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.
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
— Extended Edition —
Genre(s): Fantasy, Adventure
Warner Bros. | PG13 – 186 min. – $54.98 | November 4, 2014
Note: This is my original review of the theatrical version. I have added an addendum with my thoughts on the “Extended” version.
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.
For this version, 26-minutes have been added in and, basing off of memory from the theatrical version, some noteworthy additions include a subplot about Thorin’s father who makes an appearance, this is preceded in the beginning through a conversation between Gandalf and Thorin about his father’s fate, and otherwise it seems some odds and ends were included, though can’t pinpoint many off hand.
In regards to how this plays compared with the other? Well, it’s more or less the same movie, just longer. As with the other one, I just had a meh kind of reaction, I sat there watching some nice craftsmanship, make-up and such but the story is still so bloated and reiterate that this entire story could’ve been wrapped up in two movies and so many extraneous plotlines could’ve been completely cut and would not be missed. Oh, and the key scene with the barrels down the river is still really dumb (and on a side note: the Amazon.com exclusive is utterly laughable).
SPECIAL FEATURES – 5.0/5
This 5-disc release comes housed in a black HD Keep Case and inside is the redemption code for the UltraViolet digital copy.
DISCS 1 & 2:
3D Version of the Film
Audio Commentary once again features Peter Jackson and Philippa Boyens provide their insights into making the second of the trilogy with on-set anecdotes and other tidbits. Considering the movie is three hours, I actually found both commentators engaging.
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.
Into the Wilderland: The Chronicles of The Hobbit – Part 2 (5:00:26; HD) is a 13-part documentary going through each and every aspect of making Desolation from filming locations, stunt work, visual and special effects and features interviews with members of the cast and crew including Peter Jackson, Martin Freeman, Luke Evans, Evangeline Lily, Orlando Bloom and Benedict Cumberbatch among others. I dare you to watch this in one sitting…
The Journey to Erebor (5:05:51; HD) – In this set, broken up into 5 parts, we get to meet the new characters, as well as creatures (such as Smaug), locations, etc. introduced in the movie taking us through their backgrounds, designs, VFX and interviews with cast and crew members.
2D VIDEO – 4.5/5 | 3D VIDEO – 5.0/5
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 a 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.
The 3D version looks stunning. The depth of field on the picture is excellent, colors still is retained and there’s the usual piercing off the screen elements such as swords, liquids and such. This is easily reference quality material here especially when you consider minimal amount of aliasing or ghosting which sometimes permeates some 3D presentations.
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 – 4.0/5
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.