wogma rating: Beg or borrow, but do watch (?)
With the second film of the Hobbit trilogy, The Desolation of Smaug, Peter Jackson amps it up and gives us yet another thrilling adventure ride of a film, and he leaves us gasping for what should be an unforgettable finale next year.Read more
Strange that just a year ago, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey was easily the most awaited film of the year, while the second film of the trilogy, The Desolation of Smaug, has arrived with not more than a whimper in comparison. Luckily, the film more than lives up to the promise shown by the first film, which, while being an engaging visual and emotional experience in itself, was more of a set up piece than anything else.
What is it about watching a bunch of souls on a dangerous quest for something that they believe in, the moral questions behind it be damned? What is it about the most basic concepts like courage, brotherhood, good and evil, which make a well-told story involving them become so immersive?
Yes, the Tolkien adaptations have the advantage of being adequately armed with fodder for spectacularly inviting imagery, but surely that can't be all? Surely it is more about the emotions evoked than about breathtakingly executed visuals?
This time, we rejoin Gandalf, Bilbo, Thorin and his band of Dwarves - less merrier this time round - as they continue on their quest that began in the previous film. Their destination, of course, is Erebor, the Lonely Mountain, where lies the great dreaded dragon, Smaug. Their journey, however, is fraught with peril.
What makes The Desolation of Smaug so much more engaging is that it is far darker than An Unexpected Journey, which actually had so much of understated humour in it. It also is far quicker paced, and it completely ups the action and adventure set pieces; so much that the first film actually seems rather tame in comparison.
Watch out, in particular, for one terrific, high-octane sequence involving Orcs, Elves, Dwarves and a raging river. It is easily one of the most jaw-droppingly imagined action scenes of the year - even better than the one where Wolverine had a bit of fun on the top of a Bullet Train earlier this year. This scene, and indeed, so many others in the film, make your heart surge quite like the river that was mentioned earlier. It helps that the 3D this time is even better. What remains to be seen is how this film looks in HFR.
The Desolation of Smaug also takes a lot more liberties with the source material than the previous film, but then that's something for only hardcore Tolkien fans to talk about. As far as it being the intermediate film in the trilogy goes, it is a bit of a roller coaster, giving you almost no time to breathe as the Dwarves and Bilbo hurtle towards their showdown with Smaug.
And when Smaug is finally shown in all his glory; well, what can one say? Superbly voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch, Smaug the dragon has been designed and executed with such persona and awe that it is hard to take your eyes off him. If Gandalf and Thorin were the scene-stealers in An Unexpected Journey, The Desolation of Smaug belongs to Smaug.
It won't be surprising, however, if the film manages to exhaust at least some part of the audience. The fact remains that it hardly ever eases up on the action, and most of the action scenes are quite long as well. The film, despite its fast pace, would have been far more appreciated if it was shorter - at least a couple of action scenes chopped out would surely not have hurt.
While I'm personally not complaining - l loved every bit of the high energy portions of the film - it would have perhaps made more sense for the film to be slightly less bloated with all that action. Remember, Jackson has already been under fire for making a relatively tiny book into three whole films.
Luckily, the film ends on a high - you're left with bated breath for the final chapter of the trilogy. Danger is brewing in Middle Earth, and The Desolation of Smaug literally leave you right at the brink of it. If Peter Jackson now intends to take the adventure up a notch, then The Hobbit: There and Back Again is poised to be a true epic.
Update: HFR Viewing
This time round, Peter Jackson and Co seem to have taken cognizance of and fixed at least some of the issues that An Unexpected Journey had with its HFR. In The Desolation of Smaug, the 'fakeness', which was a major complaint about the look of the first film, has actually gone down. That TV-like quality because of the sharpness and smooth frame rate is also lesser. And of course, the big plus point of HFR - better visibility in fast action scenes - works well for this film, which has enough action going for it. All in all, HFR isn't quite perfect yet, but baby steps are being made, in case filmmakers are serious about it as a long-term technical innovation in cinema.
This article is by guest author Pradeep Menon. Pradeep is a filmmaker and a dreamer. He loves books, rain, winters, tea and his parents. Cinema, however, is the only truth he believes in. He breathes and bleeds film, mostly in hues of saffron, white, green and blue. You can watch his short films at www.youtube.com/cyberpradeep.
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