A Review by Alec R. Lee
Did they really have to make this book three movies?
Despite watching this film last weekend, my schedule for the week only now allowed me any free time to bring this review forth, since it is obviously a big release of the year. For the most part, I enjoyed this film. This film actually was starting to feel like a worth Middle-Earth adaptation, but it still had some niggling problems that have to be addressed in the film. And in case you’re wondering, I did not see this film in 48 fps (wasn’t offered) and I probably never will. From what I’ve heard, watching a film in a higher frame rate is simply too jarring for the average moviegoer, and the technology hasn’t really been perfected yet, despite having a year to fix all of the bugs. I could go on with this, but that would be another issue entirely, so for now, I’m going to try to stay on topic (no promises).
The plot of this movie picks up almost immediately where the first one left off. Bilbo and co. are still trying to make their way to the Lonely Mountain, where Thorin Oakenshield can reclaim the Arkenstone back from Smaug and claim his throne. The movie ultimately does follow the plotline of the book fairly well, but there are times when the screenplay simply feels too bloated, as in there are a few scenes inserted into the film that deal with an entirely new villain (in a confrontation that could lead to a major continuity error) that simply feel very, very unnecessary. Also unnecessary is the addition of a major character, Tauriel, played by Evangeline Lily. Don’t get me wrong, Lily is a great actress, but her character is not very well developed and creates a complicated romance situation that gets more and more awkward the longer the screenwriters drag it out. I don’t know, I feel like that the editor of this film could have cut around a half hour of the film and it would be more effective and taut because of it. On the other hand, the last half hour is devoted to the final confrontation with Smaug himself. This is the best part of the film as it is perfectly placed and it does a really good job in showcasing the main villain of the series. Not going to lie, Smaug is badass (and Benedict Cumberbatch’s voice is really the perfect match for the character as it is calm and terrifying at the same time). Unfortunately, the film does end on a really abrupt cliffhanger (to the point that people in the theater were groaning aloud) that actually backfires on the filmmakers as it just ends right before the climax of the series (*insert your own metaphor here*).
So, how were the characters? Well, Martin Freeman as Bilbo is obviously the best actor on screen. The man is the perfect Bilbo and I have nary a single complaint against his performance. Ian McKellan as Gandalf is reliable as always, Richard Armitage lends his gravitas as before as Thorin. All of the cast for the company of dwarves play their parts well, but it is not to the film’s benefit as there are so many of the damn dwarves that I cannot tell who is playing them, or what their names are, for that matter (not a good sign). Orlando Bloom is back as Legolas, who does nothing in the film but kick ass and take names (or the other way around). Finally, Luke Evans (Fast and Furious 6) plays Bard the Bowman with a nice intensity, which shows that he is capable of tackling weightier roles than trashy action flicks.
Being a Middle-Earth film, were the action scenes any good? Errr…..yes and no. The Smaug fight was perfect in my opinion so that gets a plus. And there is one fight with giant spiders that is quite effective in regards to the tone and environment. The negatives, on the other hand, all have to do with any fight that involves Orcs in this film. Much like the last film, all of the Orcs are CGI during the fight scenes instead of using traditional makeup and prosthetics like the first trilogy. Let’s face it, this is some really shitty CGI. I cannot begin to think how effects this bad slipped through the dailies. Did they seriously think that these characters look real? Hell, Mass Effect 3 had better graphics than this, and that was a damn video game! The Orcs look awkward when standing still, but they look blurry and unnatural when fighting against their real life opponents. You can tell that the actors are just rehearsing a choreographed move set on a soundstage. Which reminds me, several of the backgrounds in this movie also look like crap: there’s just a distinct level of fakeness whenever the camera pans to the background. It just does not look natural. It’s sometimes hard to believe that the company responsible for these effects, Weta Digital, was also responsible for the eye popping visual treat that was Avatar. Oh well.
Addendum: The musical score worked well in combination with the film. Call me an idiot (or something stronger if you care to) but I have never cared for Howard Shore’s work for Lord of the Rings. Don’t get me wrong, I thought that music worked phenomenally with the film universe but it just never clicked with me as it did for so many people. With that being said, I feel that this was Shore’s weakest contribution to the series as there were not many new themes that were written for the film, and the dwarves “Misty Mountains” theme baffingly does not make an appearance. Make of that what you will, I’m sure the thousands of soundtrack purchases will prove me wrong at any case.
Despite its flaws, I thought that The Desolation of Smaug was a much better movie than An Unexpected Journey. The plot for this film was already in place and we didn’t need 40 minutes to get started, which helped deal with the film’s long running time. With the film’s abrupt ending and by using process of elimination on what scenes in the book the film has not shown yet, it is inferred that the third entry in this series is going to be quite epic indeed. If they can dispense with the bad CGI and trim that film so that the pacing isn’t ruined, they can end this turbulent production on a high note.
Final Score: 70/100