Finally finished my Desolation of Smaug review. Sorry that it got quite lengthy.
Please be warned that there are SPOILERS ahead!
Let’s start with the good…
We witness the onset of the Ring’s influence upon Bilbo in this movie, and it is both painful and exhilarating to watch. I saw quite a bit more of Martin’s range as an actor, most notably during the Spider sequence when he fights a (young?) spider for the Ring, which I talk about in the Scenes part below.
Richard Armitage was definitely the highlight for me and his amazing performance. Richard’s Thorin is very easy to love and just as easy to yell at when he’s deviating from what some might consider the straight and narrow, and it’s that kind of personal investment in his character that’s going to decimate me in the third movie. There are several moments that I can only describe as breathtaking whenever Thorin delivers particular lines. Richard wields his deep voice and subtle expressions like a warrior in his prime, and his skills were put into great use in many scenes.
Smaug was quite the magnificent creature, thanks to Benedict Cumberbatch’s excellent voice work, but perhaps mostly to the animation and design team that worked on him. While it’s fun to guess, I can never be sure which parts of Benedict’s motion capture were preserved for Smaug, but kudos to the team regardless for the results. Smaug’s movements even contained little twitches and subtleties that just made him believable as a creature.
A surprising highlight for me was Ken Stott, who I loved in the first movie, but loved even more in this second. Ken Stott would be the veteran to Richard’s warrior in my analogy earlier, and I feel like I could just watch him and Richard act all day and not get tired. These two actors were fantastic together and seemed to feed off of each other’s energies whenever they shared scenes.
I was a little saddened that I’d pretty much seen most of Lee Pace’s parts already from previews and sneak peeks, but seeing them again on the big screen was still pretty thrilling. I especially liked it that Thranduil could look like a vicious serpent in one moment, and then a doe-eyed innocent thing after.
I wasn’t expecting to like Luke Evans’s performance as much–he has something of a loud personality from his interviews, and I was expecting some of that to bleed into his performance, but there was none of that in Bard. Great execution. Other notables include Stephen Fry’s Master of Lake-town–quite amusing and very well-played, although I couldn’t help but think of his General Melchett in Black Adder. Evangeline Lilly did an excellent job with Tauriel. Aidan Turner played up Kili’s “cheeky, audacious” nature in this movie to great effect. I pretty much tumbled happily down the Kili/Tauriel angle because of how adorable its execution was, but the later part of it sort of dampened my enthusiasm some. More on that in the “On to the not so good…” section below.
I was expecting to see more of Dwalin in this movie, but was sadly disappointed. He seems to have been relegated to the tough guy corner, complete with threats of bodily harm and “negatron” lines, as the sibling entity would call it. Glad to see a bit of the spotlight fall on Fili, though he’ll probably remain understated even in the third movie (hoping I’m wrong here).
Not really acting-related, but may I just say that Nesbitt’s two daughters added a much-needed touch of cute in an otherwise dismal place? The youngest looked especially cuddle-worthy.
One scene that left such a strong impression on me, and the primary reason I want to watch this movie again, is during that agonizing moment when the last light of dusk had vanished, Thorin had the map in his hands, and he approached Balin with this heartbroken look in his eyes and said, “What did we miss?” I couldn’t forget the look on Thorin’s face, this pitiful look, and the amount of heartbreak Richard managed to put into his voice. If that scene had played out longer, I’m pretty sure I would have cried.
The moment right after Bilbo fights the spider for the Ring will probably be iconic for this movie. It showcases an ability of Martin’s that Sir Ian McKellen had mentioned in the previous Appendices, which is to show that his character is thinking two things at the same time, and you, as the audience, know exactly what they are. The utter look of horror on Bilbo’s face when he clasps his hand against his mouth was such a gut-wrenching affair, since we all know what lies in store for Bilbo down the road, and we’re only witnessing the beginnings of it now.
Utterly loved that the movie started with Thorin’s and Gandalf’s first meeting in Bree and how it was executed, though I’m not quite sure how I feel about the fact that Gandalf’s approach was a premeditated thing on his part, and that he’d done the same to Thrain. It lends a different angle to the period between Erebor’s fall and the Quest to retake it, and certainly adds a bit to the victimization of Dwarves as popularized by this particular adaptation. Gandalf feeling responsible for the fate of Durin’s Folk is something new and exciting for me to mull over.
I probably should have mentioned this earlier, but Bombur’s spotlight moment during the Barrel sequence had me in stitches. Especially the moment when he stood up while still in his barrel and pushed out his arms at his sides, weapons at the ready.
Thranduil and Thorin’s scene wasn’t any less intense despite having seen most of it already from excerpts. The scars that suddenly appear on Thranduil’s face are rather curious–I’m not sure whether they’re a projection of the damage Thranduil’s suffered, or a sort of glamor spell being inadvertently shed, though we’ll probably find out in the next Appendices. Thorin releasing some of his pent-up anger was a sight to behold, and I loved that they touched upon Thranduil’s lack of aid for the Dwarves post-sack of Erebor. It’s the sort of thing that often just gets explored in fandom, but here we have some of it being angrily thrown by Thorin right in Thranduil’s face.
There were two somewhat quick scenes that I really liked–one was the look Thorin and Legolas shared after they each saved each other’s lives (I actually forgot who Legolas had saved when he killed that Orc and I’m just assuming for now that it was Thorin’s, I’ll keep an eye out for it on rewatch). The other is when Bard’s heritage is revealed, and the expression on Thorin’s face was only shown for a second, but it felt rather poignant, especially upon realizing that the two characters have quite a few similarities. The first lingered for a bit, but I liked that the second one was downplayed.
Bilbo and his shenanigans in Smaug’s hoard while trying to look for the Arkenstone and avoid being barbecued at the same time were the most entertaining in the second half of the film. I just burst out laughing when Smaug was twitching in his sleep and Bilbo just sat down and froze in a minding-my-own-business pose. Also, Bilbo knocking and saying “Hello?” at the start was absolutely precious, and then trying to be quiet despite everything he’s doing making a great amount of noise. I love that he just stopped trying at some point and was tossing things left and right when the task of looking for the Arkenstone had made him grumpy.
And on this note, I absolutely loved that the movie offers so many new things for people who have been with the book longer. I did not expect the confrontation with Smaug to be sans Ring. Definitely a risky move for PJ, Fran, and Philippa, but I’m so glad they did it–it gave me yet another new thing to watch and enjoy, rather than just waiting for scenes I’ve already read many times as a child. It’s in keeping with the overarching storyline they’re tying together, and it allowed them to showcase Smaug’s vanity without having to sacrifice his intellect.
I also love how functional that conversation with Smaug was. Smaug is being played up as the ultimate game changer in the light vs dark theme, and in that conversation, he clarified that yes, he’s very much Team Sauron, and his team’s going to kick every other team’s arses all over the place. But, what I loved most from what Bilbo took from his conversation with Smaug was the added burden of knowing what the Arkenstone did to Thorin’s grandfather and what it will do to Thorin if he comes into possession of it. This gives more weight and justification for Bilbo’s actions later.
The peek into Thorin’s madness when he pointed a sword at Bilbo and asked after the Arkenstone–great, gripping moment. Loved the transition that occurred in Thorin’s face when Bilbo called his name and Thorin managed to shake some of that madness away before he saw the dragon. This is one of those scenes that makes me wish Richard and Martin would get into another production together.
I think I’m pretty much taken with the rest of the movie from the Barrels sequence-onwards, and just about all of Smaug’s scenes until the very end. I very much enjoyed the few times Thorin addressed Smaug and wished more had been said. I loved the molten statue in the Hall of Kings–I can just imagine that sort of weapon being built by the Dwarves as a panic button to rid Erebor of any future invaders. I love that it didn’t work, and Smaug’s voice when he yelled “It burns!” sent chills up my spine.
The locations were all very beautifully crafted. I found Dol Guldur to be the most bland, but that may have been more due to the (understandably) unsaturated palette they chose to go with. Of all the locations, I think I love Lake-town most of all. Everything from the mood of the place down to the very costumes people wore–the place felt like it was brimming with interesting stories.
On HFR: This part is a bit complicated. I very much agree with PJ that higher frame rates is the natural progression following bigger, badder displays. An example why is during the scene where Thorin was pushing the cart and weaving in and out of Smaug’s many appendages, I felt exactly how I did while playing Assassin’s Creed: Revelations, when Ezio was sliding down a steep slope, except without the annoying damn buttons. Great action while being treated to mind-blowing, amazing graphics that draws you into the moment. HFR makes the whole movie more immersive, which is how movies like these are supposed to be. The significantly reduced blur during movement in normal and action scenes adds a great deal to the movie experience. Many gamers have been enjoying this experience for a long time, it’s high time this technology reached our movie theaters.
However, and I’m going to reiterate this in the Cons section, I find our movie 3D technology as we have it today to be crude and unappealing. I really, really, really wish The Hobbit had been shot in HFR without the 3D – HFR isn’t tied to 3D technology. A 2D movie with HFR would have been plenty enjoyable, instead, we’re subjected to selective blurring as certain elements in a scene are hand-picked and put into focus while several others are thrown under the bus for added effect or what have you. Not something I enjoy as a viewer, and rather backwards considering we’re given higher clarity with HFR, only to be bogged down with the crude needs of our current 3D technology.
So, yeah. 2D + HFR = yes. 3D + HFR = still sort of enjoyable, but would rather have the first.
On Smaug: Brilliant creation throughout, from the design to the animation. I especially love the amount of detail they placed on his movements.
On Beorn: For all the whining his design got from others, I thought his character looked like it belonged just fine. He had one amazing transformation scene, and I appreciated the subtlety of it. I especially loved what they did with his eyes and how they kept them beast-like. I know they’re supposed to be bear eyes, but I felt like i was looking at my German Shepherd’s eyes, which made it feel a little eerie (in a good way).
On the golden Erebor statue scene: The whole thing was brilliant, but especially Smaug rising up from the sea of molten gold and flying up into the air. Amazing, breathtaking sight.
On the Orcs: Fimbul (I think that was him, anyway) looked creepy and scary at the same time, with those pinpoint eyes and razor sharp teeth. I think he’s a combination of CG and prosthetics, from what I remember of the Creatures and Characters AUJ book, and it’s a beautiful marriage on screen. They also seemed to have changed the texture on Azog’s skin a bit and made the scars starker. Will keep an eye out for it on rewatch.
Beautiful scoring throughout, though I think I noticed it most during Mirkwood and later in Erebor. Considering all the singing in the first movie, I was sort of hoping there’d also be one or two in the second, but I’m not too disappointed.
And now, on to the not so good…
~ Parts that were hyped in promotions were sadly very short, most notably Beorn’s house and Mirkwood. I would have appreciated some breathing space in Beorn’s house specifically, since that would have been an amazing time to regroup, tell a tale or two, give a few of the other Dwarves some character-building lines, etc. Considering the Company also got imprisoned for around three months or so in Mirkwood in canon, a few more minutes showing them in sorry states in their cells wouldn’t have been remiss. I was particularly looking forward to Thorin losing hope in his cell that’s supposedly in the deepest, darkest parts of Thranduil’s prison, but that seemed to have been scrapped. I’m just hoping we see more of these in the Extended Edition. I know there were people who complained about the slow pacing in the first movie (which I don’t agree with, I thought the pace was bloody fine), but everything pre-barrel scene felt a little too rushed for me in this one.
~ I haven’t rewatched the film yet, but I thought the transition from what Gandalf was saying before leaving the Company to the part where he goes “You’ve changed, Bilbo Baggins” was too abrupt. Felt like a non sequitur.
~ There was a moment when Thorin was on fire from Smaug’s breath and he was rolling on the ground…then he sort of just stood up and was fine again. I’m not sure if that moment wasn’t supposed to be comical, but wow, did I laugh.
~ I was well on board the little Kili/Tauriel scenes peppered throughout the second half, but then that gold-lit sparkly Tauriel scene appeared, and it was so over the top that I can’t remember that part without snickering now. Far too in-my-face for my liking.
~ The Gandalf vs Sauron scene looked pretty cool at first, but then it kept going and got old pretty fast. I wish this had been kept to two attempts on Gandalf’s part.
~ I find parallels between The Hobbit and LOTR to be only fun when they’re subtle, and there’s a particular lack of subtlety about them in this movie. Gandalf being imprisoned and watching as an Orc army was being built right below him was the one that annoyed me the most.
~ As I mentioned earlier in the HFR section, I found the whole 3D aspect unnecessary and crude. I’m definitely on board with the HFR, I absolutely love it and I wish it could be even higher, but I would have enjoyed this movie more if it were 2D + HFR instead, considering how non-immersive our current 3D technology is.
That’s about it. I’m probably missing quite a few things, but I’m not sure when I’ll be able to rewatch the movie. This is probably in need of editing as well. Overall, loved it, looking forward to watching it over and over again, and I’m already mourning the fact that it’s going to be several months before we get the Extended Edition.