If you’re not a fan of the first film, don’t bother with this one. If you liked the first one with a “meh”, then don’t bother with this one, or at least lower your expectations. If you absolutely adored the first one, you obviously are going to see this one, and you understand that this is the second part of a trilogy that is going to be epic. Book-purists can go make their own movie and stop crapping on this one.
There, easiest review ever. Beyond this point are my thoughts. Again, if you have no interest, why bother? SPOILERS beyond this point.
Background first: I ADORE the first film. I recognise why other people don’t, but I just enjoy every minute of it. It fills me with excitement, wonder, and a thirst for adventure like I haven’t felt since the days of the first trilogy’s premiere. I wrote a blog post about why exactly that is.
It should also be noted that I don’t care about the book. I’m a massive Tolkien nerd, but I do not care about The Hobbit book. I read it when I was a teenager, and I hated it. I liked the animated movie well enough as a kid, but I wanted to read about mystical elves and grim dwarves, and The Hobbit did not have that.
Enough background! The movie: holy shit, that’s a lot of movie. Not just in terms of characters, plot, rollercoaster pacing and action, but just so much MOVIE. I think it’s a combination of the incredible CGI, good 3D and higher frame-rate that just leaves me breathless with every shot. I think I could watch two hours of establishing shots of Middle-Earth and be content. Whenever we enter a new environment my eyes are flickering all over the screen to try and breathe it all in. It is a beautiful movie, and we know these guys do set-pieces right.
I don’t even think I can pick a favourite. My head was spinning when we entered the hall of Thranduil. I was bouncing with glee as we flew over Laketown, and I think my jaw might have fallen open at the sight of Erebor. The child in me who discovered the maps of Middle-Earth and Beleriand was giddy, despite the many, many tiny oddities in the topography. I was always seeing mountains in directions where there shouldn’t be.
My next favourite thing was the characters. Smaug, of course, tops the list. He is the King of this movie. I loved the design, the dialogue, the voice acting (!!), and the way he moved. Maybe it’s the higher frame-rate, but all the CGI characters move so realistically, especially compared to Gollum from the first trilogy. The best moment with Smaug was at the very end when he was enthralled by the golden statue (was it of Thrain? I don’t know). It was a perfect character moment.
The other characters: I love them all. I was a bit annoyed at the scene when they just turn around after losing the “last light” of Durin’s Day, but I guess they were pretty let down after the long journey came to nought. Apart from that, all the development we saw in the first film really paid off now. I did miss a bit more interaction here and there, mainly between Bilbo and specific dwarves. We did get the scene with Balin near the end, which was sweet, and the one with Thorin after that was great.
I have to comment on the love-story. Make all the Gnomeo and Juliet jokes you want, I love this idea, I love the two they picked to do it, and I love the execution. I want to walk in a pride parade for inter-species couples! Kili and Tauriel can go have tea with Vastra and Jenny (the lesbian, lizard/human, sword-wielding, married couple from Doctor Who), and exchange fighting techniques. Their first-meeting was sweet. Tauriel was established as an outsider with different values, and a more curious personality than young!Legolas, and Kili was- well, Kili.
After their brief “who’s that” in the forest, we get the scene with Kili’s rune-stone. I love any scene where the characters of Tolkien’s world discuss the differences in their cultures. It doesn’t happen often, so when it does, I am over the moon. Then comes the healing scene, and I love that they mirrored the healing scene from Fellowship. Let’s face it: who wouldn’t fall in love with an angelic being who saves you from becoming a wraith. My only real “Christ, that was a bit much” was her reaction at finding Athelas. She just kind of stops and weirdly goes wide-eyed. Just go and heal him, don’t stand around like a teenager who finally decided to ask a boy to prom.
I could mention a lot of smaller characters: Stephen Fry was hilarious, Beorn was badass and tragic, Bard was just the right type of reluctant hero, and the Necromancer was really awesome (loved the effect of Sauron actually being the center of his own eye).
The one group of “characters” I did NOT LIKE AT ALL were the spiders. They scared the crap out of me, and they proved just how good the CGI is, combined with the frame-rate and 3D. Let me explain.
I have fairly severe arachnophobia, but I am not afraid of any other type of bug. In order to function day-to-day, I need to be able to identify a spider from a beetle immediately. Which means CGI spiders have never freaked me out. My brain knows they’re fake.
I know the spiders in The Desolation of Smaug are fake too, but my arachnophobia did not. I screamed out loud and had to keep my eyes firmly closed until the end. I tried to sneak a peak, but they were too realistic. Congratulation, Peter Jackson, you fooled my brain. I did not think it was possible.
The Desolation of Smaug is the second film in a trilogy, and like The Two Towers, it suffers in pacing because of it. There is a fairly good beginning, I admit, I loved the flashback, but the ending is really abrupt. I was so bummed when it ended, but when all three films can be watched back-to-back and those pacing issues are eliminated, I know I will have so much fun! I have yet to make a deep comparison with The Two Towers like I did between An Unexpected Journey and The Fellowship, that will come later.
The thing is, at least for me and my sister, we just don’t care about “book purity” to any degree whatsoever. I love the books, though I read the appendixes more, and the History of Middle Earth series. But I do not transfer those “facts” to my enjoyment of the film. Sure, maybe I would enjoy a film that did a scene-by-scene reconstruction of the story of Turin Turambar, but that doesn’t mean I can’t also enjoy a new version that changes things around a bit.
Most importantly: this is NEW. It has stuff happening in it that I do not know how will end, and after Christopher Tolkien published the last of the History books, I have not encountered anything new in the world of Tolkien outside fanfiction. In exchange to see a massive, blockbusting movie made with love and passion, I wouldn’t care if they made one of the dwarves a pretty lady-dwarf, as long as it was entertaining and fun and heartfelt.
This movie is all of those things. Of course, it has problems. I could name a few: Massive plot-holes, a little sequel-sickness, out-of-character lines, overly long fight-scenes, and weird CGI moments (but let’s not forget the original had those in spades – I’m looking at you, Legolas). But my enjoyment outweighs them all.
A couple of days ago my friends and I had out annual marathon of The Lord of the Rings. And as we do every year, we critizise the hell out of it! Almost no scene was watched in complete silence. There was always some bad green-screen, some laughable acting, a bit of forced action or just stuff we don’t like. Will we ever stop our yearly tradition? Hell no! Next year, we’re expanding it!
Should I even give a dice roll to a movie I know I’m not in a fit state to judge? Yes, because movies are made for fans, and I am a fan: 5 our of 6. Looking forward to next year.