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The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

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Scott Roberts
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
on Dec 18, 2013 at 1:12:20 am







Premise: Bilbo and the dwarves are back for another adventure! Woo hoo! This time they try to answer the important question: What has Orlando Bloom been up to since the last time we saw him? My guess was that he's was in Lord of the Rings 10 years ago, then he was in the Pirates of the Caribbean movies after that, and somewhere in the middle he was in that one movie with a terrible name that no one saw, Elizabethtown. The real answer to that question (after looking him up on Wikipedia) is he's been in almost twenty movies since Return of the King, 90% of which I've never heard of. I don't know why I decided to bring down Orlando Bloom to start this off, I wasn't planning on it, it just sort of happened. Anyway, it's nice to see Legolas again.



Pros:

-The general consensus with anyone who has seen this movie, and a thought that I completely agree with, is that all of the scenes with SmAAAuuwwwg are amazing. Smaug is wonderful CG creation, and everything about him, from the way he looks to the way he sounds to the way he moves, is great. In retrospect, it's fun to think about Benedict Cumberbatch writhing around in a motion capture suit covered in those little white balls for all of that stuff. I hope in the future, someone is able to cut together a version of those scenes where mo-cap Cumberbatch is inserted over the actual Smaug.

-Martin Freeman is great, and he's making the most out of what he can with his role of Bilbo. There's a lot of subtlety and nuance in his performance that may get overlooked by all of the loud elements that surround him.

-The pacing seems much better in this film than the first one. It has a lot going on (probably too much), but at least it keeps things moving along for the most part.

-I actually enjoyed the female elf character they created specifically for the film (played by Kate from Lost), even if she was created almost entirely to insert a potentially unnecessary love triangle. In theory, this would have been an element I normally would really hate, but when I just thought about it again, it didn't really bother me at all. If they're going to try to make all of these dwarves into fully fleshed out characters, her being there, at the very least, gave Kili something of a purpose.

-I really liked all of Gandalf's side stories, from finding the tombs of the Nazgul, to exploring the Necromancer's castle and such. Gandolf just kind of does it for me.

-The bear dude was pretty cool, too.



Cons:

-I don't know if it bothered anyone else, but Peter Jackson's return cameo as a carrot eating hobo from Bree in the first 30 seconds of this film really rubbed me the wrong way. One of the biggest general complaints about these Hobbit movies are that they're just a fan service full of call backs that's just there to self-reference and capitalize on the LOTR films, and his "look directly into the camera and do everything short of giving an obnoxious wink" kind of pushes that sentiment right in our faces. I have no problem with him eating a carrot in the streets of Bree again, in theory; it's just the overly-cute, borderline-dickish way that he actually did it that almost made me *angry* within the first minute of the movie.

-I actually thought the barrels-down-the-river scene was pretty fun and goofy, and full of excitement overall. But then it went on a little too long and started to get obnoxious during moments when Legolas is like standing on the dwarves' heads while shooting arrows behind his back while simultaneously doing a backflip and stabbing a different orc in the face. The action in this movie is really good, as expected, but it often has a problem of just going on slightly too long, and getting slightly too obnoxious.

-I might have just been tired, but I started to get a little fatigued once they got to Lake Town. Bard's story just wasn't that thrilling to me, and I was kind of at the point where I wished they were just dealing with Smaug already. Plus, I had to pee, so I was in pain. Don't drink a soda during this movie.

-It kind of has a non-ending, DESPITE it being the second part of a trilogy. I mean, The Two Towers was the same situation, but it ended on a nice note with a *hint* of mystery, with Gollum deciding to lead the hobbits into Shelob's lair. Desolation of Smaug just sort of ends. It had an ending that made me think "this is why this should have only been two movies, not three." It felt like there was only about 45 more minutes to cover when the movie ended, and yet, we still have another three-hour film to watch next year. It's just that all the extra stuff (which can be really enjoyable, to be fair) has basically changed this from being the story of The Hobbit, into the story of being Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings prequel trilogy.

-I saw it in 3D, and it wasn't really spectacular in that regard. Nothing blew me away in terms of three-dimensional depth. I *didn't* see it in high frame rate, because I don't even think that was an option at the theater I was at. Is HFR even a thing anymore? I didn't miss it much, I suppose.



Final Thoughts: As much as people like to say that these aren't as good as the Lord of the Rings movies, they are still made with the same level of detail and enthusiasm that Peter Jackson usually puts out. In fact, it hurts my brain to try to think about what Jackson must go through making six of these movies. Like how he shoots scenes with an enormous mo-capped dragon chasing a real actor around a fake environment where every step the characters take require treasure to splash around in an environment that must look photo-realistic or else it will take us out of the moment. I mean, some directors have trouble blocking scenes of two people talking in a restaurant! If Peter Jackson doesn't go absolutely insane by the time he's 60 from what he's put his brain though during his filmmaking career, I'd be extremely surprised. It pays off though. As much as you can nitpick these Hobbit films for not being as great as the Lord of the Rings films, they are still really good movies. If they were somehow able to be magically released without the dilemma of looming expectations, I think they would be received a lot better. But as it stands now, I liked Desolation of Smaug just as much, or slightly better than An Unexpected Journey. It's worth sitting through just to get to the dragon. And despite the fact that I have no idea how Jackson plans to milk another three hours out of the material provided, I'm still looking forward to There and Back Again next year. Now, let's all go to Denny's before the Smaug Fire Burger goes away!

8.5 out of 10


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Mike Cohen
Re: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
on Dec 18, 2013 at 3:04:42 pm

I am hoping to see this over the weekend, but wanted to add a few points based upon Scott's review - sort of a pre-review if that's a thing.

The comment about the call-backs to the original LOTR trilogy is somewhat expected. I will say that the scenes in Rivendell in Hobbit I made me very nostalgic. They did a great job re-creating the sets which presumably were incinerated after the original movies, like all good sets are.

Kind of like in the first Star Wars book post Jedi, Heir to the Empire, which picked up events with Luke and Co. a few years after Endor. There were numerous blurbs such as, "As Luke sat in his X-Wing, preparing for takeoff, he thought back to the Battle of Yavin, when he and R2 were preparing for their first big battle." In other words, little nostalgic things to appeal to the fanboys and girls, though not really needed to move the story along.

I suspect that every extended universe novel does the same thing, to say nothing of fan fiction. Incidentally in the Harry Potter FanFic world there is something called "Dramione" in which Hermione and Draco Malfoy are romantically involved. I only know about this after a weird girl from high school contacted me on Facebook and somehow informed me that at age 37 she was a Dramione fan. Thank goodness for the "unfriend" button!!!

In the book, the barrels sequence was my favorite. I was shocked to see the preview in which Legolas plays Frogger with the dwarves.
This seems like a good opportunity for the following:






Ok, gotta search my car seats for enough spare change to afford the 48fps IMAX 3D ticket price of $257.99. No heat or hot water this month!

Mike C


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Mark Suszko
Re: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
on Dec 18, 2013 at 5:23:31 pm

I'll join you at Denny's for Second Breakfast. And maybe Elevensies. :-)


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Tim Wilson
Re: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
on Dec 20, 2013 at 10:12:04 pm

First, I enjoyed this a lot. Far more than the first one...although still falling just a tad short of anything in the LOTR trilogy. Still, very very much worth a visit.

Of course, as of today, American Hustle lands in theaters, and I can't imagine it not being pretty boss.

I'll put my grade up front: 9+ out of 10, but not much more. Entertainment Weekly gave it an A-, which I guess goes up to 92? Yeah, somewhere in the 90-92 range is about right.

I'm going to say some very positive things coming up, but I don't want to overdo....although A- is pretty dang good, so don't take my sometimes harsh criticisms out of context either.



[Scott Roberts] " I *didn't* see it in high frame rate, because I don't even think that was an option at the theater I was at. Is HFR even a thing anymore?"

Definitely a thing. Number of screens up from 450 to 750 in the US, and from 1669 to 2500 internationally.

Compare this to 697 IMAX theaters worldwide.

Ima say something controversial here: ONLY SEE THIS IN 48. ONLY SEE IT IN 3D.

That's the movie Peter Jackson made: HFR 3D. If you don't respect his decision, respect your disrespect and just stay home.

If you don't have 48 in your area, ignore the following, and just go enjoy the movie.

I say this on principle, because I think it's our responsibility as artists to protect the rights of other artists to present their vision as they intend.

It's exactly the same reason we protest hacking up widescreen movies. It doesn't matter what broadcasters want. It doesn't even matter what audiences want. What matters is the director's right to make the call. The movie should be judged on THAT, and ONLY that.

Again, ignore this if you don't have access to the HFR version.

The thing is, with both 3D and HFR, its DNA long precedes the first frame of shooting, even the first storyboard. They spent a month tuning the cameras, and every costume and makeup choice was tested in HFR before filming began. Even the CONCEPT drawings were created in anaglyph to start experimenting with depth mapping. There's nothing about this wasn't designed from before the beginning to be a 3D HFR movie.

In fact, Pete says in one of the features that comes with the Blu-ray that he'd tried to make the first trilogy in 3D, but there was no practical way to do it. (Indeed, the current age of 3D began in 2005 for animation, and for all practical purposes, didn't exist for filmed features until 2010.)

He was serious about trying though, so all of his location scouting photos, as well as on-set photos during production of the original feature were taken with a 3D still camera! Thousands of photos in all, some of which I'm guessing will wind up on an eventual 3D re-release of LOTR....

Anyway, I ESPECIALLY say all this about 48 having been sucked by extended family into a 24fps IMAX 3D showing. They wanted it big, and in our string of small towns in the middle of the desert, nobody does both. What a mess. I don't see how anybody could follow everything going on. I really, really hated it.

The good news for me is that there's a theater with prrrretty big screens just a few minutes away, and they were showing HFR in both of them. It's impossible to overstate the difference it made. It's very, very obvious that this is how he made it.

So if you don't want to see a 3D HFR movie, skip The Hobbit altogether. Jennifer Lawrence beckons you to American Hustle.

And Scott, my own experience of 24 first and HFR second is that it much improves. YMMV of course....


[Scott Roberts] "-Martin Freeman is great, and he's making the most out of what he can with his role of Bilbo. There's a lot of subtlety and nuance in his performance that may get overlooked by all of the loud elements that surround him."

Agreed! He's the title character, and he gets way too little screen time.

One of my favorite things about the extended edition of H1 is that the additional footage is almost all Martin Freeman. I can see why this particular example was left out of the theatrical release, but a scene with him and Hugo Weaving is the best part of the movie, period.

Another great scene is with Bilbo overhearing the conversation between Gandalf and Galadriel, reacting to that, and then reacting to realizing that Thorin has heard it too -- with not a word between them. STRONG.

There's also a lot of time spent with Martin in the Blu-ray features. I recommend buying it to take your time with these -- as with LOTR, they're in many ways more enjoyable than the movie itself. A whole lotta Martin, as well as some nifty insights into the way that Pete handles actors. A couple of times you see him shut down production and send everybody away to have the actors work out their performances for as long as it takes, then bringing everybody back to shoot.

(BTW, Martin is a pretty bawdy guy. One of the longer sequences in the Blu-ray features explores the many and creative ways that Martin found ways to flip the bird to the folks who made the features.)

That was the thing I was sorriest about in this movie though. The longest stretch of Martin is him going one on one with Smaug...which is NOTHING as powerful as the 10 minutes with Gollum in the first one.

(I was sorry for no Gollum this time too. They REALLY raised the game with him in Hobbit 1 over LOTR, and the Blu-ray feature that showed how Martin and Andy Serkis put together their performances as actors was astounding.)


[Scott Roberts] "-The pacing seems much better in this film than the first one."

Big time. Pete conceded with the first one that, yeah, it was 45 minutes into the first one before they left on the trip...which, in fairness, was true in the trilogy though too. But yes, this one benefits from being able to jump right into the action.



[Scott Roberts] "-I actually enjoyed the female elf character they created specifically for the film (played by Kate from Lost), even if she was created almost entirely to insert a potentially unnecessary love triangle."

Pete talked about this when Evy was first cast: he had no interest in making a sausage fest.

She has a part to play in the action, and is a terrific fighter...but kind of a shame that she's also a girl smitten by two fellas. Really?

Easy to forget because it's so long ago, but while making Lost, and Dominic Monaghan moved in together -- as in, Merry from LOTR~

In the extended version of the first Hobbit, btw: extra Galadriel and Gandalf. They're amazing together in general, but they DESTROY the scene they have together, where she presses him for the answer to "Why Bilbo? Why THIS hobbit and no other?"

Answered in the Appendices, btw, one of the many things Tolkien realized he left out of The Hobbit.


[Scott Roberts] " It's just that all the extra stuff (which can be really enjoyable, to be fair) has basically changed this from being the story of The Hobbit, into the story of being Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings prequel trilogy."

But that's exactly what Tolkien did! It's why he wrote the appendices at all!

The Hobbit was one kind of story, but LOTR was something else altogether, and written over the course of TWELVE YEARS. At the end of it, he realized that there were huge gaps in continuity, and that, no matter how much he'd planned for Hobbit to be a kids book, too many people had read LOTR (second most popular novel all time, behind Tale of Two Cities) for the Hobbit to just be hanging out there in space.

The attention paid to LOTR DEMANDED that those gaps be filled, because in practice, a dozen years later, the Hobbit was in fact NOT a prequel, but actually a SEQUEL for tens of millions of people, read AFTER the LOTR.

Is any of this sounding familiar?

It's absolutely, absolutely, absolutely at the core of how Tolkien himself saw the story and the worlds he created in them: by the end of the LOTR trilogy, it was imperative those gaps be filled, and the continuity firmed up, to do justice to his own work, and the experience of his readers.

Sounding familiar YET?

I completely agree that it's a legit line of inquiry -- one which Tolkien himself provided the answer to in his introduction to the single volume collecting the three LOTR books in one place. You HAVE to read The Hobbit with the information in the appendices for The Hobbit to make any sense in the context of LOTR.

Whatever else they are, Pete, Philippa Boyens and Fran Walsh take their Tolkienology with deadly seriousness. So, while, acknowledging that you're the least hater-ish person I've ever read, and that you're not hating on THIS...but the haters, have this wrong, and Pete et al have it right.

Although hey, anyone is entitled to not LIKE it. But Tolkien did in fact consider the appendices essential.


[Scott Roberts] "-I really liked all of Gandalf's side stories, from finding the tombs of the Nazgul, to exploring the Necromancer's castle and such. Gandolf just kind of does it for me."

There's almost no Gandalf in this part of The Hobbit. That's one of the things that Pete did in both H1 and this one -- add scenes with everybody's favorite character, fleshing out scenes that were only implied The Hobbit...if at all... or discussed in the appendices.


[Scott Roberts] "The action in this movie is really good, as expected, but it often has a problem of just going on slightly too long, and getting slightly too obnoxious."


I especially felt this about the river stuff - I agree that it's some of the most fun in any Pete/Tolkien movie, but I could have used it being a little shorter.

I could actually have done with a little less Smaug. It felt like that scene kinda repeated itself, and didn't have the dramatic heft I've had liked, but any excuse for more Martin Freeman is a good enough one.

(You know that Smaug was voiced by the Sherlock to his Watson, the one and only Bumbersnoot Camembert, right?)


Coupla more observations:

-- It was not AT ALL obvious to me in the first one why the dwarves were going on THIS journey, RIGHT NOW. Yeah yeah yeah, we want our home back. Whatever. Why NOW?

This gets answered at the beginning of the second movie, but I have no idea if this was in the book(s), but at least they addressed it right up front.

I ain't buyin' it though. Worse, there's no sense that the cause is just. One of my favorite parts of the Bard section of the movie is that Thorin is criticized for being driven by the same greed that destroyed his father! It had NOTHING to do with the dragon, and EVERYTHING to do with the gold!

I think that's a pretty interesting story: the gold itself is his "precious," and his quest for it will lead to a ruinous end. I'm just not sure that this is the story Pete (or Tolkien) is telling.


-- My favorite thing about the Lake Town sequence is Stephen Fry. It's another example of fleshing out a character that I think is a good use of Pete's and our time, and another interesting twist. A typical "let them eat cake" despot is the one who allies himself with our questing dwarves -- whose cause is explicitly rejected by the freedom fighters. It throws a LOT of doubt on the dwarves motives...which, like I said, I had from the beginning of H1. I hope they pay this off.


[Scott Roberts] "It kind of has a non-ending, DESPITE it being the second part of a trilogy. "


I'm gonna disagree a bit with you here. I definitely agree that no movie gets off the hook because it's the middle of a trilogy, but it's hard to imagine more of a non-ending than Empire --- Luke kinda standing around forlornly looking out a window, after a pretty dull stretch with him in bed...but nobody seemed to mind. To your point below, I think a lot of people (not you, but others) are looking for stuff to criticize.

On the contrary, I thought this one ended on fire, so to speak. It's freaking MID ACTION, with Bilbo saying, "What have we done?" -- with the answer being, "I HAVE NO IDEA."

Part of the answer is obvious -- there's a shoe that's obviously about to drop -- but still raising the bigger question: did we really NEED to undertake this quest? Were our motives the right one? Even if so, are we about to realize that the cost is greater than we can afford?

So, while not wanting to oversell the movie as a whole, I think they stuck the landing.


[Scott Roberts] "As much as you can nitpick these Hobbit films for not being as great as the Lord of the Rings films, they are still really good movies. If they were somehow able to be magically released without the dilemma of looming expectations, I think they would be received a lot better. "

You know, that was my overwhelming reaction to watching some of the H1 features. HOLY SPIT, THIS IS PETER JACKSON AND JRR TOLKIEN. The greatest epic in the history of cinema, the longest sustained effort of storytelling that may be undertaken in even the next couple of hundred years. Who knows? But my goodness, he is sooooo swinging for the fences! And being Jackson, he gets so much so right that he's earned a little leeway.

Not that I'm talking about full-scale mercy. They need to stand or fall on their own, and in that sense he deserves no mercy at all. But I can live with an A-, and I suspect Pete can too.



[Scott Roberts] " In fact, it hurts my brain to try to think about what Jackson must go through making six of these movies. "


Another of my favorite things about the features. The make-up tests, fabric tests, his work with actors, the work with language experts to "translate" some pick-up lines into the proper Middle Earth language, finding scale doubles for THE HORSES -- it's really overwhelming.

Also overwhelming: the sheer scale of the production. When they went on remote to shoot Hobbiton - 250 trucks, and 500 crew. Each dwarf had a team of 8 make-up and costume artists, on and on. This is one of the best of Pete's YouTube diaries.

In this one, you don't know what you're looking at in the first scenes we see being shot, but it is in fact the barrel sequence in H2.





And one more for folks who doubt the intensity of Pete's commitment to 3D, check this one. It's also a wonderful look at shooting in general, the importance of pre-production, camera prep, media management, and what it means for a director to have a VISION. Like his vision or not, nobody has ever come close to thinking this through as thoroughly as Pete.





Overall, I think Pete's take on Tolkien is a singular accomplishment not just in the history of movies, but, when taken in the context of art, architecture and drama, one of the highlights of human creativity. We're lucky to be alive while it's unfolding.


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Scott Roberts
Re: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
on Dec 21, 2013 at 12:14:32 am
Last Edited By Scott Roberts on Dec 21, 2013 at 12:16:00 am

[Tim Wilson] "He was serious about trying though, so all of his location scouting photos, as well as on-set photos during production of the original feature were taken with a 3D still camera!"

Well, that's just cool! Hey, if you're gonna make a 3D movie, you might as well go as all out as you can. No one can say Peter Jackson doesn't try as hard as anyone else in Hollywood.


[Tim Wilson] "I was sorry for no Gollum this time too. They REALLY raised the game with him in Hobbit 1 over LOTR"

Yeah, he's not in the book for very long. With three more hours to kill, and not that much of the actual Hobbit source material left, my guess is that Gollum will have a little LOTR-trilogy-tie-together moment in Hobbit 3.


[Tim Wilson] "Although hey, anyone is entitled to not LIKE it. But Tolkien did in fact consider the appendices essential. "

Yeah, I get that to an extent. If Jackson wants to connect his trilogies into one giant fluid saga, that's actually pretty cool in its own way. But I guess I was saying that if someone just made a fun Hobbit movie without the context of having the Lord of the Rings trilogy movies looming over it (very hypothetical, I know), then I think that film without all the extra stuff would have still been pretty good. But as a LOTR fan (books and movies), I appreciate the extra detail put into all the films, it just, I don't know, doesn't feel as cohesive as LOTR, AT THE MOMENT. *Because* of all the side stories that don't necessarily flow together.


[Tim Wilson] "I think that's a pretty interesting story: the gold itself is his "precious," and his quest for it will lead to a ruinous end."

I liked that angle too. I was kinda hoping they'd delve into that a little more in the next one, once the gold is more in Thorin's face.


[Tim Wilson] "Overall, I think Pete's take on Tolkien is a singular accomplishment not just in the history of movies, but, when taken in the context of art, architecture and drama, one of the highlights of human creativity."

Well said!


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Tom Sefton
Re: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
on Dec 24, 2013 at 12:15:27 am

Whoa whoa whoa now! Empire's ending is top. Luke fights darth, lando betrays everyone, Han gets tortured, "I'm your father", lando helps leia escape, chewie goes rrrrrrrrrggggghhhhh, and then luke limps back into the millennium falcon with one hand! You know this is going to add up to one hell of a battle and that luke has to fight his dad!

I really shouldn't respond after drinking Guinness and then Cuba libre's, but empire is one of my fave endings. Rrrrrrrfgggggggggghhhhhhh out.


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Mark Suszko
Re: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
on Dec 28, 2013 at 4:43:25 am

I enjoyed everything about Smaug except where Peter jackson chose to end it. I think it might be a mistake to have broken the film across 3 movies, when really, he could have wrapped up the fight over Laketown and all, in another 30 or so minutes.


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