The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellan), Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) and the rest of the dwarves from the Lonely Mountain continue on their journey to reclaim their kingdom from the fire-breathing dragon Smaug (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch).  The group is still being pursued by a group of Orcs led by Azok and his son Bolg.  Azok is called away to Dol Guldur by the necromancer to lead his Orc army in war.  Bolg is given the task of continuing the search for Thorin.  While traveling through the Dark Forest, the dwarves are captured by a group of elves led by Legolas (Orlando Bloom) and Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly).  Meanwhile, Galadriel (Cate Blanchett) sends Gandalf to the tomb of the Nazgul where he finds all the tombs broken open.  Gandalf then heads for Dol Guldur to investigate further.  Bilbo, using the one ring, becomes invisible and releases all the dwarves from the elves’ prison and they are able to escape but are attacked by the Orcs.  Legolas and Tauriel follow the dwarves and are able to save them from the Orcs but the dwarves are able to escape down river and meet a bargeman named Bard who smuggles them into Esgaroth, a lake town which is very near the Lonely Mountain.  From there, the dwarves head up the Lonely Mountain to find the hidden doorway and enter kingdom and fight a final battle with Smaug.
“The Hobbit:  The Desolation of Smaug” is a far superior movie to “The Hobbit:  An Unexpected Journey.”  While it is very long (2 hours, 40 minutes) it manages to stuff in enough story and action to make its 160 minutes feel like about a third less.  I really wanted to see more as the film ends at a pivotal point.  Director Peter Jackson is able to find the magic and wonder of “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy that was sorely lacking from the first “Hobbit” film.
The first major improvement is the CG.  While the film is stuffed with lots of computer generated characters, backgrounds and action scenes, it all looks much better than the first movie.  I don’t understand why the first movie doesn’t look as good as this one.  Maybe the special effects were rushed to get meet the release date and they had more time on this film.  Maybe they listened to the complaints about how the first movie looked and worked to give the animated characters more texture and realism.  The first film I saw in IMAX 3D while I saw this movie in a standard size and 2D.  Perhaps the difference of format was more forgiving for the second film.  While there are some sequences that might have looked better in 3D, like when the dwarves are cruising down a river in barrels, I don’t think the added dimension or a larger screen would enhance the viewing experience.  It may actually reduce it as the flaws might become more noticeable.
Second, there is a great deal less filler in this film.  In “An Unexpected Journey” it felt like we had to endure dozens of helicopter shots of the group walking across a field or through a mountain pass.  While there is some of this in “The Desolation of Smaug” it has been greatly reduced.  In its place, Jackson and crew have given us a great deal more story and some spectacular action sequences.  There is even some humor squeezed into some of this action.  The introduction of Legolas and Tauriel brings a very athletic tone to their battle scenes.  There are jumps and spins as they launch perfectly aimed arrows that always find their mark in the torsos or head of Orcs.  While some of this athleticism is painfully obvious CG, much of it works very well and is completely believable.  The film is also far more story-driven than the first installment.  We get to learn more history of the story prior to what occurs in the first film as well as getting lots of plot to drive this movie forward.
There’s another aspect of the film that is spectacular and that’s Smaug.  The massive fire-breathing dragon that occupies the kingdom of the dwarves is a frightening and three-dimensional character.  Smaug’s voice plus motion capture is provided by Benedict Cumberbatch.  While his voice is modulated and modified digitally much of the performance is clearly coming from the baritone of Cumberbatch.  He’s able to convey enormous danger in his hissing growl.  He is able to be both coy and threatening as he plays with Bilbo who has been sent in to find a gem Thorin needs to claim the throne.  Fortunately, the dragon’s size seems to be consistent from shot to shot and scene to scene.  Many movie monsters seem to change size relative to their surroundings but Smaug appears to stay consistently massive.  We also get a very good look at the giant lizard so we have a better idea about what makes Smaug so terrifying and deadly.  I wish the movie had gotten to Smaug faster and stayed with him longer.  He is perhaps the most interesting character in the movie.
“The Hobbit:  The Desolation of Smaug” is rated PG-13 for frightening images and fantasy action violence.  There are many sword fights throughout the film.  We also see many Orcs shot with arrows.  On a couple of occasions we get very clear views of beheadings.  In one instance, after a beheading, the body is twitching on the floor.  Smaug and the Orcs might frighten younger viewers.  There is no foul language.
I am so thankful that “The Hobbit:  The Desolation of Smaug” is a much better movie than the first in the “Hobbit” trilogy.  “Smaug” doesn’t drag, it isn’t overly stuffed with useless landscape shots and it moves the story along at a brisk pace.  It also does what many movies fail to do…it leaves the audience wanting more.
“The Hobbit:  The Desolation of Smaug” gets five guitars out of five.
There are three new movies are headed to your local multiplex this week.  I’ll review one based on your votes.
Anchorman 2:  The Legend Continues—With the 70's behind him, San Diego's top rated newsman, Ron Burgundy (Will Ferrell), returns to the news desk. Also back for more are Ron’s co-anchor and wife, Veronica Corningstone (Christina Applegate), weather man Brick Tamland (Steve Carell), man on the street Brian Fantana (Paul Rudd) and sports guy Champ Kind (David Koechner) - All of whom won’t make it easy to stay classy…while taking the nation's first 24-hour news channel by storm.
Nebraska—Cantankerous old buzzard Woody Grant (Bruce Dern) can barely walk down the street of his home in Billings, Mont., without stopping for a drink. So when Woody receives notice that he's a sweepstakes winner and insists on making a 750-mile trip to Lincoln, Neb., to collect his prize, if falls to baffled son David (Will Forte) to accompany him.
Walking with Dinosaurs—This family adventure story centers on an underdog dino as it triumphs to become a hero for the ages.
Stan’s Choice—Stan sees and reviews any film of his choice playing in theatres or On Demand.
Release dates are subject to change and not all films may be shown in Knoxville, TN.
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