Saturday, December 14, 2013
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug 
CNS/USCCB (J. Mulderig) review
ChicagoTribune (M. Phillips) review
RE.com (S. O'Malley) review
AVClub (A.A. Dowd) review
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug  (directed and screenplay cowritten by Peter Jackson along with Fran Walsh, Philipa Boyens and Guillermo del Toro) is part two of a three part series of films based on J.R.R. Tolkien's [IMDb] novel The Hobbit [Amazon] planned to be released over the course of the next several years.
Part I, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey , caused controversy among many movie critics who questioned the value of expanding Tolkien's relatively short work here into a three part film of the scale of Jackson's earlier effort/triumph putting (also in three parts) Tolkien's far larger Lord of the Rings [Amazon] trilogy on screen. Putting the LOTR on screen in three part made sense, the argument went, as Tolkien himself wrote the story that way. In contrast, The Hobbit was written in one volume and was shorter than any of the three volumes of the LOTR trilogy. Commercial motives (ya think ... ;-) were suggested expanding Tolkien's original The Hobbit [Amazon] into Jackson's three part big-time Hollywood-backed cinematic opus.
As I wrote in my review of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey  I REALLY DON'T CARE: "If one was at all enamored by (or perhaps more fittingly here, _enchanted_ by ;-) the LOTR series, then just bask in the opportunity to spend a few extra hours in the "Middle Earth" of these films because the New Zealand location, the CGI and the cinematography in general are once again simply AWESOME. I saw the cheapest possible version of this movie that I could see (the 2D and presumably 24 frame/sec version) and I still was awed. And I would imagine that _this time_ the 3D, 3D IMAX and 48 frames/sec versions would be _well worth the price_." And I continue to stand by that assessment including that the 3D here would probably be worth the additional price (whereas in so many other cases, the 3D is IMHO largely/just a price gauging gimmick).
IMHO more interesting questions involve how closely do Peter Jackson's films follow Tolkien's original and where they depart. Here I would encourage parents to have their kids read The Hobbit in either Kindle or Paperback version (perhaps as part of a deal of going then to see the film in 3D ...) or read the book to them if your kids are still too small to read such a book. I write this because most of the key scenes in the films do come straight from the book:
Gandalf [IMDb]'s (played by Ian McKellen) "unexpected invitation" to hobbit Bilbo [IMDb] (played by Martin Freeman), the adorable "guess how many dwarves are suddenly over at Bilbo's for dinner" scene as well as the "let's now put aside the silliness and sing our haunting ballad of the Lonely Mountain" scene that ends that dinner present in the first film to say nothing of Bilbo's encounter with the Gollum [IMDb] (played by Andy Serkis) as well as their initial encounters with goblins and trolls all come from the book. And this second film includes passing through a dark enchanted wood, encounters with a shape-shifting Bear-Man, giant spiders, wood elves, the "barrel scene" (those who've read the book will know what I mean) and eventual travel to "Lake Town" before finally reaching the dwarves' former lair at "The Lonely Mountain" which the Dragon Smaug had conquered and now occupied.
On the flip side, additions (both positive and negative) include: more, arguably incessant, fighting (with Goblins) in Jackson's Part II of the story that was present in Tolkien's original. Further, both the Wood Elves and the people of Lake Town are more developed in Jackson's films than in Tolkien's version. In particular, Lake Town's resident Bard (played by Luke Evans) who plays a significant role in Tolkien's original is given a family (a wife and kids) and Galadriel [IMDb] (played by Cate Blanchett) a female wood-elf is painted into a story which in Tolkien's original version contained almost no female roles (except for occasional reference to Biblo's long deceased grandmother who apparently belonged to a clan of rather adventurous hobbits). There's also an interesting (and perhaps questionable) addition in Jackson's portrayal of some of the "politics" present in Lake Town. Apparently, the rather despotic (Medici / Macchiavelli-like?) leader of Lake Town (which looks a lot like Middle Earth version of Venice) had instituted a rather tight regime of "gun control" in the town, making the town's people feel rather defenseless against, well, such beasties as the Dragon Smaug ...
With the exception of that somewhat silly "gun control" addition to the story, I continued to find the story very entertaining and certainly if seen in a manner which included reading Tolkein's original either before or after going out to see the film, overwhelmingly positive fare for families especially ones with small boys. (To families with small girl's I'd probably recommend Disney's recent release Frozen  instead ;-). In any case, it's certainly a film worthy seeing as a family this time of year.
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