We had our time to whine and complain about The Hobbit even being made into a full trilogy of films, but that time has come to an end. Even though these pictures aren't necessary, they have become an inevitable reality, so might as well give it a chance before completely shutting it down. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey was decent, but nothing spectacular. I was hoping that the remainder of the trilogy would not follow in its poorly-paced footsteps. On December 13th, Warner Bros. will be bringing writer/director Peter Jackson's vision of the next portion of J.R.R. Tolkien's masterpiece to the big screen. The second part of this trilogy is banking on the fact that people will be excited to see this story get stronger with each entry, which held true for The Lord of the Rings. Even though this still isn't as good as the first trilogy in the early 2000s, this is most certainly a step in the right direction. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is an absolute blast that has fixed a lot of the issues found in the previous picture.
The journey continues with an unlikely team of heroes that have set out to reclaim Erebor, their homeland, from the all-powerful Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch). Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) is the hobbit that fits the role of the thief to steal from the living dragon. Little does the rest of his team know that he's in possession of the mysterious and magical ring that he took from Gollum. The leader of their team, Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellen) goes off course in order to fight the very darkness that threatens the world. They soon realize that they will need the help from every race, and more, if they ever hope to defeat the great darkness that will soon overtake all of the lands.
There has been a running joke for many years from those who don't enjoy this series of books and films regarding the journey itself. One of the first questions I have been asked by people after seeing this was, is there a lot of walking again? There's still quite a bit of trudging through forests and across paths, yes. While a lot of it could have been left on the cutting room floor, it wouldn't feel like the adventure that it is. Evil constantly seduces our heroes to leave their path and get lost in a trance that will leave them cold and lifeless. This is the main intention through showing a lot of the walking, although I'm still convinced that the other reason is to boast the visuals. Regardless, the story is still being told, so don't expect an all-out war on the scale of The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. The tales are still unravelling and a lot of the characters are still telling their backstories. However, Peter Jackson and co. don't allow this picture to go without any action. The orcs continue to follow the protagonists from one place to the next, with the intention of killing each one of them. As this danger comes upon each village, audiences are introduced to a batch of insanely entertaining action sequences. One of the most impressive happening down the rapids of a fast-moving stream. Get ready for some orcs fighting dwarves, elves, and a hobbit at the same time!
Even through the more subtle scenes, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug has a much better sense of pacing that keeps it moving. Unlike its predecessor, my mind was captive to this film's plot throughout. Gandalf explores numerous environments, as he ventures the darkness of the curses that threaten the entire world. This team of writers don't need to have constant battles in order to keep their audiences engaged. While some of the dialogue is intentionally cheesy, the majority of it holds its own fairly well. As expected, the film is humorous when it wants to be. There are a lot of gags against the stereotypes of dwarves that will surely gain some laughs from moviegoers. This works extremely well in bringing a change of tone to the picture every now and then. While the team continues to fight towards the mountain in which Smaug is underneath, they encounter a wide variety of different people and creatures. It's all a matter of being able to tell the difference between friend and foe. Of course, a lot goes wrong along the way. A lot of this film isn't entirely necessary, but it still makes for a fun time at the cinema.
Despite having Smaug's name in the title, he's the antagonist held for the third act of the feature. This dangerous dragon makes for a meaty portion of the running time, as Bilbo attempts to sneak around the beat's chamber without being detected. Once the group is faced with the task of fighting off the dragon, they're forced to draw deep inside themselves in order to find the bravery and courage needed to at least put up a fight. There's plenty of running around and fighting here, but Smaug gets quite a bit of time to speak with Bilbo before things start spinning out of control. Not only is the dragon threatening in size, appearance, and name, but is actually rather witty in his dialogue. This makes for a great final act that pulls everything together. A lot of action and fantasy flicks make the unfortunate mistake of never making us feel as if our heroes are in any danger. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug had me at the edge of my seat throughout its climax, wanting to see how Jackson would handle this epic third act. Fortunately, he succeeded in making Smaug fit the expectations that have been built-up prior.
Writer/director Peter Jackson returns with the cast that has started the journey, and also added a few more. Martin Freeman has come back to portray Bilbo Baggins. He fits into this character extremely well, and handles the tone transitions with ease. I have never been much of a fan of the hobbits in these pictures, but he actually manages to make this one likable. Ian McKellen is just as great as one would expect him to be in the role of Gandalf. He has the iconic voice that fits into the epic nature of this wizard. The entire team of protagonists bounces chemistry off of one another extremely well in order to create both tension and humor, when necessary. At my press screening, the room appeared to have brightened up when Orlando Bloom took the screen as Legolas. Regardless of your opinions of the actor, he fits into the role of this elf rather well. Benedict Cumberbatch does a wonderful job behind Smaug. There isn't a single poor performance to report here, as Jackson had the fortune of working with a wonderful cast filled with talent.
Entry after entry, Peter Jackson never ceases to amaze. He has a clear vision that works extremely well for these motion pictures. Jackson doesn't necessarily go for what looks the most realistic, but ensures that it has a storybook feel that resonates with the tale being told. Every environment looks absolutely phenomenal. Whether it's portraying the beauty of an open field or the darkness of a cursed forest, Jackson continues to surprise his viewers with stunning visuals. When Smaug takes the screen, the post-production team have ensured that he looks as menacing and epic as one would imagine. The audio track simply matches the excellence of the visuals seen on the screen. The sound of Smaug setting the chambers ablaze are unbelievably clear and aggressive. The 3D in the press screenings were in 24fps, which I personally prefer over the higher frame rate. After attending the screening for The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey in 48fps last year, it looked far too much like a soap opera on daytime television. After seeing the sequel in 24fps, the 3D looks quite good. However, it isn't entirely necessary to make this a great moviegoing experience, but it will surely impress those who are fans of the format. There's a strong amount of depth throughout, but the 3D format simply isn't for me.
After getting the chance to see The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, I'm glad to report that it's an improvement over its predecessor. While it still doesn't match the excellent found in The Lord of the Rings, it's still an exciting moviegoing experience that left me wanting more. Once the screen went black and the credits started rolling, nearly everybody in my press screening groaned at precisely the same moment. This is when you know that audiences were truly immersed in this captivating world of action, adventure, and fantasy. The journey of walking through forests is to be expected, but the pacing is much better this time around. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is a thrilling fantasy film that already has me excited for the final entry of the trilogy. Highly recommended!