This was a guest review submitted by William Derbyshire. Thanks William! You can submit your own reviews to SquidFlicks here.
A year since An Unexpected Journey happened for Bilbo…now what? Well, the journey goes on, of course even if Peter Jackson may be stretching the material a little too far…or so a lot of us think.
The first chapter in his Hobbit “saga” (a small children’s book compared to Rings, we know) started everyone, Bilbo, Gandalf, the Dwarves et al on their adventure. This was An Unexpected Journey, a worthy prequel that thankfully didn’t desecrate on any of the Lord of the Rings movies, despite the many ideas that Jackson had on how to present this story.
There were problems with it though: the introduction of the Dwarves dragged on and on and the new “revolutionary” 48-frames-per-second filming technique Jackson used for it barely showed any difference on how the many other 24-frame live-action films in the last 100 years or so have been made.
Happily though, Jackson seems to have fixed these problems (okay, he’s still continuing the whole 48-frames thing, but that doesn’t matter a jot) as The Desolation of Smaug moves swiftly along and doesn’t pause for breath or needlessly detail every last aspect of each new character one by one. It’s also worth mentioning that no reminders are given to the audience which is rather refreshing in a way, given that some of us had to suffer through each one before each Rings chapter kicked off, even if we had seen each film many a time at the pictures or on DVD.
The Desolation of Smaug isn’t perfect, the plot does strain at times, but it’s certainly Peter Jackson’s most wildly entertaining, staggering and strangely enough, absolutely terrifying film so far.
The frightening moments come in the form of Beorn (Mikael Persbrandt), a Skin-Changer who may be a little too much to “bear” for the small ones, but he’s nothing compared to the – somewhat recycled – creepy Spiders from the Rings films that will leave arachnophobes, new and old, squirming in their seats. There’s another one…believe me, there IS another one…but we’ll get to it later.
As far as action goes, this Hobbit chapter delivers in astounding quantities with plenty of arrows flying and fist and sword fight sequences, something the first one lacked. Jackson also makes up for it with a stunningly executed barrel chase down a river that’s up there with Indiana Jones either trying to dodge a boulder or being pursued on mine-cart. Even if some of it is a little on the unbelievable side, so what? In 3-D, the final scenes in a treasure-laden cave have gold coins and jewels flying towards you and you’ll want to grab some of them yourself. But whatever dimension you see this film in, whether it’s the battles or the gorgeous-looking Middle Earth sets; it will still grab your attention.
Martin Freeman reprises Bilbo and continues to feel at ease with his role, the same for the Dwarves, Ian McKellan as Gandolf…need I say more? Rings fans will be pleased to know Legolas is back, played once again by Orlando Bloom, and he, like all the other Rings characters and actors portraying them, hasn’t changed a bit. New cast members include a terrific Stephen Fry as the Master of Lake-Town and Evangeline Lilly playing female Elf Tauriel. Her character, however, is a bit of a disappointment. When she’s in action, she shines but when she’s speaking, she seems bland and lacks the spirit and fieriness of movie heroines like The Cat from The Dark Knight Rises and Avatar’s Neytiri.
But the star turn is Benedict Cumberbatch providing motion-capture and a voice like Scar from The Lion King on an amplifier for the most startling movie monster since Jurassic Park’s T-Rex…Smaug the Dragon. Forget Gollum, this dude’s the real deal. He practically scared the living (insert your own expletive here) out of me. The third dimension also makes him all the more petrifying. He will leave cinema-goers having nightmares for weeks and would even make Spielberg soil himself. God only knows what lies in store for us once the last instalment arrives. Until then, this beastie boy needs to be in the Rogues Gallery along with Kong and Godzilla and Cumberbatch needs some kind of recognition for his work here, perhaps an award.
All in all, The Desolation of Smaug improves on An Unexpected Journey in every way possible. Yes, the Tolkien purists may be ticked off by the many diversions from the original Hobbit book but in this case, they’re moaning about nothing. What’s more, once the film starts and they’re stunned by this true spectacle, only then will they shut up.