‘The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug’ Review (HFR 3D): An Action-Packed, CGI-Infested but Enjoyable Return to Middle Earth

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Peter Jackson’s second chapter in his grand Hobbit trilogy is an improvement over the first installment, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. The shining elements of this new film are the action and Smaug. There is a significant increase in the amount of action as well as gruesome deaths. I watched the film in HFR 3D (high frame rate, double the frame rate of normal films, 24 fps to 48 fps). This technology is supposed to eliminate the blurriness of general movements and action in 3D. I found the HFR in the first installment to be jarring and bothersome. In The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, the HFR does eliminate some of the blurriness during the many action scenes but was still jarring. It’s something that you get used to as the film progresses.

What worked:
For the most part, the action scenes were satisfying. There are several exciting set pieces throughout the film. The standouts include the barrel chase scene, the giant spiders scene, and the climactic encounter with Smaug. Thanks to the wizards at Weta, Smaug is by far the most impressive dragon that I’ve seen on film. There is never a dull moment when this amazing CG creation is on the screen as the camera is always in motion. The deep, baritone voice commanded by fan-favorite Benedict Cumberbatch is a huge plus and gives the dragon a personality with a distinctive edge. The character designs of the many fantastical creatures in the film are very strong, a testament to the talent at Weta. The giant spiders encounter is another terrific, albeit very creepy sequence. Tauriel, an original female elf created just for this film, is arguably the strongest (and my favorite) character in the film. She is badass, partakes in a large chunk of action scenes, saves the dwarves from trouble, and provides a much-needed female presence for girls to root for. In addition, Legolas partakes in a substantial amount of thrilling action sequences. The long running time did not seem like a drag as the film moves along at a brisk pace and the production values are fantastic.

Although I didn’t find any particular noteworthy tune from composer Howard Shore’s score, it works just fine in the film. That being said, his score for the first film is more enthralling and satisfying (with the standout Misty Mountains theme). The centerpiece of the score, Smaug’s theme, isn’t particularly memorable or creative and sounded rather cliche.

What didn’t work:
I was expecting on Bilbo playing a larger role in the film but the spotlight doesn’t shine on Bilbo as much as the first film. It seems like his role in this film was to save the dwarves every time they found themselves in trouble. Just like the first film, it was difficult to connect with any of the dwarves not named Thorin. There are simply too many dwarves (13!!). Some scenes contained poor CG as is the case with a film that relies so much on CG. With the HFR, camera movements turn some action scenes into a video game and the heavy reliance on CG in those scenes doesn’t help. Also, Gandalf’s role is limited as he leaves the dwarves early on and goes off on his journey. Finally, the romantic subplot between Tauriel and and one of the dwarves, Fili, feels dinky, corny, and shoehorned as I expected.

Overall, I found The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug to be enjoyable and the film falls more in line with the Lord of the Rings trilogy. The positives outweigh the negatives and the exciting barrel chase sequence alone is worth the price of admission. Throw in Bilbo’s scene with Smaug in 3D and you’ll get a spectacular theatrical experience for the holidays.

If you missed my earlier post, you can now visit Middle Earth from the comforts of your home by clicking here.

Find the King under the mountain at OldStandby.wordpress.com

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