Saturday, 21 December 2013


Roadshow Films

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To say the the second film in a trilogy is an improvement on its predecessor -- particularly when that first film was arguably one 2012's worst films -- is perhaps to damn it with faint praise. Yet that's exactly how one can best convey their response to The Desolation of Smaug, director Peter Jackson's second instalment in his unnecessary trilogy based on J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit.

2012's An Unexpected Journey was a tedious and over-long return to Middle Earth for the New Zealand director almost a decade after the conclusion to his much-loved and much better realised trilogy of Tolkien's Lord of the Rings. The first film in that series, The Fellowship of the Ring, is arguably the trilogy's best whereas An Unexpected Journey could prove to be the least of its; what with its drawn-out opening hour, padded as it was with drunken dwarf songs and prat falls.

The Desolation of Smaug, with all the set-up out of the way, is, surprisingly, rarely dull and pretty much picks up where the first film left off: 13 dwarves led by Thorin (Richard Armitage), the wizard Gandalf The Grey (Ian McKellen), and the titular Hobbit, Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), are making their way across Middle Earth to reclaim Erebor; the former dwarf kingdom which was razed and then claimed by the dragon, Smaug.

But before they get there they'll have to pass through a forest filled with giant spiders, and then contend with some not-so welcoming elves (hello Orlando Bloom's Legolas, for no other reason than because), as well as the vicious Orcs who, under the command of some dark force (cue Firey Vagina), have been on the company's trail since early on in 'Journey'.

All of this, of course, is mere foreplay to the film's main event: the introduction of Smaug. Voiced by the ubiquitous Benedict Cumberbatch, the dragon, who sleeps beneath the riches the dwarves were forced to abandon when they fled Erebor, has a sharp mind and an articulate tongue to compliment his fire-breathing abilities and his gargantuan size.

And yet, the face-off between Bilbo and Smaug doesn't boast the same level of thrill as the Hobbit's battle of wits with Gollum, which was the first film's one redeeming feature (Andy Serkis's magnificently vile creation is sadly absent from this instalment). Still, this showdown ends with a cliffhanger sure to have fans of these films and this universe highly anticipating the final chapter this time next year (as for me, I'll be watching for mere closure).

At 161-minutes (shorter than An Unexpected Journey by a mere eight minutes), The Desolation of Smaug is stretched if not padded but it's still too long. None of the Hobbit films need to be this long. Hell, they don't need to be more than one film. But I was less bored and irritable this time around, due in part to the film's emphasis on action and because (thankfully) the media screening was this time not shown in the god awful HFR format.

I'll readily admit that a lot of my dislike for An Unexpected Journey was due to having to endure the film in the distractingly ugly 48 frames per second, which rendered everything as though it were shot on the over-lit sound stage of a television soap opera. (You cannot immerse yourself in another world if you are made constantly aware of that very world's artificiality.)

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug looks fine in regular 3D, though I suspect it would look just as fine in 2D. And fans of Jackson (and Tolkien) will no doubt be happy to undertake the adventure in any format available, ensuring this sequel rakes in just as much coin as its predecessor (which I imagine would somewhat resemble the treasure trove found in a giant dragon's den).

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