Thursday, December 19, 2013

Movie Review: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013)

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is an improvement over the first film. It adds a new character and story elements that occurred outside of The Hobbit novel and embellishes some sequences a fair bit, but overall it’s a solid movie. I recommend seeing it in 3D.

In this installment, our intrepid band of wizard, hobbit, and dwarves must complete the final leg of their journey to the Lonely Mountain. Alas, Gandalf makes like a tree and leaves, so the little people face giant spiders, hostile but beautiful elves, despairing humans, and of, course, Smaug – on their own.

This movie has three things going for it. First, the graphics are impeccable. Everything looks gorgeous, creepy, and/or appropriately fantastic. The fight sequences seamlessly blend human actors/stuntmen and women with CGI.

Which leads to the second positive: the fight sequences. Thankfully, no mind-blowingly huge armies are shown marching or fighting. It’s just a bunch of dudes (plus Evangeline Lilly!) duking it out in various locations. The choreographers get really creative with Legolas again. The elf prince, whose achievements include walking on top of snow (LotR I), using a shield like a skateboard (LotR II) and killing a mûmakil by himself (LotR III), shows that wild waters cannot detract from elegance. His crush, a made-up character and 600+ year old Captain of the Guard Thauriel (Lilly), is much less flamboyant but no less effective. Meanwhile, the dwarves and Bilbo prove themselves to be scrappy, resilient fighters time and again.

Finally, the added non-book elements make the story in the movie richer and more cohesive. Audiences have more opportunities to sympathize with the populist barge/bowman Bard (Luke Evans), to despise the haughty sylvan elven king Thranduil (Lee Pace) for his unfair cheekbones and flawless skin, to snicker delightedly at the surprise casting of the lord of Lake Town, and to bathe in the glory that is Smaug, voiced by nerd-heartthrob Benedict Cumberbatch.

Smaug is the undisputed star of this film, not surprising given the title. He’s the best dragon you will see on screen. Ever. He is legit evil and super fabulous. Only my iron self-control kept me from yelling “DO NOT WANT!” whenever he shoved his face menacingly into the camera. This circles us back to film strength #1: the excellent graphics. Probably 99% of the graphics budget went into Smaug, and it shows. While Fragrant Husband and I had some disagreements about dragon physics and physiology after the film, we both agreed that there should be more Smaug.

I propose a Christmas movie starring this wonderful dragon. We shall call it Smaug Actually. The film will track Smaug as he tries his luck with various femme dragons – one will be more into gold than he is, another is secretly the mother of a brood of dragonlets with different fathers, one is torn between him and her commitment to her job (eating all the livestock), and the last has been his best friend since they were eggs. They will all be strong female dragon characters and the script will pass the Bechdel test with flying colors.

In conclusion: If I were younger and less bitter, I would love the crap out of this movie. Strongly back-lit elven character chanting a healing spell? Gimme gimme. A wise old wizard taking on a fortress of evil all by his lonesome? Heck yeah. Armored folks fighting just because? Sure!

As it is, I deem this movie…acceptable. Even good.

Now go forth, and imagine the script for Smaug Actually!

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