I was practically incoherent with glee for The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, so you can only imagine how excited I’ve been to see The Desolation of Smaug.
(Okay, so you’ve seen how excited I’ve been with every new trailer that came out.)
The short review? While there were a couple of scenes which were (I’m pretty sure) shot almost expressly for the purpose of showing off the shiny camerawork, the movie was overall very, very good. The parts I was looking forward to, I loved, and the parts I was worried about ended up working much better than I thought they would.
I saw it twice within 48 hours (first time regular, second time in 3D), if that tells you anything.
For the longer review, read on and prepare for spoilers!
After a brief prologue wherein Gandalf and Thorin meet in Bree, The Desolation of Smaug picks up close to where the previous movie left off: Bilbo, Gandalf, and our merry band of dwarves are trying their best to stay one step ahead of the group of Orcs chasing them.
Their goal, as before, is to reach the Lonely Mountain before Durin’s Day in order to get inside said mountain and retrieve the Arkenstone, so that Thorin can unite the dwarves once more. However, this is made complicated by the gigantic evil dragon that has been snoozing underneath the Lonely Mountain for the past few hundred years.
Because of how quickly we’re dropped in with the characters, the pacing feels almost breakneck at the beginning. There were places where things seemed to be moving almost too fast; like we were just touching down briefly before hopping off to the next plot point.
It does even out eventually, but it leaves parts of the beginning feeling a little thin. (“Beorn! And now Mirkwood! And now spiders! And now elves! And now…!”)
The barrel-riding scene was one I’d been looking forward to almost as much as the riddles scene in An Unexpected Journey. The best way to describe it is 70 percent “That was AWESOME” and 30 percent “What the hell; I don’t even. *dies laughing*”
It was a great scene, but there were a couple of parts where you had to make a decision about whether your suspension of disbelief would be broken or whether you’d just roll with it. And there were definitely a few bits that I’m pretty sure were designed solely to show off the shiny camerawork.
The other bit I was most excited about was finally getting to see Smaug, and thank heavens, he did not disappoint. He looked absolutely fantastic, huge and terrifying and so completely overwhelming to a little hobbit. Benedict Cumberbatch did an amazing job with the voice, so unrepentantly evil. Smaug was easily one of the best parts of the movie.
There were a few things I was worried about, most notably the inclusion of Legolas and the original female elf Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly). Neither is in the book, although since Legolas is from Mirkwood, the idea of including him in The Hobbit wasn’t out of the realm of believability to me.
Surprisingly, both worked much better than I thought they would. Tauriel was an interesting addition to the cast of a very male-heavy film, and I loved the little relationship built up between her and Kili. It surprised me how fast it became one of my favorite bits of the movie. Though they don’t get a lot of time together, what they do have is very sweet.
Legolas was a lot more of an asshole in this movie than in the LOTR films, which makes sense (considering how he felt about dwarves at the beginning of Fellowship). “Magnificent dick” is the way my friend Serena described him, and I have a hard time disagreeing.
However, the magnificent dick crown in this movie goes to Thranduil (Lee Pace), the King of Mirkwood. The character is a complete jerk in the books, and Pace does a fantastic job bringing him to life.
On a technical note, this is the first time I’ve seen a movie in 3D at the new 48 FPS frame rate. Normally I hold off on the 3D—it’s more expensive and rarely have I seen a movie where it would truly be worth the extra cash—but I’m glad I did it this time.
The images are sharper and much clearer, and a lot of the effects which had looked a little cartoony in the 2D version (particularly with the orcs) looked much better in the 3D with the higher frame rate. Visually, the movie is astounding no matter which way you see it, but I did note a definite difference in quality with the higher frame rate.
This movie also ends on a massive cliffhanger, so consider yourself warned. If you’re familiar with the book, you won’t be too surprised at where they decided to cut it, but it definitely leaves you with a “Wait, what? WHAT?” feeling at the end.
So far, I think they’ve done a really good job of translating The Hobbit to film, and Desolation of Smaug felt more streamlined than An Unexpected Journey, making it a solid middle part of the series. And I really, really can’t wait until the end of this year to see There and Back Again.