As I have done the last two years, all my blogs this year will start with a particular word. This year, that word is “As”. I think it’s quite a flexible one, and should lead to some interesting results. Anyway…
As a geek/nerd, I have friends who are also geeks/nerds. Last year (2012, so actually the year before last) we went and saw The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey on Boxing Day. This year (2013, so actually last year) the second part, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, was released, and while we didn’t see it on release day like last time, we only saw it a few days later but I haven’t had the time to review it till now. Anyway, here’s a review of it…
Before I get into it, I should remind you of my disclaimer from last time: I’m pretty much a LOTR noob. I actually don’t really know anything about it at all, except what I’ve been able to gleam off pop culture references and the last Hobbit movie. I haven’t read any of the books, seen any of the movies (except the first Hobbit) or played any games etc. Also, we didn’t see this in 3D or HFR (higher frame rate), just like last time.
So, as you would expect, The Desolation of Smaug is much like An Unexpected Journey. Of course, it’s a continuation of the last one, so it doesn’t really spend any time whatsoever on anything that’s already been covered or happened in the first movie. If you walk into this having not seen the first one, there will be a lot of things going on that will leave you utterly lost. That said, I realised after watching this one, that I didn’t really remember the first one that well, but it was still enough to get me by, so you probably could watch this without having seen the first one, but I don’t think you’d want to. You definitely don’t have to have seen the first movie super-recently to enjoy or understand this one, that’s for sure. I’d also say that it’s painfully clear the best way to watch these movies would be to wait till they’re all out on DVD or Blu-ray (pick your poison) and watch them back-to-back. However, that’s not something I’m planning on doing.
But The Desolation of Smaug isn’t just similar to An Unexpected Journey in that the story is continued, but the style and feel of the movies is very consistent between the two as well. All the visuals and landscapes immediately remind you of the beauty of the previous movie, and invited you in like the giant ads for New Zealand they are. All of the graphics and imagery were seductively realistic. Well, all except for a handful of shots that were so low-res that I could hardly believe my eyes. They looked like they had been shot on a really old GoPro; the picture was fuzzy, jerky and amazingly terrible. I can’t even imagine how awful it would’ve looked if we’d been watching this in 3D or HFR. It made sense, in a way, that they had used something like a GoPro because it was (without spoiling it for you) an extreme action sequence involving water, shown from the first-person perspective, but it really didn’t need to be there. Forgiving that, the rest of the visuals: creatures and castles, mountains and forests, treasure rooms and dragons; were spectacular and utterly convincing. They felt as real as any other place on Earth.
While very little time is spent showing backstory in this film, even when there is definitely something to be told, an ever-increasing amount of time is devoted to subplots and side-stories which are presented in a “Meanwhile in …..” sort of style. I would estimate that at least an hour of screen time is spent on these non-Bilbo-related stories out of a close to 3 hour long movie. That’s about a third! And while, for most of them, it’s clear how they are relevant or important to the story, some are too unclear relative to their interestingness. It’s pretty obvious that they’ll all come together in the final movie and each will have its own significants to that plot, but in this one, they just didn’t pay out.
The other thing that annoyed me about these subplots was that they were switched between rather abruptly. The transition between some of the bites of subplot and main story, or subplot and subplot were jarringly quick and left you tossed around. It wasn’t so bad as to be confusing, but it still broke the flow of the movie and made me further lose interest in some of these subplots.
There are less action sequences in The Desolation of Smaug than in An Unexpected Journey, but they are definitely no less intense. Most of the fighting is done by elves, so it mainly involves shooting of arrows but there is a fair amount of close combat fighting as well. The camera angle is, for the most part, a bit wider than last time, which means that the action is easier to follow and enjoy. And it definitely is a sight to behold. Those elves have their fair share of acrobatic talent, and they love to show it off. Although the fights weren’t too gory, they seemed more graphic than in An Unexpected Journey, i.e. no more gib) or blood, but more decapitation and visible wounds. It didn’t bother me too much; I’m more disconcerted by gore. What I was unsettled by was the amount of small children’s voices I heard jeering and whooping at these sequences. I, personally, don’t think it was appropriate for the age-group, but obviously their parents either think differently, or just take no interest in their children’s welfare.
As the movie was nearing its end, I thought they might actually resolve the whole thing, but NO! Of course NOT! Any other movie would’ve rushed it together and finished off the story, but not this one. In a way, that’s a good thing. It means that they’re devoting the time necessary to every event to tell it properly. But I still think, if the first movie had been a little longer, this one might have been able to finish it off. Oh well, I’ll see the next one. And I’m sure I’ll enjoy it just as much as this one.
Have you seen one or both of The Hobbit movies? Have your read the book? What did you think? Did it live up to your expectations? Have I said anything you disagree with? Tell me & everyone else who passes through here what you think in the comment below, or on Facebook.
To Infinity and Beyond,