I am a huge fan of all things Tolkien – I love the history, the backstories and the world that Tolkien, and Jackson, created.
The artistry in The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug, as with others in the series, is top notch. Weta workshops design and craftwork is gorgeous, and new innovations in digital compositing really make you believe what you are watching; for instance the key barrel-chase sequence.
Smaug is fantastically revealed and probably the best looking Dragon ever to be put on screen, voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch who gets amplified to booming levels.
The home of the Wood Elves is a fresh take on an Elven city - different from the established look of Rivendell and Lothlorien from previous films, but equally beautiful. The forests of Mirkwood are dark and atmospheric and the spiders that live there will scare the pants off anyone. The most visually refreshing location has to be Laketown, governed by a disgusting, decadent monarch character, portrayed by Stephen Fry.
What about the story?
Desolation of Smaug features many story deviations and additions to Tolkien’s original, most notably the subplot of Gandalf hunting an emerging apparition of Sauron and the Ringwraiths. (It was detailed in Tolkien’s appendices and notes) The addition of Tauriel, played by Evangeline Lilly, was exclusively written by the screenwriters to bring out an interesting interaction with the elves and dwarfs.
The pace is low at first, but this is something that is understood from the book, it’s not set piece after set piece, it’s a journey. There were aspects that were hastily abbreviated, most notably Beorn, the skinchanger. His sequence is heavily cut short, and became more of a set up device to keep the group moving on the journey.
Now let’s talk HFR (High Frame Rate)
HFR is double the normal frame rate of 24 frames a second; it gives a very real feeling and look to all on-screen movements. It can take some time to adjust your eyes to the new form; it feels too quick, or too smooth, almost like there is a stage with live actors in front of you. It’s what the The Hobbit was trying to achieve, it was distracting for almost an hour, but worked extremely well for the river chase.
Admittedly – I’m looking forward to seeing a regular 2D screening so that I can immerse myself in the movie experience some more, I’m not ready for the high frame rate in 3D.
The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug has worthy of a place in the Middle Earth saga; a solidly entertaining movie, with some incredible elements. An Unexpected Journey began the story so well, with a rounded ending, where Desolation of Smaug opens in the middle of the Dwarf company escaping the orcs, and ends on a cliffhanger.
A must see at 8.5/10 on the Hamilton Scale of Movie Appreciation*