[All photos courtesy “The Hobbit” Facebook page]
Being able to attend the red carpet (or in this case, black carpet) premiere of The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug inevitably affected whether I was going to like this film. Being in the Dolby Theater, knowing I was in the same room as Peter Jackson, Martin Freeman, Benedict Cumberbatch, and others (although, alas, missed the entire red carpet as a result, and had hoped there would be some sort of acknowledgement in the actual theatre), knowing that they got to hear every time I laughed or applauded (or, in the case of some sections, screamed with joy), made the entire evening surreal for this Midwest gal. Of course I was going to like the movie at this point.
Despite what Martin Freeman says about his fans (“If a 19-year-old girl is coming up to me, that’ll be Sherlock. If it’s an 8-year-old boy, it’ll be The Hobbit“), I was super excited for The Hobbit trilogy. I had loved The Lord of the Rings trilogy, finally seeing a fantasy film that wasn’t crap special effects and overacting, which has been a rare event up until then. And so far, the same reasons I loved Lord of the Rings is what’s making me love The Hobbit trilogy, but intensified. Jackson yet again does a great job of realizing CGI is just one of many special effects tools available, using multiple tricks to lend a believability to the world that is Middle Earth, and the acting is top notch.
Second acts (in a three act structure) are all about the confrontation. The movie is an appropriate ‘middle of the story’ outing, with us joining Bilbo and the dwarves on their continued journey east toward Lonely Mountain. Along the way, characters get separated and new ones get introduced, including Bard (Luke Evans), who – as the meme jokes – looks more like Orlando Bloom than Orlando Bloom does. We also get Evangeline Lilly’s Tauriel, who I really enjoyed (I even liked the romance angle with Kili, although I do agree with Lilly’s frustration about making it a love triangle: can’t we have a female character on screen that’s NOT defined by who she is in relation to a man?).
I’m not a huge fan of the source material: I read The Hobbit when I was about 12, tried The Lord of the Rings and gave up somewhere in the middle of The Two Towers, and never tried going back. So, the changes Jackson makes (including the creation of both of these characters) doesn’t bother me in the same way as, for example, having Susan kiss Prince Caspian in The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian did.
Freeman’s Bilbo is again a joy to watch. He so obviously is having fun with the part, and anyone who knows me knows that that can make me love a character (and a movie/TV show) more than a lot of other things. You can see the character growth as the ring starts to put it’s hold on him, and you can see his conflict as to wanting to be the hero without all the messiness that inevitably brings when it actually happens. The main complaint about it is that there just isn’t enough of him: for a movie that’s called The Hobbit, there’s very little of that actual Hobbit in this.
There’s also surprisingly little of McKellen’s Gandalf, although Sylvester McCoy once again steals every scene he’s in as Radagast. Upstaging Ian McKellen: quite the feat. The dwarves become even more developed as characters – almost to the point where you can remember their names without being prompted (outside of Kili and Thorin, who are already fairly recognizable thanks to them, you know, having a plot attached to them).
But the scene between Bilbo and Smaug eclipses pretty much damn near the rest of the movie.
Which leads me to the best: Smaug. Dear God, Smaug. Finally, FINALLY we have an onscreen dragon that is everything I had hoped for. The CGI is gorgeous and very realistic, not “oh, I’m watching a CGI dragon” at all. The moment we get to see him in all his glory made me squee like the fangirl that I am. And Cumberbatch’s performance was excellent. Yes, I was one of those people giggling and making Sherlock jokes in my head during this scene as we get Freeman and Cumberbatch snarking off each other. But I also stood back in awe at the artistic concept that this scene was so perfect despite the two never actually acting together during this. The scene is at times both playful and terrifying.
As for the bad: I do have to agree that the action gets a little over the top and goofy, although I enjoyed it, too. While the plot was definitely more action than the first (and while I didn’t have the same problem as others with the first Hobbit as to the slow pacing when I saw it in the theatre, when I re-watched it on DVD I could understand why they had issues with it), it does come across a bit too much. During the river scene as Bilbo and the dwarves are escaping Mirkwood, I felt I was watching a trailer for “The Hobbit: The Ride” at the theme park New Zealand is inevitably going to build. It also felt a little too much like a video game (ooh – let’s make sure we hit ALL the orcs on the bridge, otherwise we’ll never reach the next save point!) – and I say that as a gamer. I understand the desire in today’s world of transmedia entertainment, but at the same time there is something to be said of letting something exist on its own.
I’m also still not sure about the higher frame rate. As I stated when I talked about the first Hobbit film, on the big screen, it makes it seem too much like they left the ‘action news’ lens on: too much like watching television (and live action television at that), and too little like watching film. This is a grand scale movie: we’ve got a freakin’ DRAGON, after all. Let the medium work FOR you, Peter, and let the softness through.
I look forward to watching all three in one setting, and yet again hope it inspires whoever has the rights (Disney, still, probably) to want to do live action movies based on Lloyd Alexander’s The Prydain Chronicles. In the end, I went in as a fan and wanting to like it, and I wasn’t disappointed. The cliffhanger just makes me that more eager to see where this is going.
Bring it on, Jackson.