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The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug •••1/2

MV5BMzU0NDY0NDEzNV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwOTIxNDU1MDE@._V1_SY317_CR0,0,214,317_Starring: Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage
Director: Peter Jackson
Screenplay: Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson, Guillermo del Toro
Action/Adventure/Fantasy, Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 161 minutes
Release Date: December 13, 2013



(Dr. Scott Allison, Professor of Psychology, University of Richmond)

Well, Greg, we just saw yet another installment of The Hobbit movie franchise.

You mean the second installment of three from a novel that was ⅓ the size of The Lord of the Rings? Ok. Let’s recap…

Our hero, Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), has been recruited by the Dwarves, led by King Thorin (Richard Armitage), to steal the Arkenstone from the dragon-guarded mountain. There are, of course, many obstacles in their way. Evil Orcs are after them and attack frequently. A huge house owned by a man who transforms into a large bear becomes their brief refuge. Later, huge, vicious spiders almost eat them. Bilbo and the dwarves are then captured by elves, and the beautiful and dangerous She-Elf, Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly) falls in love with the handsome dwarf Kili (Aidan Turner).

Well that covers about the first half of the film. This was an action-packed recreation of the classic Tolkien novel, “The Hobbit”. The Desolation of Smaug is the second installment of Peter Jackson’s reimagining of the middle part of the book. As such it had more action and engagement than the first installment.

Our heroes make their way into the king’s mountain where the great dragon Smaug lies sleeping in a sea of gold and gems. Scott, the animation in this film is amazing. Smaug looks less like a CGI image and more like a real animal. Peter Jackson’s animation crew have really outdone themselves.

I agree, Greg. The visuals in this movie are sheer brilliance. The production value is unsurpassed, and one wonders what movies two decades from now can possibly do to exceed what we see on the screen today. I had the good fortune to watch Desolation of Smaug in 3D, and the experience was mind-blowing.

But what about substance? There certainly is no shortage of interesting characters. I wouldn’t say that these characters are complex or mysterious in any way, but nor are they one-dimensional either. They serve their roles in commendable fashion. The plot is definitely action-driven as our heroes are subjected to one terrifying situation after another, and somehow are able to extricate themselves either through magic, their own cleverness, or both.

I know I’m going to catch a lot of flack for this from the fantasy crowd, but there are just too many characters to keep track of. I found the dwarves to be virtually interchangeable. With one or two notable exceptions most of the dwarves are unnecessary to the story. In fact, they are so unnecessary that when we reach the climax of this segment, half the party is left behind. So much of what happens in this story is world building for the purpose of world building alone.

That being said, I can now understand why Peter Jackson expanded his version of the classic into 3 parts. It’s a complex story with a lot of moving parts. The only way to do it justice is either gut the original story, or take a leisurely time telling the story in immense detail. And of course Jackson chose the latter. I had to remind myself that this story was going to take another two hours to tell as I was watching so that I didn’t get discouraged wondering where the story was going. This is the middle part of a 6-hour epic.

You’re right, there’s a lot going on here, and the movie clocks in at 161 bladder-bursting minutes. As Greg knows, I pride myself at never having to take a bathroom break during a movie, but The Desolation of Smaug truly tested my tank. And yes, there are many characters, all of them doing many things, with many villains and sidekicks and monsters lurking everywhere. You either have to buy into this complex world and appreciate it, or not. Personally, I’m a buyer. But I’d prefer a trimmed down version of this movie that doesn’t leave me frantically crossing my legs for the last half-hour.

TMI, perhaps? The action is great as well. The elf-orc battles are amazing and could only be choreographed in a computer. And, as with all middle installments (remember The Empire Strikes Back) we’re left hanging.

There is a theme to this middle installment: sins of the father. There are many characters who have father figures who either have fallen or failed to live up to the expectations of those around them. And the sons of the fathers are on the hook to redeem these father figures. Tolkien clearly understood mythology as this is a common theme since antiquity.

For me, all these Hobbit movies are an opportunity to turn my brain off and just witness a visual feast that tells of a great adventure in a strange world. There are many, many fight scenes that involve physical feats that simply cannot happen in the universe that we inhabit, but we let it slide because we know this is a fantasy genre. So, with these expectations in mind, I believe Smaug accomplishes what it sets out to do, and therefore I award it 3 Reels out of 5.

The hero story is somewhat difficult to grade as this installment is but a small part of a larger whole. Bilbo doesn’t really evolve or change much. He’s loveable and capable, and he rather enjoys being underestimated by all those around him. There are many fine characters supporting him and challenging him, and as you note, Greg, there are plenty of classic elements of the hero journey in place, such as mentors, father figures, and love interests. I’m going to award Bilbo a solid 3 Heroes out of 5.

Movie: reel-3 Hero: superman-3

Scott, this is one of those rare times when I wish I could give a half-point score. The production values of this movie are off the scale. The story itself is time-tested and (with the exception of previously non-existent love triangle) keeps to the original. But it is the middle part of a larger story and can be confusing to keep all the players in mind. So I wish I could award 3.5 Reels – but as Smaug is amazing storytelling I’ll give the tie to the runner and score it 4 out of 5 Reels.

Unlike you, I had no trouble finding the heroic themes in this story. I can see where the classic mythical atonement with the father is being set up in not just one thread but in three. And Bilbo is growing. He even states it in the trailer – “I found something back in the cave – my courage.” It is a challenge to treat the hero’s journey well for one character, but to keep the threads straight with so many is genius. And then to convey that complexity in the confines of a motion picture is super genius. My hat off to Bilbo and the rest of the heroes in this story: 4 out of 5 Heroes.

Movie: reel-4 Hero: superman-4

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