Many beloved fantasy worlds depend on small and big details to make us believe and accept them, and the Middle-Earth, that enchantingly bountiful world of J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Hobbit” and “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy, is no exception. While the story itself is already big and wide to encompass lots of things, Tolkien surrounded his story with an epic amount of historical, cultural, and geological details for creating a vivid, believable reality for his fantasy world, and that is the one of the main reasons why the Middle-Earth has been beloved and admired by many fans for years.
While “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” reminded me again of how wondrous that world is, the movie has the same problem “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey”(2012) suffered. Compared to the long starting process in the previous film, the movie rolls faster along the plot as the middle part of the trilogy, but the movie still feels bloated and dragged sometimes – and neither 3D nor high frame rate compensates for that.
After the opening scene showing how Thorin Oakenshield(Richard Armitage) happened to encounter Gandalf(Ian McKellen) before they began their journey to the Lonely Mountain with other 12 dwarves and Bilbo Baggins(Martin Freeman) in the previous film, the movie goes straight to where the previous film ended. While still chased by those nasty Orcs, they manage to find shelter and get some help from Beorn(Mikael Persbrandt), but there are more dangers on their way, and Thorin and others become more vulnerable especially after Gandalf temporarily leaves them for some urgent matter to deal with.
But they have Bilbo, a timid hobbit who has found unexpected courage and resourcefulness inside him while going through the journey with them. Using an elvish sword and a mysterious ring he happened to acquire in the previous film, he rises to the occasion to save him and others, and the first hour of the movie passes by as they tumble around several action scenes including the one featuring the big, monstrous spiders inhabiting in the dark forest. I must say they become less scary when they talk in squeaky voices, but these big bugs will certainly make you cringe if you don’t like spiders much.
Around the point when Bilbo and dwarves see the Lonely Mountain more clearly than before, the movie is already stuffed with lots of matters to be handled. Besides a bunch of the Orcs persistently chasing after them, we also have 1) the elf king Thranduil(Lee Pace) and other elves including Legolas(Orlando Bloom) and Tauriel(Evangeline Lilly), 2) the people of Laketown including a glum bargeman named Bard(Luke Evans) and selfish Master of Laketown(Stephen Fry), and 3) a dark, fearful entity embarking on the evil plan of regaining his power(I’m sure many of you already know who that is, by the way).
And there is Smaug(voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch), that vicious dragon who has occupied the underground palace in the Lonely Mountain while resting in the heaps of gold and other treasures like spa guests resting themselves in mud bath. Using Bilbo’s newly emerged burglar skill, Thorin and dwarves plan to steal a certain precious jewel to restore Thorin’s royal position, but Smaug is not an easy opponent, and there is a tense scene where Bilbo must depend on his wits during his encounter with Smaug, who does not mind playing a cat-and-mouse game before having a little night snack.
I was not bored as enjoying its good moments, but the movie still looks problematic to me. While a few parts in Tolkien’s book were handled more briefly than expected, the screenplay by the director Peter Jackson and his co-writers did lots of expansion/insertion jobs on the story, and many of these expanded/inserted elements feel like merely existing for filling its long running time rather than bringing something new into the story. The movie understandably leaves behind many unfinished businesses to be resolved in the next film to come, but its expected cliffhanger ending feels abrupt with no sense of momentary closure, and that certainly made me and some audiences unsatisfied when the movie was over.
Furthermore, 3D and high frame rate are again the major source of distraction, and I kept getting that familiar distracting impression during my viewing although it was less awkward compared to the previous film. Its 3D effect looks fairly good, and the landscapes of the Middle Earth may look more vivid due to high frame rate, but the actors and special effects do not look that real in contrast because everything looks so unforgivingly clear and apparent in the 3D HFR version. To be frank with you, I occasionally felt like staring at the actors in front of the camera, not the characters on the screen.
I am reluctant about recommending the movie, though I was entertained by it to some degrees. Ian McKellen has less screen time than before, but he always attracts our attention whenever he appears on the screen, and Martin Freeman gives an engaging lead performance as the center of the story while not engulfed by its overblown scope. I must confess that I still do not know which dwarf is Bifur or Bofur, but some of Thorin’s colleagues look a little more distinguishable from each other in this time, and there is even a romantic subplot involving with Kili(Aidan Turner) and Tauriel. He may be short, but he looks handsome, so we do not need much explanation for why this lovely elf girl suddenly finds herself attracted to a dwarf guy she has never met before.
Although I am glad to see that the Middle-Earth is still a nice place to look around, “The Hobbit: the Desolation of Smaug” is as overlong and redundant as the previous film, and I am afraid we will probably get the same thing in the next year. Due to my distraction with 3D and high frame rate, I am now wondering whether my opinion can be changed a bit after watching it again in 2D, but I don’t expect much about that.