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A Hard Hobbit to Break – A review of The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Updated on December 23, 2013
Martin Freeman stars as Bilbo Baggins in Peter Jackson's adaptation of The Hobbit.  Part II is called The Desolation of Smaug
Martin Freeman stars as Bilbo Baggins in Peter Jackson's adaptation of The Hobbit. Part II is called The Desolation of Smaug

Title: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Production Company: New Line

Run Time: 161 minutes

Rated: PG-13

Director: Peter Jackson

Stars: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellan, Richard Armitage, Benedict Cumberbatch, Cate Blanchett, Hugo Weaving, Orlando Bloom

5 stars for The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Summary: Bilbo, Gandalf and the thirteen dwarves are back on their quest to remove Smaug the Dragon from the dwarven home of Edoras. Orlando Bloom returns as Legolas and he’s a welcome addition to this cast.

Not too long ago, several Hollywood moguls agreed that, although J.R.R. Tolkien’s books were masterworks of fiction, it would be impossible to bring them to the big screen in any way short of animation simply due to the sheer enormity of the special effects required to tell the stories.

Ralph Bakshi went broke in the ‘70’s trying to bring the animated adventure of Lord of the Rings to life. They completed the first book and drastically condensed the second. The third chapter was completed, not by Bakshi, but by Rankin and Bass (who are better known for their monumental trove of Christmas animated classics).

Then, along came Peter Jackson and the master magicians of WETA workshop. They not only had a plan to make The Lord of the Rings. They were going to make it live action.

People said he was nuts. They were probably right, but that didn’t stop him. And the results were magnificent. It was only a matter of time before he set his sights on making the prequel, The Hobbit.

Now interestingly enough, The Hobbit can probably be done as one movie, given the shorter length of the original tale. Jackson has decided to make it in three parts. That raised more than a few eyebrows. Including mine.

So far though, he is meeting or exceeding those expectations. The first movie was great and so is this installment. Enough action has been added to keep viewers riveted through the two and three-quarter hour running time.

And the effects? Well, let’s just say that the WETA workshop people have outdone themselves, managing to bring not only Middle Earth to life, but a monstrous dragon as well.

For those who may not yet be indoctrinated into the story as of yet, Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) joins with a company of dwarves led by Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) as they try to reclaim their underground home which has been seized by the aforementioned dragon along with all of their considerable horde of gold.

The master wizard Gandalf (Sir Ian McKellan) also joins their company, lending his wisdom and magic to the quest. It will be needed, too, since the party is being hunted by orcs, dreadfully nasty creatures bent on devouring our company of stalwarts.

And then there’s the dragon, which has been brilliantly brought to life not only by special effects wizards, but by the masterful voice of Benedict Cumberbatch, better knows as Khan in last summer’s Star Trek installment. He brings just the right level of taunt and menace that Smaug needs.

The dwarves don’t trust elves (and vice versa) yet the party is shadowed by a couple of them, including Legolas (Orlando Bloom) who still, through the magic of special effects, can make any stuntman jealous. He moves through leaps and bounds, killing the dastardly orcs with impunity in defense of the dwarven company.

And then there is the new elven addition Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly) who Legolas dotes upon. She appears, however, to only have eyes for one of the dwarves, even though the union would, more than likely, be frowned upon by both cultures.

The rich texture of the Tolkien universe ultimately comes to life in ways one could only imagine 30 years ago. Jackson and his company of misfits have indeed done it again, bringing another chapter in the legacy to life.

If the film suffers from one shortcoming, it’s still overlong and you can definitely see the embellishments that were added to increase the length of the story. While I’m not complaining personally, I can see where many moviegoers might choose to wait for the home video version where pausing for bathroom breaks can be highly desirable.

On a personal note, I saw this movie in the 48 frame digital 3-D variant and this film looks marvelous. Right from the opening scene, the imagery almost literally jumps off the screen and envelopes the viewer and viscerally draws them in.

The technology isn’t perfect, though. You almost have to be seated directly center screen for the effect to work throughout the movie. If you are sitting too low or too far to one side or the other, the effect becomes murky.

Overall, though, this film will absolutely whet your appetite for what’s in store in the third and final chapter. And that is a whole year away.

I give The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug 4-1/2 out of 5 stars.

What's your favorite Middle Earth Peter Jackson movie to date?

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