Friday, December 13, 2013

The Desolation of Smaug

I saw The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug last night. In short, I liked it a lot.

I wasn't too thrilled with the first Hobbit film, An Unexpected Journey. Not that it was bad, per se, just that it was incredibly long and boring. And this is coming from me, an extremely dedicated Tolkien fan who believes that no one should ever watch anything less than the full extended editions of The Lord of the Rings. I once read a review of An Unexpected Journey that compared it to a calm, leisurely drive through Middle-Earth, as opposed to the masterful action drama of The Lord of the Rings. If that's the case, then The Desolation of Smaug is akin to jumping into a Ferrari and blasting through Middle Earth, engine screaming and adrenaline pumping.

TDOS takes quite a few liberties with the book, adding in natural context in some areas, altering select moments, and sometimes creating things that are entirely new. The end result is something that seems like it should infuriate a Tolkien diehard like myself, but it's all handled with so much love—and so much fun—that it's easy to accept. After all, The Hobbit, as a book, was a largely shallow story, focused more on entertaining children than delivering a powerful dramatic narrative. The fact that the dramatic context of The Lord of the Rings is retroactively applied to The Hobbit's story in these films—something that Tolkien himself attempted to do in written form but never finished in full—is a welcome change.

When the Hobbit film trilogy is finished, TDOS will probably be labeled "the action film." There's about as much fighting in this movie as there was walking and eating in the last film—which is, to say, a metric ton of it. If you walk into TDOS expecting or wanting to see lots and lots of epic fantasy action (as I did), you will be very pleased. Furthermore, even though the movie is just over 2.5 hours, it clips along at a rather quick pace, all things considered. When watching An Unexpected Journey, I felt that it needed trimming, but with TDOS I constantly felt that it was cutting from scene to scene unusually quickly. I suspect quite a lot of the movie is on the cutting room floor; the extended edition is sure to be much longer.

Some notes on the characters:
-Legolas shows up and kicks all the orc asses. Hooray!
-Thranduil was wonderfully venomous.
-Tauriel was enjoyable to watch, though without knowing where her story is going it's hard to tell what her purpose is. She seems to represent the opposing philosophical viewpoint to Thranduil, but given that there isn't any payoff for that yet, her story isn't satisfied as of yet. But, like Legolas, she also kicks all the orc asses, so hooray!
-Bard the Bowman was really well-acted and -written; I look forward to seeing how his story progresses. It's great to have so much depth given to a character that was totally underdeveloped in the book.
-Smaug the dragon is incredible. Seriously, this has to be the best movie dragon of all time. I'm still more than a little in awe of how well-realized he is in this movie.

Now, as positive as I've been on this film, I do want to clarify that it is not, in any way, on the same level as The Lord of the Rings. This is not the triumphant return to the epic cinematic mastery of the Lord of the Rings trilogy. This is, quite simply, a very fun chapter in a three-part story. But on that level, it's really enjoyable. I plan on seeing it again as soon as possible.

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