The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug review

Unfortunately, it looks as if “The Hobbit” trilogy won’t be as great as Director Peter Jackson’s “The Lord of the Rings.”

“Desolation of Smaug” picks up a short time after the events of “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.” Hobbit Bilbo Baggins, played by Martin Freeman, is continuing on his quest with a traveling group made up of dwarves lead by Thorin, played by Richard Armitage and the wizard Gandalf, played by Ian McKellen.

The group is being chased by a pack of evil orcs who are trying to stop them on their quest to reach the caverns where the dragon Smaug resides. The group is on a quest to kill Smaug and retake the land back for the dwarves, which in the process would make Thorin king. Along the way they are met by enemies and allies, and some who fall in between.

“Desolation” is both helped and suffers from the same things that were in the first movie’s plot. What helps this movie is Director Peter Jackson is talented enough to direct an epic scale adventure film that can keep a person’s interest.

What ends up hurting the movie, though, is the pacing, which makes the movie drag out longer than it needs. There is a whole trilogy of films trying to cover a single book in one solitary quest. It feels like plot points are simply unnecessary, or out of place.

The story is stretched a little too thin over the run time of all three movies. More time in the editing room would have helped because the movie needed to be trimmed.

The acting works at times and doesn’t at others. The best part is the lead protagonist who is very well adapted from the books and written competently for the screen. The character Bilbo Baggins is supposed to represent that courage can come from anybody and Freeman nails it perfectly. Whenever Bilbo was given a time to shine, his character completely steps up to the plate and through Freeman’s acting, the role is believable.

As usual, McKellen is also great as Gandalf. This is his fifth film where he is playing the wizard and McKellen feels natural in the role. He doesn’t have any trouble getting into character.

Another returning actor who really performed well is Richard Armitage as Thorin. Armitage is fantastic at portraying a strong leader who shows camaraderie with his dwarf brethren, as well as a growing trust for Bilbo.

Some additions that didn’t exactly help were the two elves Legolas, played by Orlando Bloom and Tauriel, portrayed by Evangeline Lilly. Both characters are a film adaptation only, not making an appearance in the book. There was a feeling the only reason they were added to the film was to insert more action sequences.

Despite the well-done action sequences, the introduction of these characters seems to be unnecessary filler. Speaking of unnecessary filler, the semi-love triangle, involving the character Tauriel seemed to add an unnecessary element. The entire sub-plot could have been cut.

Making matters worse for these two, Bloom and Lilly don’t breathe any kind of life into the characters. Bloom seemed more interested in playing Legolas in “Lord of the Rings” and Lilly doesn’t hold up in comparison to other elf portrayals, such as Liv Tyler’s from the original trilogy.

One new addition that worked rather well, though, was Benedict Cumberbatch, the voice of Smaug. Cumberbatch, is coming off another villain performance after his role as Kahn in “Star Trek: Into Darkness.” He gives off an evil aura through his voice alone.

Unfortunately, the computer generated imagery with Smaug’s character design felt rather lacking. In fact the imagery in general just didn’t look all that great. There were key moments where the imagery looked too obvious and lacked realism. The orcs, for example, look more computer-generated than their practical effects made counterparts from the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy.

What works in terms of the technical side, though, is the costume and set designs. Jackson knows exactly what he’s working with in the “Hobbit” universe and is able to capture the look of Middle Earth through props, costumes and sets.

There are some well edited and directed action sequences, too. For example, one scene where the main group is escaping through white water rapids is really thrilling.

The second film in “The Hobbit” trilogy comes with both pros and cons. The story still has an epic feel to it, but the overall runtime could be cut down since some of it was unnecessary, the acting is strong with the main protagonists, but the newcomers just seem to be there. The action sequences, while sometimes good, are knocked down a notch because of the CGI not being great.

“Desolation” is a pretty good film, just not a really good one. High 3 out of 5.

This review was first published in the Dec. 13, 2013 issue of the Wahpeton Daily News.

Author: Matthew Liedke

Journalist and film critic in Minnesota. Graduate of Rainy River College and Minnesota State University in Moorhead. Outside of movies I also enjoy sports, craft beers and the occasional video game.

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