Saturday, 21 December 2013

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013)

I've now seen The Desolation of Smaug twice. Before I really start to review this film though I feel I should say that I absolutely love J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit. It's one of my all-time favourite books. I'm also a massive fan of Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings film trilogy and I really loved the first instalment of his Hobbit trilogy - An Unexpected Journey. A lot of film critics felt that An Unexpected Journey was much too slow-paced at the beginning (but if you check out my review for that film then you'll see that I very much disagreed with that assessment). The Desolation of Smaug has picked up more positive reviews than its predecessor though and I can kind of understand why. Whereas An Unexpected Journey had to get the backstory and the setting-up-the-quest out of the way The Desolation of Smaug pretty much jumps straight into the action. After a brief prologue with Gandalf and Thorin at The Prancing Pony - and a nice cameo from Peter Jackson - it then cuts to Bilbo, Gandalf and the Dwarfs being chased by the Orcs from the previous film and then running into Beorn. Although I completely disagree with the view that AUJ was too slow at the beginning people who did find that film too slow will prefer the faster pace of this film. Critics have also praised the 48 frames rate of this film. The 48 frames rate of an AUJ picked up complaints because many felt that it gave the film a cheap, low-budget look. However, the 48 frame rate has apparently been greatly improved for The Desolation of Smaug. I can't really comment though. I saw the film in the standard 2D, 24 frames rate. I can't stand seeing films in 3D.

I've read very mixed reviews for The Desolation of Smaug from actual Tolkien fans. Some fans passionately love it, some fans are very disappointed with it. But what did I think? Well, I loved this film just like I loved the one! In fact I think I even love it more! I can understand why some fans would have issues with these Hobbit films though. If you're a fan who only wants Tolkien's The Hobbit to be filmed exactly like it is in the book, and nothing more, then you're probably not going to appreciate AUJ or The Desolation of Smaug, especially the latter. The Desolation of Smaug veers away from its source material more than any of the Middle-earth films that have been released so far. I wouldn't say that the film is perfect and there are certain things in it that I don't like at all. And yet I still loved The Desolation of Smaug overall. It still captures the world I love, the acting is still fantastic, and it's still a fun and immensely entertaining adventure story. The positives in it far outweigh the negatives! Now I'm going to pick out the things that I especially loved about the film. I have a feeling that this post might get be a bit rambly from the point so if it does, sorry!

The scene where Bilbo climbs out of the forest is beautiful. It's then followed up by the vicious attack from the giant spiders. I loved the fact that Bilbo could actually hear the spiders speak when he put on the ring! It was really cool and really creepy at the same time!

It was extreeemely interesting to see the Mirkwood Elves in this film. They aren't as ethereal and wise as the Rivendell and Lothlorien Elves; they're more aggressive and "wild" which is actually very true to how Tolkien depicts them in the book. This depiction also applies to the Elf King Thranduil. He's a much more dangerous and ruthless leader than Elrond and Galadriel!

This film takes what we know of Thranduil from Tolkien's book and embellishes him. For the first time in these Middle-earth films we get to see an Elf that is obviously flawed. Thranduil might look the part but he's very, very different to any Elf that we've seen before! He's disdainful, cold, cunning, suave, slightly menacing, and a badass swordsman. He's not really likeable but... I loved him! I really hope that we'll get to see a lot more of him in There and Back Again now. Although Thranduil doesn't get a huge amount of screentime in this film he's still an incredibly intriguing and fascinating character! He's also kind of sexy in my opinion :D He was one of my favourite things about the film and one of my favourite moments in the film was the scene between Thranduil and Thorin. I'd been really looking forward to this scene anyway and it didn't disappoint. There's a huge amount of tension between them. And interestingly enough, Thranduil, for all his arrogance, makes a perfectly reasonable demand to Thorin (just one chest of jewels out of a massive hoard of treasure). Lee Pace does a terrific job playing Thranduil and I loved his speech and mannerisms in the role. I couldn't quite believe that I was watching the same actor who played Ned the Piemaker from Pushing Daisies! Lee Pace is clearly very versatile!

And then of course there's the controversial character of Tauriel. Whereas the LOTR and The Silmarillion both have their strong female characters, The Hobbit doesn't have any female characters at all.
Tolkien wrote the book in the 1930s and times were different back then. However in this film there's a character called Tauriel who's a female Elf and the Captain of the Guards. As soon it was announced that an original character called Tauriel was going to be in the Hobbit films it rubbed a lot of Tolkien fans up the wrong way and many hate her purely because Tolkien didn't create her. Usually I'm not a fan of characters being shoehorned into works just so the writers don't accused of being sexist or racist but I've been very open-minded about Tauriel. I had faith in the writers and I very quickly decided that just as long as Tauriel was a well-written and well-acted character that I would be perfectly happy with her inclusion. And I was! Tauriel is an extremely likeable character and I loved her! She was actually one of my favourite things about the film! Tauriel kicks ass and is an awesome fighter but she's also very feminine, compassionate and open-minded. She's the only Mirkwood Elf who actually seems to know and care about what's going on in the wider world. Tauriel is a bit closer to the Elves that we know from the other Middle-earth films, she's just got better fighting skills and has a bit more of a temper. Evangeline Lilly's acting is terrific as well. I've been a big fan of hers ever since she was in Lost and I'm really happy that she's got a career boost. I even quite liked the potential love story going on between Tauriel and Aidan Turner's Kili (a Dwarf so attractive that he might as well be an Elf!) This just shouldn't work at all on paper but it's actually quite cute and is executed really well thanks to Evangeline Lilly and Aidan Turner's acting. Also, I loved the scene where their characters talk about starlight. Their dialogue is very sweet and even very Tolkien-ish! I could actually imagine Tolkien writing their lines! I don't think this potential romance is going to go anywhere in the next film though. The fans will know what happens to Kili in the book and I have a very strong feeling that Tauriel is going to die in the next film. It will explain why she's not in the LOTR films and why Legolas never mentions her. I just hope that she gets a great heroic death scene!

The barrel escape scene - with Bilbo and the Dwarves being pursued by both Elves and Orcs - is zany, crazy and tremendous fun! In the book Bilbo and the Dwarves just calmly and gently float down the river and that's fine - but it would have probably been pretty boring to watch on screen. And who wasn't laughing when Bombur took out all of those Orcs in his barrel?!

Laketown (or Esgaroth) looked absolutely stunning in this film! It's a complete triumph of design! It's a dilapidated medieval-looking town with rickety streets but it still looks really beautiful and you can get a sense of what the town looked like when it used to be prosperous. Esgaroth is quite possibly my favourite location from these Middle-earth films!

The Master of the Town is corrupt, cowardly and lazy. Stephen Fry is great in the role and I hope that they'll be a lot more of him in There and Back Again. The Master also gets a sidekick called Alfrid in this film (who's a completely original character). Alfrid is very slimy and unlikeable and is a little bit like Grima Wormtongue. Then there's the Bard. We don't actually get very much information about the Bard in Tolkien's book but his character is expanded upon in this film. In the DoS the Bard is a struggling single father. He's very unhappy with how the town is being run and is quite suspicious of the Dwarves. His grandfather Girion also made a failed attempt to kill Smaug on the day of the Dale attack. The Bard is very well-acted by Luke Evans and I really liked that the actors who played his children all had Welsh accents (to match up with Luke Evans' Welsh accent). Also we've had English, Scottish and Irish accents in these Middle-earth films so it's about time that Welsh showed up! Some readers might also be interested to know that the actresses who play the Bard's daughters are the real-life daughters of James Nesbitt (who plays Bofur in these films).

In Tolkien's book Gandalf is off-page for very long periods of time and it isn't until the LOTR that we really learn everything that Gandalf was actually up to. In this film Gandalf is in the story much more. I didn't find Gandalf's scenes as interesting as everything else in the film but it was great to see Radagast again - who I really like - and his battle with Sauron is really cool. I'm really looking forward to seeing Gandalf, Radagast, Elrond, Galadriel and Saruman battle against Sauron at Dol Guldur!

Smaug is amazing and without question the Best Dragon Ever! He's the best dragon that I've ever seen. He's absolutely massive and the CGI for him is truly spectacular and mind-blowing! I also loved that his neck glows whenever he's about to start breathing fire. It's a great little touch. But Smaug doesn't just look amazing, he sounds amazing as well. After hearing Benedict Cumberbatch's stellar voice acting in Cabin Pressure and Neverwhere I knew he'd make a wonderful Smaug - and he really is nothing less than superb in the role. Benedict Cumberbatch's Smaug is psychotic, articulate, evil, intelligent, and truly menacing and believable. My favourite Smaug moment was his line to Bilbo: "You have nice manners for a thief and a LIAR!" I think all Sherlock fans were dying to see their John Watson and Sherlock Holmes on screen together and these scenes didn't disappoint at all. It's great that Martin Freeman and Benedict Cumberbatch still have chemistry together even when one of them is a massive dragon! I really, really hope that Sherlock makes some kind of Hobbit reference at some point. I didn't mind at all that they included action scenes of Smaug pursuing the Dwarves either because we got to see more of him and what he was actually capable of. Smaug is a fantastic villain, even better than Sauron!

I love the acting in these films so much but I have to give special praise to actors that I haven't mentioned already. Martin Freeman is fantastic in these Hobbit films. His comic timing is brilliant, his Bilbo is extremely likeable, and he's just nailing the character. He is Bilbo! Freeman has clearly taken some of Ian Holm's mannerisms from the LOTR films but he's still making the character his own. I especially loved his acting when Bilbo climbs out of the forest, and then then the scene just after Bilbo kills the baby giant spider. The way he says "Mine!" and the "What did I just say?!" look on his face is exactly the way Ian Holm would have played that scene! I reckon Freeman and Richard Armitage have got great chemistry as well. I loved Bilbo and Thorin's scenes together. And Richard Armitage is even better in this film than he was in the last one. Thorin is probably the most complex character in these films and Armitage is doing brilliant work in the role. His character is clearly starting to lose the plot now and is becoming increasingly moody, grim and unpredictable - but Armitage still keeps Thorin just on the right side of sympathetic. I also loved Ken Stott as Balin in this film. His teary-eyed reaction to the secret door opening is beautiful and he's clearly Thorin's moral compass now.

As always I loved Howard Shore's music in this film. I really need to buy Howard Shore's Middle-earth soundtracks at some point. I even really like Ed Sheeran's "I See Fire" which is played over the final credits. I'm not sure if the song works as well in context though. I first heard the song before I saw the film and I thought it was lovely - but this gentle acoustic song seems like an odd choice to put in after a cliffhanger. As much as I like the song I think something more dramatic would have worked better.

So since there's so much about this film that I loved what didn't I love then? Well, whilst I've never found Beorn's character that interesting in the book his scenes in this film were much too short. I really enjoyed seeing his house and the introduction of his character in this film and it's a real shame that he didn't get more development. I really loved his look as well, both as a human and as a giant bear. Hopefully there'll be more of Beorn in the Extended Edition. I still dislike the CGI Orcs in these Hobbit films as well. I don't like how they're animated; the standard of animation just isn't up to par with the animation for Gollum and Smaug. I'm starting to get tired of Azog's character as well now. Admittedly his character isn't in this film as much as AUJ but he's a cardboard cutout character and not remotely interesting. There's also Legolas. Whilst I can understand why his character has been brought back for these Hobbit films I'm just not a fan of Movie Legolas. This is down to Orlando Bloom's acting. I feel like a horrible person for saying this because Orlando Bloom seems like a really nice and sweet guy in real life - but he just can't act! In this film he keeps narrowing his eyes and tilting his face to show emotion and that had both me and my friend giggling away. Lee Pace and Evangeline Lilly both completely outact Orlando Bloom in their scenes with him. And then there's the big climax of the film where the Dwarves try to kill Smaug with molten gold. Er, what?! Maybe it's because I've seen Game of Thrones but the idea that the Dwarves thought hot liquid gold could actually harm Smaug seems completely ridiculous and stupid to me! But I still thought DoS was fantastic overall. I'm not loving these Hobbit films as much as the book or the LOTR films but nevertheless I'm still loving them. The wait for There and Back Again is going to seem like a very long one!


Sarah said...

Wow, we really do have pretty much the same opinions about this movie! Even the things we didn't like are the same, except that I don't dislike Legolas, I'm just indifferent to him. But I'm getting very tired of those orcs too, and seriously, why would the dwarves think that molten gold would affect Smaug at all?

I also agree with you assessments of the acting and characterizations. I really surprised myself when I didn't mind the "romance" between Kili and Tauriel, but I actually enjoyed it. The biggest pleasant surprise of this movie for me though, was Bard. I liked him in the book, but I had no idea that I would love the way the character is expanded so much! He's definitely one of my favorite characters now. :D There's only one thing; I like the idea of him using a regular bow and a regular arrow to bring down Smaug, instead of what apparently is going to happen. I guess I should wait to actually see it before I judge it though, huh?

Also I adore "I See Fire." At first I thought it didn't match the movie's tone, but every time I listen to it I love it even more, and now I wouldn't trade it in the credits for anything!

Great review, I enjoyed reading it!

Xochitl said...

Wow, you've seen it twice? Awesome!
I've got a pretty mixed opinion about the movie, I mean, what is the deal with the orcs? I suspect they'll play a bigger part in the third movie, but they're starting to feel a little tacked on.
On the other hand, I didn't expect to like Tauriel as much as I did. She was pretty cool, and her actress really outdid Orlando Bloom in their scenes together.
The dragon was great! Easily my favorite part of the movie. And I couldn't help but smile when Bombur was taking out all the orcs in the barrel scene. XD
Well, I suppose I've rambled on and on long enough. :)

Hannah said...

Sarah - Thank you! And I KNOW! I read your review and I was thinking "Wow, I don't know what to comment on. We agree about everything!" :) Yes I was really happy with how they fleshed the Bard out and I really liked him. I love "I See Fire" too. I've been playing it constantly. I'm still not sure if it works in the context of the film but I know I love it.

Xochitl - Yeah I saw the film twice, a week apart. I'm really glad I did because I enjoyed it even more the second time and it "solidified" my opinion! I'm not really loving the Orcs either. I suspect they'll feed in quite well into There and Back Again but in this one I did find their scenes a bit boring. But I really loved pretty much everything else about the film even though it's not perfect :)