one and are also sadly somewhat restricted once again. You don’t have the option to romance all members of your crew and those you were in a romance with may not be there this time – which is again unfortunate if you want to stay “loyal” to them knowing that you are playing through a trilogy. It’s my nature.

Also the scale of the decisions you must make are greatly increased. One that sticks in my mind is a side mission you have the option to take on. It seems relatively simple stop the alien race from firing two missiles at a planet. Sure thing. Except you can only stop one missile. You get to choose which target it hits and then have to see the ramifications. Another one in in a DLC isn’t much of a decision really, but again has some true impact if you let it. Save the Galaxy now or let 300,000 people die. When one of your crew is on trial, options for saving them become available based on conversations you’ve had and the decisions you’ve made thus far. Honestly, decisions like that seem to have more weight to them than some of the end game choices you get to make.

The art is greatly improved with cinematics that are better than some films I’ve watched. This is not unusual in games as their “between scene” graphics tend to be just shy of amazing. I did find myself having to remap about half the controls though as they were changed dramatically between games and muscle memory didn’t allow or like the changes made. The changes to the planet exploration were Ok. It was considerably faster than the driving around trying to find things, but took away from some of the immersion. I know many complained about the driving around so this worked but wasn’t as fun.

The addition of loyalty missions were interesting. A personal mission for each member of your crew. By doing them you increase the odds of your crew surviving the finale of the game most accurately called the suicide mission. Doing the missions having a result on the finale is not a math equation that makes sense but there it is. What confuses me is why players wouldn’t do them? From a strictly mechanical sense they provide experience points for your character and theirs and are interesting story. It doesn’t make sense to me to NOT do them, but I guess some folks don’t. They are fun and deeply personal and really add to the depth of the game. I love that doing them *can* cause conflict in your crew – that can also be resolved. If the crew conflicts were unresolvable I’d be less than thrilled.

Going back to one of my original points, while the story is awesome and compelling and driving the rail roading and lack of communication bothers me. Yes, this group is helping to save the ‘verse when everyone else is busy with politics and not believing you (again). I just really didn’t like sticking with them the entire time. It felt wrong through the length and there was nothing I could do about it.
Of course that’s resolved by Mass Effect 3.

The conclusion for the trilogy is an object lesson for storytellers, writers and directors out there. Everything that has happened before has built to this and it feels like it. The stakes were never higher and the dialogue, choices, and sacrifices you must make reflect on it. The fascinating thing here as it culminates is that you are allowed to see the strain on your character. While they are by no means weak, they wonder if they are strong enough. The bonds you have made over three games are there to support you and lift you up and dust you off when it’s all said and done. It feels epic. It feels like the weight of the galaxy is on your shoulders.

Importantly, as much as you continue to win and find things to beat back the coming galaxy wide genocide, there are losses. You don’t always win. You must sit and watch helplessly at one point as an entire civilization is laid to waste. There are people you’ve grown to care about that die. I cried quite a bit as Mordin died, just because of how artfully the dialogue was done and the callbacks that were made in his final lines. Thane’s death was equally poignant as his last action was to have a prayer of forgiveness read. Not for himself, but for you. This is something in all the films I’ve watched, the stories I’ve written and read not seen done.

There’s barely a choice made through it all that doesn’t have some form of resonance in this one. You may encounter them for a scene, it may be an email, a news blast, but almost all of it matters. This is complex story telling my friends. This is how it should be done. Make things matter, make your choices matter in a game. It worked on so many levels with me and made me want to keep playing until the end. I wanted to know how it would all end. To know that the things I fought for 150 hours of total game play worked. More on that in a moment.

Graphically this is a step above and beyond the other two games. It nearly seamlessly can move from a cinematic to live game play without much issue. The body motions and conversations are pretty good as are the expressions. There are more graphical glitches in this one where characters vanish or rubber band during cinematics than I have seen before in the other two. The game play itself was good. I found myself rekeying the controls again, but minor issue. Enemy AI seemed better as well with them actually trying to move out of the way of your blasts. Conversation options taken actually benefit you in a new way this time as you get the option to learn new abilities.

Now….the ending. I can see why there’s controversy. So much time has been spent on the development of choice, being Paragon or Renegade with appropriate color coding to match. So much time has been spent in the development of a rich complex mythology that you’ve explored as fully as possible. So what do they do?

The introduction of the ghost child is left unexplained in a game that really has explained everything else thus far. It can be read as a manifestation of Shepard’s guilt allowing her to translate the input from the machine. I am ok with that explanation, but as with everything else it probably should have been explained rather than left as a gaping question of interpretation. Then there is the color reversal. Your decision to destroy is color coded as the bad or renegade option and the option to control is the blue/paragon option. It strikes me odd that in the various stories I’ve read on this since I completed last night no one made this correlation.

Everything you’ve done for the three games has been about the preservation of life. The option to live. The option to be more than the past. You’ve (potentially) brokered peace between the Cylons and Humans, er Geth and Quarians. You’ve become part machine yourself (a slight failure here as this is rarely referenced in game). So if the “Red” option is to destroy ALL synthetic life in the Galaxy, including the Geth, including your friend EDI why is it surprising that a decision that wipes out things that you’ve helped live is the bad option? There are dozens of sacrifices you’ve made to date but genocide? Granted it’s for the sake of the Galaxy, but still after all the death you’ve faced all you’ve done, why is it surprising that this is not the good option to take?

Of course there’s control. You die in the process, assimilated is more like it, but you save everyone. You can become the protector or ruler of a new galaxy. You’ve preserved life, even the Reapers. Why is this a surprise?

Then there’s the unexpected third option, synthesis. You can choose to merge all life, organic and synthetic into a single biomechanical wonder of nature. EDI existing and her evolution prove it’s viable. Legion as well and his last moments before his own sacrifice. It was never hinted this is an option, so it’s a bit jarring to be sure. It, to me, seemed the logical option. Much like Control everyone lives. The decision is huge, however, but everyone in the Galaxy has come to depend on you. Depend on your decisions and to save them from obliteration. The lack of appreciation of this before making the choice and awareness of that in the dialogue seems a bit of a failure, but again this is my interpretation of why it is a viable decision to make. I shouldn’t HAVE to interpret. The fact you must die for this one however, seems to be the right thing. It’s sad I don’t get to see the little blue babies in the conclusion but after all the sacrifices you’ve made thus far, this one, the ultimate one is right. Sad as expected, but right. Seeing the final art prints be defined by the choices you’ve made so far was good.

The seeming fact that this final choice though can invalidate everything and be contrary to everything you’ve done is a bit off. The final “old man and child” thing as well. I get that it adds to your legend. It also implies that there’s more, which is unfortunate because there isn’t.
***TL;DR***
This ended up considerably longer than anticipated and I still don’t feel I’ve said all I could say. Ultimately I love all three games and will be going through on a second run, hopefully with more sleep. I love all the nods and jokes to Sci Fi fans. Some of them verge on being a bit rip off ish with the Quarians being so Battlestar Galactica it hurts. Star Wars, Star Trek, Aliens, Alien, Firefly, nothing was left out. Felicia Hannigan as an alias? Beautiful.

The games are fantastic and while the ending does have issues, it isn’t the catastrophe I expected from the kerfuffle I heard. I highly can recommend it anyone and also recommend that folks play through all three.

I want to thank my friends Abby and Amelia for reintroducing me to console/computer gaming and to the beauty that is BioWare games.

To the folks at BioWare, please please consider this an open letter of appreciation for all the hard work that went into these games and that I am looking forward to DragonAge 3. Your teams’ ability to weave a comprehensive story and one that carries emotional impact should NOT be taken lightly and is worth praise. I hope that some of the choices become more open in the romance category and are less restrictive and more able to be referenced through game play.

And if anyone actually read this all the way through, thank you for putting up with my rambling. Now to start on a male Shep….this is going to be odd.

Darke Reviews – 47 Ronin (2013)

The other day I did a review on a movie where the trailer made the movie look so good and compelling that I had no choice really but to see it. This one, the trailer actually made it look fairly horrible. It told you truly nothing about the tonal quality of the film and focused on a 300-esque glitz and “Oh Shiny” factor. It focused on creatures and magic that left me confused as to what I was going to get aside from Ted ‘Theodore’ Logan in Japan. Now that I have seen the film I have this to say.

The trailer failed spectacularly.

Even the After Earth trailer made that film look more interesting until the directors name showed up. The last time (I recall) a trailer completely misrepresenting a movie this horrifically was the movie Lord Of War with Nicholas “Not the Bees” Cage. That movie was sold as a high comedic center piece with crazy eyes. Instead it was a twisted black/dark drama. with 47 Ronin we were offered as a I mentioned magic and monsters, bad CG work and oversaturated color palettes starring Keanu Reeves as an oddly white samurai. What I got was something else.

First time director, Carl Rinsch, with writers Chris Morgan (Fast & Furious 5 and 6, Wanted), Hossein Amini (Drive), and Walter Hamada (producer on the Conjuring) bring us a high concept mythological retelling of the story of 47 Ronin in the Tokugawa Era Japan. While the visuals are close in many respects (too many) to 300, the style of the story is closer to Clash of the Titans or and hear me out here, Dracula.

They took an event from Japanese history, which is legend and hazy at best to the true events, and elevated it to a truly legendary quality. I cannot say they were successful 100% of the time, but they should not be asked to commit seppuku for the attempt. Thats the comparison. When taking a true event and adding a twist to it, inserting a world where witch craft, Tengu and dragons not only exist but are believed in by the people. While the trailers showed those elements they failed in letting us know they were but backdrop to a far more interesting film about Bushido and Revenge.

For his part Reeves as a half breed named Kai, does well. He is not a nail in the coffin and the personality (or lack of) that he is often criticized for is a strength in this movie. He is reserved is his emotions and when he acts it is with commitment and intention, as a Samurai should. While I try to remain spoiler free I feel the need to throw a trivial one. Kai is not Samurai. As is appropriate for the period a half-breed like him is considerably lesser and is treated as such.

That is one of the truly major successes of the film. It captured as much as it could of what western historians have let us know of “true” feudal japan. I am not an expert by any respects. I have read the Book of Five Rings, and played some relatively well respected games around it. That’s really it, but from that I did observe some things that I have found to be culturally appropriate throughout the film, including Reeves portrayal of what he is. Granted the mystic elements throw some of it out the window and the dialogue isn’t always great but there is a lot of attention to detail.

The costuming and make up are amazingly well done and appear to be period appropriate from hair and make up to the shoes. The fight sequences while cut a little quickly are at least watchable through a lack of noticeable shaky cam. When the production team decided to go practical with the effects they looked rather good with the Tengu monk being one of the most nuanced make up of its kind. I do find that the computer enhancements were a bit much for it and took away some of the beauty of the application.

The movie is not however flawless. It is quite good, better than I thought so that might be why I am able to keep talking about it, but far from flawless. The Hollywood need to oversaturate the colors is getting nearly old as Shaky cam and I will not miss it if it goes tomorrow. The script at times and the lines some are forced to read is painful and comes off ridiculous or awkward when heard. It makes sense for what they are doing, it just doesn’t sound right is all. There are elements in the graphics that of course do take away and the CG while detailed still isn’t clean against a real set and real actors.

The acting is either appropriately reserved or so far over the top to nearly be comical. If it was intended this way then it succeeded, if not well….had they given Tadanobu Asano (Hogun in Thor) a mustache to twirl as Lord Kira I wouldn’t have blinked. Rinko Kikuchi (Pacific Rim) as the Witch is nearly delightful in how over the top she is. I wish they had done more with her as it feels some of her screen time or plotlines were cut from the film. All of the Samurai themselves are fine, if not a bit of a stereo type, nothing to really write home about. They met expectations.

Time for yours? TL:DR

47 Ronin is better than it has rights to be. It’s not a great film but it was an entertaining one and certainly in the good category. It fails in marketing end to end so you can’t judge this by what you’ve seen so far. A little Japanese education does go a long way in appreciating some of the nuances of the film and the details that went into it.

Overall, I wouldn’t recommend this one for most people.

It’s good enough just not most folks cup of tea. If you do see it, I’d recommend matinee at best and avoid the extra cost of 3D, the animation will make your eyes bleed. It can safely be Cheap Seated, Netflixed or Redboxed without much in the way of disappointment.

—–

As a very geeky aside, I now want to play Legend of the Five Rings again as this movie fits perfectly in that world.

Darke Reviews – The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013)

I normally wouldn’t see a Ben Stiller movie, let me start with that. He is on the list of actors I only watch if forced to by friends, alcohol, and/or being bound to a chair. As most folks who know me are aware modern comedy really isn’t my thing. Embarassment humor, bullies, or frat humor are lost on me to the point I had to have multiple people explain to me why This is the End (not to be confused with Worlds End – which was hillarious) is funny. Even after explaining it, I still don’t get it. Yet there was something about the trailers for The Secret Life of Walter Mitty had me intrigued.

For those keeping score, thats what a trailer is supposed to do. Get you interested and intrigued in seeing a film. These succeeded. I saw a Ben Stiller in a serious, relatively so, role in something that appeared heart felt. That was most likely helped by a wise musical choice for the trailer utilizing Of Monsters and Men (“Dirty Paws”) and Jose Gonzales (“Step Out”); both of which appear in the film. If you didn’t know thats actually kind of rare that trailer music also appears in the film.

The movie both stars and was directed by Stiller himself. I think that was a really wise choice in this case as it allowed him to pull back and know what had to be done for every shot. It’s also important as he truly is the center of the film and while the camera does shoot others from time to time, he is on screen the entirety of the film. Normally this comes across a bit ego centric by actor/directors, but in this film its needed and it works.

The story of course focuses on a middling every man, wage slave going through the motions every day in corporate america. He fills his time with never truly taking a chance and day dreaming of what could have been. His imagination is powerful and takes the audience with him in often pleasantly comedic ways. As Walter finds out his company has been acquired he, his friends and the object of his unrequited affection find their jobs on the line. His especially over something simple. Will Walter continue to fantasize or will he embrace life?

Well, for that you will need to watch. What? You know me spoiler free.

The movie has little to nothing to do with the Danny Kaye, 1947 version. The heart of the original short story by James Thurber (I am pretty sure I read it in 6th grade) is clearly here in the writing of Steve Conrad (The Weatherman, Pursuit of Happyness). There are times it pushes the envelope almost too much with the fantasies, they get just shy of too silly. Too much. Then it brings you back in at the half way point and brings you the rest of the way.

It is not Forrest Gump for the now. Gump was about a man through no true concious decision in his life found himself in amazing and incredible situations. He was special in many ways and his life is one to some extent that many would want just to see what he had seen. Mitty on the other hand is about an average man, the average man who makes a choice. He decides. He takes action. Yes, there are plot holes from a few technical standpoints, but those aren’t the point.

What is it? Whimsy. Wonder. To stop think of and start doing.

It’s a bit ironic I think. Bear with me a moment. I was getting pizza the other day with a new friend. She was telling me about the adventures of her life (which are amazing) and I was thinking of all the things I *could* be doing. She has an awesome guy and has done some amazing things. In that moment I was Walter Mitty and didn’t even see it. So to my new friend, Thank you. To all of you out there, like me, working every day and dreaming of doing; let me skip right now to the

TL;DR

I really enjoyed the film. I laughed. I cried a bit. More importantly than any of that is I took a bit of it home with me, in me. It’s that kind of movie.

This movie isn’t for everyone. The imagery is amazing as is the sublime storytelling, but it won’t attract a lot of audiences. If you need an escape this movie might actually be it. You can live vicariously through Walter Mitty and then at the end, like me, decide maybe it’s time to stop dreaming and start doing.

Overall – I do think this is a very good film but not for all audiences and personalities. If the review is enough to get you curious I hope you enjoy. If not, take a chance when it hits your direct media of choice.

Darke Reviews – The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Sorry for the lateness on this one folks, I had every intention to get this out to you yesterday. The usual disclaimers apply here and need to be covered especially as I am aware of some significant changes in the core story. I have not read, nor am likely to read the original book The Hobbit. I have not read the revisions written by Mr. Tolkien that brought the story in line with the Lord of the rings trilogy. I have not read The Silmarillion, from which I understand material was used. This movie will be judged on its cinematic narrative alone and how it flows as part of its own trilogy. Also I am going to remain spoiler free as always.

I am at the moment undecided if this movie breaks the rule of too many writers and still being really good in the script department. We have Peter Jackson and his wife Fran Walsh, Phillipa Boyens, and Guillermo del Toro (HellBoy/Pacific Rim). The first three of this quartet have the entirety of the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit films as their credits. del Toro, who was originally brought in to direct but left to do Pacific Rim, is a surprising credit. While this work is partially out of his normal realm, when you consider the environment and world of Pans Labrynth it almost feels like elements of that could have been middle earth. While the four have screenplay credits, the bulk of the work was done by Tolkien himself. Adaptation of the core material is difficult in many respects and they did well, not perfect, but well. The problem I find in the writing is that with very few exceptions I dislike the characters and there are too many to care about. More on that in a bit.

Directing of course falls on the shoulders of Peter Jackson himself. The primary complaints I had about An Unexpected Journey seem to have been resolved; where he has decided to stick to a single tonal style. The last one couldn’t decide if it wanted to be for kids, for adolescents, for adults or in the vein of the previous trilogy. A single voice was used here which focused on the similar style choices to the original trilogy. The lighting tends to be a bit brighter in palette with less muting of the colours throughout. It creates an atmosphere that shows the world has not become the bleak place where the armies of Sauron march – yet. The one exception is what I am going to forever call the Donkey Kong moment, where while very fun was almost a bit too silly.

I want to talk more on the technicals for a moment as they were a clear decision he made in this regard. I understand that he wants to push the visual medium of film to the next level and elected to use the 48 frames per second (FPS) as he did in Unexpected Journey. Normal film you watch is done at 24 FPS. By shooting the film this fast it creates a clarity that we are not used to. It’s almost more real than real and its actually a bit jarring for most movie going audiences. It’s too clean and we aren’t used to it yet. Thats one of the problems, the other is because it creates such crystal clarity of image you can see things on screen you don’t want to. You can see lighting rigs at times from the set and elements that are clearly from sets rather than real life actually look fake; which they are but a slower frame rate hides that. Real life, wide angle shots of walking (yes there’s more walking!),  look great. CG imagery and obvious sets, clearly look apart from the reality that is the actors and natural stone and wood. It’s problematic to say the least. The 3D added little to the overall effects and was used more for gimmick than anything.

The CG work is overall more clean than it was in the first. It is still not great and I wish they had trusted practical effects and make up more. Many of the characters that are given a CG overlay truly do not look like part of the world. One day someone will also figure out that moving people in “nimble” ways through CG doesn’t look natural. Ten years or so ago when Neo fought a few hundred Smiths in the apartment basketball court everyone thought the fight was cool, but it was painfully evident when it was computer generated bodies. That effect hasn’t improved and really needs to be avoided until someone gets it right. The skin “looks right” but is off and you can tell it’s not natural.

The other technical flaw and it comes with the high frame rate is camera movements. The pan and sweeps move too fast and that makes it hard on the eyes. They don’t look completely bad, they just are disorienting.

The acting is nothing to write home about. Everyone is “just fine”. It’s hard to be impressed when there are so many characters to keep track of. There are some notable characters in the mix though. Ken Stott’s Balin (the really old looking one) is perhaps the most heart filled of the Dwarves and brings a gentle wisdom and compassion to the screen that had it been lacking would have been detrimental to the film. Aidan Turners Kili (the..cute one?) is probably given more screen time than was written before and I am thankful for it. The story between him and the elven guardsman Tauriel is one of the more interesting stories through the movie and honestly that’s problematic. When you create a new character (Tauriel) and create a story with an existing character and it’s far more interesting than many of the other arcs going on something has failed in the rest of the plot. That being said, Tauriel is someone I’d honestly want to see more of. Legolas addition to the film neither helps nor hurts the narrative much other than a quick nod to the future nearly a century down the line. I think its an odd choice to have him, but if it makes sense in the history I know nothing about so be it.

Now for the part everyone has really been waiting for.

Smaug.

The dragon is awesome. It has scale , it has weight and it has power. Even in 48 FPS because of the lack of natural lighting he is amazing looking. Cumberbatch’s voicing of the creature does add an additional gravitas that only a handful of other actors could have delivered. To say much more risks spoilers and lets face it, you are going to this movie to see the Dragon and I do not think you will be disappointed with what you get.

TL;DR?

Alright Barrel riders, I have to say this one is significantly better than the first. It is not the best film of the year, but it is truly solid film making and still entertaining. I question the need to make three movies, but it has worked thus far.

It’s worth seeing without a doubt.

DO not see it in the High Def 3D, I think it actually takes away for the most part. Save yourself the $5 extra per ticket. 2D should be fine, or if you must regular 3D.

I still recommend this one as being ok for an all ages show, but be wary if the little ones are sensitive to some of the darker/scarier moments the film hits.

I know I will be seeing it again with others and I don’t regret it in the least. Its the movie to see this December with not much coming out to challenge it for weeks to come.