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.

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