THE HOBBIT: THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG
(Directed by Peter Jackson, 2013)
(****+ out of 5)
> I thought the LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy was the apex of fantasy cinema. Director Peter Jackson raised the bar on the genre to the point where even the stodgy Academy had to acknowledge the trilogy’s conclusion with a Best Picture nod- an extreme rarity for this “non-serious” genre. These three stunning films seemed an impossible act to follow, and the logic of going back to the prelude after the spectacular trilogy seemed odd at least, and made us suspicious THE HOBBIT was more market-generated than anything else.
. Nonetheless, I was there on day one to see the first HOBBIT film, and even though AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY verified my suspicions that Mr. Jackson could not equal or surpass his previous achievements, I had a really good time at the cinema. I can’t count the times I’ve seen it playing in endless rotation on HBO. Every time I stumble upon it, I find myself watching through to the end. So it’s fair to say, I was primed for THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG. (Who wasn’t, after the great cliffhanger that set it up?) AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY was enough simple fun to bring me back on opening day to see this middle chapter of his unfolding prequel trilogy.
. I sat, transfixed by the spectacle throughout, awarding THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG an enthusiastic “thumbs up”. (Thanks Roger!) A few short weeks later, the imprint has faded and details of the film seem fuzzy, leaving me fleeting impressions of kinetic fun. Maybe the negative review I read by Mick LaSalle, the fine film critic at the San Francisco Chronicle was on to something. I was shocked by the way my man Mick completely dismissed this big entertainment, but I’m beginning to see some of his points.
. It is relevant to remember that in order to make only one film from each Lord of the Rings book, writers had to compact the story considerably. Here, the inverse it true: THE HOBBIT was by far the thinnest of Tolkien’s four books. Adapters had to stretch the material considerably to wring three feature films from it. Having never read the books, I take these films purely on cinematic terms. (I gave up on “The Hobbit” about 20 pages into the book when I found the language too thick and arcane for my junior high mind to absorb- just too much work to enjoy.) Though I found Peter Jackson’s vision of “The Hobbit” lesser in every respect, (all the kewpie doll dwarfs seemed more like kid’s stuff), I was not disappointed by the grandeur and spectacle we have come to expect from these films, the stunning New Zealand landscapes and iconic moments of heroic majesty Mr. Jackson is so good at creating. In part 2 of his Hobbit trilogy, the impossible and riveting action sequences are just as accomplished- particularly the breathtaking barrel escape down the rapids. Legolas is in prime form here! I keep wondering how great action directors like Peter Jackson keep coming up with such fresh takes on the heavily trodden territory of chase and escape sequences. In this case, perhaps much of it was already in the book, but it’s big and exciting stuff.
. Like THE TWO TOWERS, the color palate in the first part of THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG is bathed in dark, moody blue-grays until the action finally brings us where we long to go: under the mountain and face-to-face with the terrifying fire-breathing dragon, when we get gloriously bathed in the glowing orange/reds and glittering golds of Smaug’s treasure-strewn lair. We got a fleeting glimpse of it in the tantalizing ending of AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY, but here we get to luxuriate in its cornucopia of precious golden glory. It seemed to take a long time to get there, but once Bilbo faced Smaug the film really seemed to catch fire, (obvious pun intended), and we are not shortchanged by the confrontation. In fact that pirates booty image is done so well done here, that it’s time to consider retiring the old cliché. The ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ ride at Disneyland has nothing on this. Smaug himself (voiced with devilish relish by the fine Benedict Cumberbatch,) is so perfectly rendered that we can likewise consider moving-on from the whole talking fire-breathing dragon thing. And the sequence in the den of voracious spiders beats the hell out of the single menace Freedo faced or the scampering arachnoid hoards Harry Potter had to deal with. Again- giant spiders done so well, it’s time to move-on to some other menace.
. When SMAUG reached its breathless cliffhanger of an ending, the audience gasped audibly, and then- laughed. “Laughter?” I thought, “What’s that about?” But as I watched the crowded auditorium empty, the answer became apparent: they where so totally drawn into the tension of the film and stunned by the abrupt intensity of the final shots, they could only laugh in giddy anticipation of THERE AND BACK AGAIN, due for release on Christmas day 2014. Laughter was a natural response from an audience as giddy as schoolchildren. Will I be in line on Christmas day to see how the story ends? I don’t know… I can’t guarantee I’ll be alive a year from now- but I sure hope so! If so, you will know where to find me!
© Kevin Paul Keelan and lastcre8iveiconoclast, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Kevin Paul Keelan and lastcre8iveiconoclast with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.