For the love of whatever you consider holy or hold dear, if you love fantasy or even just like it, GO SEE THIS MOVIE NOW. Don't wait and tell yourself that you'll see it eventually. Buy a ticket and go.
There's one stunning reason and its name is in the title: Smaug.
I have never seen a more beautiful, spectacular, downright pants-pissing terrifying dragon rendered on screen. The marketers made a brilliant move in refusing to reveal more than an eye or a bit of tail in the previews, because the first full-on shot of Smaug made my jaw drop. He is exquisite, and when Bilbo says that tales fall short of his magnificence, he couldn't be more correct. His visual appearance is bolstered by the sublimely perfect bass of Benedict Cumberbatch, enhanced to make a shiver run down your spine every time Smaug speaks. If you go for no other reason, go to see Smaug. He exceeded my wildest dreams.
On the off chance you need another reason to go (and trust me, you really shouldn't), here's another: this movie grabs you from the beginning and never lets you go. While the first film suffered from having to set up the story and slog through the exposition, including the opening scenes in Bag End that 95% of viewers agree were too long, The Desolation of Smaug has nothing holding it back.
The plot leaps from set-piece to set-piece, each more visually spectacular than the last. Every now and then, you get a moment to catch your breath, and then you are plunged back into the plot. It ends on the PERFECT cliffhanger, which will make you groan in frustration and wish you could purchase your ticket for There and Back Again as soon as you leave the theater.
The movie preserves as much of the humor and lightheartedness of the first film as it can. There is one particular scene during the barrel escape involving Bombur that nearly had me falling out of my chair. But there's no denying this film is darker, and it's deliciously so.
Anyone who knows me knows that at my core, I am a book purist. But for my own sanity, I've learned to treat books and movies as separate entities in the last two years and as long as a movie preserves the atmosphere and feel of the book, I'm willing to forgive some changes and additions (but not all, mind). That turned out to be a good thing, but there was a lot more added and changed in the second film.
The big thing everyone is talking about is the addition of Tauriel. Aside from one scene that I felt was poorly acted, I actually found myself liking her. It was refreshing to see a woman in the movie, even if it was only one woman (Galadriel makes the briefest flash of an appearance). A big change to the plot was made to accommodate more scenes for her (I'm trying not to spoil!) but I didn't begrudge PJ his choices there.
Fortunately, Azog the Defiler, one of my least favorite parts of the first film, takes a backseat to a round of generic orcs. But we get more of the wonderful Radagast.
By far the best addition to the plot is the material added from the Appendices and other Tolkien works around Dol Guldur and the Necromancer. The scenes with Gandalf in Dol Guldur are some of the best of the movie, in my opinion. We get to see Gandalf earn his status as a Wizard, and it is brilliant.
Other highlights of the film that were exceedingly well done include the spiders in Mirkwood, Beorn, and the scenes with Thranduil, who is delightfully arrogant and quite the character despite his short screen time.
Here's the reason why I can't in good conscience give this movie 5 stars. You may not believe it possible but the film actually needed a bigger budget. I know, I know. But it's obvious that they spent the majority of the CGI budget on Smaug, with good reason. Unfortunately that left the CGI a bit thin in other places, enough to pull me out of the world several times. I understand it's a huge undertaking, but if we're capable of pulling off films like Avatar, then I think the CGI could have been better here too.
Additionally, there were a few changes I did not enjoy. That includes the characterization of Bard the Bowman, which I did not care for.
But these are quibbles. Really tiny quibbles. Dwarfed by a huge, fire-breathing dragon.
I loved this movie. I would gladly go see it again tomorrow. And so should you.
Review by Ken Miyamoto, Produced screenwriter, former Sony Pictures script reader/story analyst
I'll begin with the words of J.R.R. Tolkien himself, written in a 1951 letter regarding his openness to other artists adding to his Middle Earth stories.
"The cycles should be linked to a majestic whole, and yet leave scope for other minds and hands, wielding paint and music and drama."
So let's touch on the elephant in the room here first and foremost.
Peter Jackson and company decided to make a new trilogy based on the single book of The Hobbit.
Tolkien fans view this as a simple cash grab. They are upset with Peter Jackson's many additions to The Hobbit story, including but not limited to; Fleshing out the stories of certain characters in the book, including Legolas (who was never mentioned in the book), creating a new character in Tauriel (the sole creation of Peter Jackson and Fram Walsh), etc.
Well, in regards to the additions to the story of The Hobbit in order to create a new trilogy of films, I need only point back to Tolkien's own words above. If "the creator" himself says it's okay, then we should all be okay with it.
Can we move on? Good.
Let me officially start this review with what some may view as hyperbole...
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is just about the best fantasy movie I have ever seen.
"He's a studio plant!?"
"Better than The Lord of the Rings trilogy?! Heresy!"
Now that the fictional peanut gallery has spoken, allow me to elaborate.
First off, I'm not a Tolkien purist. I've read The Fellowship of the Ring once. I couldn't bring myself to get through The Two Towers or Return of the King. I try every few years to read the whole LOTR trilogy, but I can never fully commit, primarily due to the very dense writing. I'm all about the story of a book. And Tolkien's world is very much about the details beyond the story.
I haven't read The Hobbit yet either.
So I'm coming at this from a purely cinematic approach.
The Lord of the Rings trilogy IS amazing. Finally, we were allowed to fully experience a true fantasy film on a grand scale, with technology that made us believe (Sorry Willow).
The Fellowship of the Ring, the first installment, remains to be my favorite of the three. The sense of adventure is engaging. I really connected with those Hobbits stepping out of the Shire for the first time and really coming of age as they embark on this journey.
The Two Towers and Return of the King are a mixed bag for me. The quality and craftsmanship of the film-making, storytelling, and acting are the best we could ask for, however, beyond the Gollum performance, the two films blend into each other for me too much. I find it difficult to differentiate between the two. All that I see are epic battle after epic battle, usually utilizing a lot of great, but overwhelming CG. In short, I don't often revisit them.
Then came The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.
I loved it. I'm even on record somewhere at Quora saying that I loved every frame of it. I revisited the film once again last night, before I saw the sequel this morning.
This first installment of The Hobbit trilogy engaged me. It brought back the sense of the call to adventure that I loved with The Fellowship of the Ring. It had the humor as well, which was sorely missing from the LOTR sequels.
In short, it made Middle Earth exciting again for me. Perhaps the doom and gloom of the LOTR sequels is what keeps me from wanting to revisit them again.
With The Hobbit trilogy, we have a vibrant Middle Earth, as opposed to the dark and dying one in LOTR.
And the CG in the first installment was vastly superior to that of the LOTR trilogy.
And now comes The Desolation of Smaug. We're head on in the journey. And damned if this film doesn't grab you from beginning and keep you through to the end. On the edge of your seat.
Never have I witnessed such an amazing ride through a world of fantasy. This sequel captures the beauty (and danger) of Middle Earth better than ANY Tolkien adaptation thus far.
The CG is even better. Almost seamless with the excellent location shooting. The action sequences are superior as well, compared to the first Hobbit installment, which at times felt a little too busy. Peter Jackson masterfully turns that "busy-ness" into sequences that are more tangible, while still being vibrant and fun.
I've never loved Middle Earth so much. I've never been so intoxicated by it. And that is saying something with the fact that this is the fifth film to portray it.
And as I said before, from a fantasy standpoint, I've never been as impressed and engaged.
Ridley Scott's Legend (the European cut) was my one. It is an unsung film with some of the best production and makeup design that I have ever seen. It actually held a bigger place in my heart and imagination than LOTR ever did, primarily due to the lack of CG.
However, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug has now taken over that crown of my favorite fantasy film.
The returning cast is amazing with a deeper depth to Martin Freeman's performance as Bilbo Baggins. The new additions are outstanding as well. Bard, played by Luke Evans, is excellent. He's the reluctant hero if there ever was any. Noble, but with a hint of scoundrel in him (Yes, he's a smuggler and he has a little Han Solo in him, but with more heart).
Legolas was welcome in my eyes. He fits perfectly into the story, as I'm sure his role will be even more in the forefront for the upcoming The Hobbit: There and Back Again.
And let's talk about Tauriel.
She steals nearly every scene that she is in. In the best of ways.
Evangeline Lilly is alluring in the role. You can't take your eyes off of her. So let's kick that particular elephant out of the room because Peter Jackson did an amazing job of creating such a character in such a world where there are few substantial female roles to marvel at. His Middle Earth has primarily been a man's (Or dwarf's, Or Hobbit's, etc.) world. Not anymore. Tauriel is in the house. And for those that may say that her and Legolas' roles in the film were minimal, think again. They will likely be well featured in the third and final film, but they have plenty of screen time here, and more important, they fit well into the story.
I'm just so taken with this film. And trust me, I took twelve hours before writing this review, so this isn't some "right out of the theater" reaction. I've reflected.
With all of that said, I'm bummed. The first Hobbit film garnered just $303 million domestically in the United States. Thankfully, the rest of the world wasn't too put off by the notion of a Hobbit trilogy and forked over an astronomical figure of $714 million, making the first film a $1 billion smash hit.
But with this second installment only garnering $8.8 million in midnight showings (as opposed to $13 million for the first), I fear that people won't embrace this film. It will be a monster hit overseas and a very respectable one in the United States, but the fear that I am speaking of is that some people are going to pre-judge the film based on their continued dislike of the "money grab" notion and perhaps the overall dislike of the first installment.
If so, they will be missing what I feel is the best interpretation of Middle Earth yet. And that would be a shame. Hopefully my worries are for naught.
As much as I loved The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, know that I love The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug twice as much. It's a finer film.
And from what I've seen thus far, there is plenty of story to be told for the third installment.
If I have to search for some constructive criticism, the only thing I can find is the time length of the film. At two hours and forty minutes, it's about fifteen minutes too long. And this is primarily during the third act where we finally meet Smaug. There are excellent scenes here, however, it could have been shaved down another fifteen minutes during these sequences. Beyond that, wow!
Go see this film right now. Don't wait until Blu-ray. If you didn't like the first installment of The Hobbit trilogy, don't let that sway you. You'll be missing out on an amazing cinematic experience in what I call, yes, my favorite fantasy film to date and especially the best portrayal of Middle Earth these eyes have seen.
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