Sunday, December 22, 2013

Film Review: Smaug the Magnificent; Hobbit the Mediocre

There's nothing to discuss here, really. You've seen the trailers, you've probably read the books. This is about the second installment in Peter Jackson's inexplicable Hobbit trilogy, The Desolation of Smaug.

Story: 2/5 - The book is fun, and is well-loved. As a result, the movies can't help but be a pretty good time. That being said, the constant 'out of the frying pan' type of trouble the dwarves get into gets old after almost 6 hours now. There just isn't enough story here to make three three-hour movies. There's no real drama because you know there's a third movie, and the pacing suffers pretty badly as well.

Writing: 4/5 - Yeah, it's brash, dopey fantasy writing, but screenwriters Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens (a veteran of Jackson's efforts), Jackson, and briefly-signed director Benicio del Toro do a good job of making these believable, immersive characters through the writing. Critics like to throw around the word 'charming' for children's movie characters, and while I don't think that word applies, these are fun, but darker, multi-layered people.

Acting: 3/5 - The cast is pretty top-heavy. I love Martin Freeman as Bilbo, and Richard Armitage always does a great job. Ian McKellen isn't at his best, but he's probably one of the best living English-language actors, so he's probably OK mailing this one in. Benedict Cumberpatch was a fantastic cast as Smaug the dragon; his voice work and mocap (maybe Jackson's greatest filmmaking legacy) were fantastic. I liked Ken Stott as Balin, and Evangeline Lily as some elf chick made up for the movie. Stephen Fry is fun as the Master of the Men of the Lake. There are some lacking performances, though. Orlando Bloom was just there for fun, and a lot of the orcs were straight-up shoddy compared to the original trilogy.

(Note) A lot of people complained about the prequel Star Wars trilogy because of iffy acting, and something people have pointed to is Lucas basically punting on-location shooting and using greenscreen. This makes it harder for the actors to interact with the set and cast a believable performance. I think The Hobbit trilogy is another great example of this. Everything is CG. McKellan is a legend of the Royal Shakespeare Company. He has six Laurence Olivier Awards. How is he supposed to be at his best with nothing but a bright green wall as his accompaniment?

Aesthetics: 4/5 - Smaug is awesome, and is more or less worth the price of admission. Some of the sets are cool.

Final Score: 65% - The character and presentation of Smaug is enough to make this movie worth watching. As an art piece, though, it is far from Jackson's best work.

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