REVIEW: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

5 01 2014

It’s a shame that it has not yet become en vogue for a deep voice to announce “previously on…” at the beginning of a film like they do at the start of an episode of “Homeland” or “Lost.”  This would certainly have come in handy for “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug,” the middle chapter of Peter Jackson’s film adaptation-cum-trilogy.  I will confess that I found the first entry, “An Unexpected Journey,” so forgettable that I spent 15 minutes reading the plot summary on Wikipedia  – and even longer trying to figure out how to remember or comprehend it.

Call me crazy, but I’ve always been rather immune to the appeal of Jackson’s Middle Earth epics.  While I admire the impeccable make-up work, the gorgeous cinematography, and the sheer amount of attention to detail apparent in the creation, the whole always feels less than the sum of its parts.  The plots never really engage me, and I find myself mentally exhausted by the end simply trying to both follow the chain of events and keep the characters straight.

“The Desolation of Smaug” seems about on par with its predecessor.  Neither have the same sense of urgency that propelled the original “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, thus making their north-of-160-minute runtimes feel more like a chore than an afternoon of entertainment.

THE HOBBIT: THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG

This film does do a lot to set the stage for the closing film of the series, which at least left me leaving the theater with some optimism that the trilogy could go out with a real bang.  There is quite a bit of meandering and journeying, similar to the seemingly endless exposition of “An Unexpected Journey,” to get to the excitement.  Aside from a riveting battle pitting barrel-bound dwarves floating down a river against a seemingly endless supply of Orcs, the first half of the movie is rather dull.

Sure, the geopolitics of Middle Earth are important to the story, but they take away from Martin Freeman’s time to shine as Bilbo.  The hairy-footed character takes a backseat in this segment of the series, much to my chagrin.  Save one scene where he must conceal the sway that the power of the Ring holds over him, Bilbo is almost entirely absent until he attempts to outwit the titular dragon.

Smaug is brought to life by Benedict Cumberbatch in motion-capture, which may be the single best thing that “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” has to offer.  Yes, even better than Orlando Bloom reprising Legolas (only with weird contacts in this time) or Evangeline Lilly’s bellicose she-elf Tauriel.  Somehow, even a CGI dragon can exude the eerie sense of constant machination with which Cumberbatch animates such characters as Khan in “Star Trek Into Darkness” and Sherlock Holmes in the BBC show “Sherlock.”  Yet therein lies my issue with the series in the first place: it’s something worth marveling at but not getting lost in.  B-2stars


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