Although Desolation of Smaug is an improvement over Unexpected Journey, I still wasn’t crazy about the installment with the action scenes, albeit well filmed, seemingly blurring from one to the next and you once more had references to LOTR, a series I have far more interest in re-watching and caring about than this one thus far. Still, fans will probably get more out of this than I did so on that front, it might be worth a rental.
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
Genre(s): Fantasy, Adventure
Warner Bros. | PG13 – 161 min. – $35.99 | April 8, 2014
THE MOVIE – 2.75/5
Even though An Unexpected Journey was disappointing mainly because the quest was smaller and less significant compared to its Lord of the Rings counterpart, to go along with a cast of characters who were indistinguishable save for Gandalf, Bilbo and Thorin, I had some hopes based on reviews from the general movie-going audience that The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug would be a solid upgrade and although there were a couple of things I did like, such as the escalation of the danger, this entry despite some impressive action set pieces, was downright dull.
This addition opens interestingly enough with a prologue as Thorin (RICHARD ARMITAGE) enters the Prancing Pony and with shots reminiscent of the scene in Fellowship of the Ring with Frodo and the rest, he’s seemingly being followed by unscrupulous fellows before sitting at a table across from Gandalf the Grey (IAN MCKELLEN) who knows Thorin’s life is in danger and further that Thorin wants to reclaim the throne. In order to do so, Gandalf suggests gathering a team to accomplish the goal as grave danger is ahead if they should fail… or something along those lines.
We then are taken a year later are pretty much beginning where Unexpected Journey ended. Bilbo (MARTIN FREEMAN) and the merry dwarves – Balin (KEN STOTT), Dwalin (GRAHAM MCTAVISH), Bifur (WILLIAM KIRCHER), Bofur (JAMES NESBITT), Bombur (STEPHEN HUNTER), Fili (DEAN O’GORMAN), Kili (AIDAN TURNE), Oin (JOHN CALLEN), Gloin (PETER HAMBLETON), Nori (JED BROPHY), Dori (MARK HADLOW) and Ori (ADAM BROWN) – march on toward Erebor to reclaim the mountain while also having to slay the dangerous dragon, Smaug, who guards the gold in the vault.
But before they can get to Erebor they must avoid the deadly orcs on their trail first seeking refuge in the home of a wolf/giant hybrid, entering the dark forest under the control of the Elves and attacked by giant spiders in yet another callback to Lord of the Rings and then rescued, and subsequently captured, by our old stoic pal, Legolas (ORLANDO BLOOM) and the attractive and bad-ass Tauriel (EVANGELINE LILLY). As in the first film, the dwarves are taken prisoner under the orders of Elvenking Thranduil (LEE PACE) and as in the first film, are rescued by Bilbo.
Oh, and where is Gandalf during all of this? Of course he’s off on his little side-journey leading him to the hidden layer of the orcs and he eventually is in a losing duel with a being named the Necromancer (BENEDICT CUMBERBATCH although you’d be hard-pressed to know it was him) but is known by a more familiar name… I actually think this was one of the better parts of Desolation and gives that much needed gravitas and danger necessary to give the trilogy’s overall story arc more danger than some localized plot of the dwarves regaining their homeland… well, mountain anyway.
So, how does this compare with An Unexpected Journey? Well, I suppose I found more enjoyment out of this one as the action is well done and I guess I cared more about these characters, even though I couldn’t distinguish most of them from the other, and because introductions and plot outlining have been dispensed with, we get to the nitty-gritty and although the pacing was still off, the 2:30+ running time isn’t as noticeable, though it is still bloated.
On the performance front, it’s all more of the same with each actor going through the motions but making his debut in this trilogy set, Orlando Bloom is fun to see once more but doesn’t give much to his entry other than yet another call back to the better developed and more entertaining Lord of the Rings trilogy. Also, and I know I’m not the first to point this out, even though Bloom’s Legolas is supposed to be younger here than in LOTR, Bloom looks a good decade older here and it’s frankly a bit distracting.
The other notable new character is Tauriel played by Evangeline Lilly who does get something to do going on her own and has some sort of love connection with one of the dwarves. It’s hardly a meaty part considering the number of characters already in the film, but I hope she gets more to do in the third and final movie. Luke Evans makes his debut (in the theatrical version, he appeared in the extended version) and provides more background dealing with his family history and the dragon, Smaug. Nothing amazing yet, though hopefully he gets more to work with in the third installment.
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug once again is co-written and directed by Peter Jackson and this entry, as with the last, proves that while there is certainly a lot of care taken from the production and art designs, visual effects and the acting, it still comes across as unnecessary, especially taking a book and instead of splitting it into two movies as originally planned, get a third thrown in which adds extra scenes that balloons the running time to the extreme, and this is just the theatrical versions, once the extended editions for all three are released, you’re talking about a 8-9 hour epic for a story that needed maybe 5 hours to tell.
Even though it’s a minor improvement over Unexpected Journey, I still didn’t enjoy Desolation very much and have a hard time imagining ever revisiting it outside of the eventual extended edition if only for the expansion of the bonus features.
SPECIAL FEATURES – 2.25/5
As with the previous release, this one comes with a glossy, title embossed, slip cover. Inside is a standard DVD Copy and a code to access the UltraViolet Digital Copy. Obviously these are mere holdovers until the extended edition set with deeper featurettes and commentary. Still, all things considered, it’s not a bad set of features…
New Zealand: Home of Middle-Earth, Part 2 (7:11; HD) – This is a tour of the various locations for the movie and serves as an advertisement for the country.
Peter Jackson Invites You to the Set (40:36; HD) includes In the Company of The Hobbit and All in a Day’s Work providing some basic behind-the-scenes footage and a general overview of filming in a day.
Live Event: In the Cutting Room (37:52; HD) is the recording of the event held back in March 2013 where Peter Jackson gave fans a tour of his production facilities and fielded questions from around the world.
Production Videos (36:41; HD) – In this collection of four videos we get some basic insights into a variety of things like “Pick Ups Shooting” and “Music Scoring”.
Also included is the Music Video (5:42; HD) by “I See Fire” by Ed Sheeran; two Theatrical Trailers and The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug Previews (7:45; HD), The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey Extended Edition Trailer (1:34; HD), LEGO The Hobbit Game Trailer (1:44; HD) and The Hobbit: Kingdoms of Middle Earth Game Trailer (1:07; HD).
VIDEO – 4.5/5
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug swoops in onto Blu-ray presented in its original 2.40 widescreen aspect ratio and given a nice 1080p high-definition transfer. The picture is sharp with good detail levels throughout while colors seem to drift more towards cooler tones at times (almost an purple tint) with warmer elements in other scenes. I didn’t notice any major instances of pixilation or artifacts – no surprise given it was shot digitally – and black levels are generally deep and stark.
AUDIO – 5.0/5
The 7.1 channel DTS-HD Master Audio track is amazing through and through. This lossless track is dynamic showcasing everything from the action/adventure scenes like in the forest to the rip roar river chase sequence. Also coming across quite well is the score from Howard Shore making use of the rear channels along with any ambient noises.
OVERALL – 2.5/5
Overall, although Desolation of Smaug is an improvement over Unexpected Journey, I still wasn’t crazy about the installment with the action scenes, albeit well filmed, seemingly blurring from one to the next and you once more had references to LOTR, a series I have far more interest in re-watching and caring about than this one thus far. Still, fans will probably get more out of this than I did so on that front, it might be worth a rental. The Blu-ray does offer excellent audio/video transfers while the special features are limited but fine as filler until the extended edition is released later this year.