I should admit right at the start that I did actually see this with someone, so the name is slightly false advertising, however, I will press on!
Today’s film was ‘The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug’, the second instalment in Peter Jackson’s ‘The Hobbit Trilogy’. What can I say about this film? I guess the first thing is at nearly three hours long it was true to Jackson’s form of long films. It’s probably pertinent point out as well that I saw this movie in 2D because the 3D effects often make me feel a bit seasick, and the super high def 3D sounds even worse! There were some shots which were clearly designed with 3D in mind, specifically some of the Orc heads flying towards the camera, which were fine in 2D but which would be startling in 3D.
The use of epic sweeping crane shots of CGI landscapes was abundant as were shots of walking over the beautiful mountainscapes of New Zealand/Middle Earth. The attention to detail at times was mind boggling, in particular the hand prosthetics of all of the dwarves (well almost all, I think Kili got away with having his real hands for a few shots). I assume this was the same as it was in the first Hobbit film, but I haven’t rewatched it recently to be able to tell you. As with the Lord of the Rings trilogy, there were some CGI sequences which were lovingly and painstakingly real, specifically the scene when Smaug wakes up and the black swirly business around The Necromancer. Then there were other scenes where the CGI seemed a bit cutout; the one that sticks in my mind is the scene of the group approaching Mirkwood on ponies where they seems to have been stuck onto the landscape without much attention. By all accounts Peter Jackson is meticulous with demands of his animators, however I suspect that the fact that ‘The Hobbit’ was originally going to be two films and was later split into three has meant that there are some sequences in the CGI room that have had less time for fine tuning. That being said the animation and motion capture work for Smaug and The Necromancer, both of whom were played by Benedict Cumberbath (who is one of my favourite ever people in the whole world), was very well done. In an interview Cumberbatch explained that to make The Necromancer’s voice he learned his lines phonetically backwards and they are played in reverse. The result is truly one of the creepiest sounds in cinema, making the unworldiness of The Necromancer palpable.
The acting throughout the film was uniformly of a very high standard. The two standouts for me, perhaps unsurprisingly given they were the two largest parts, were Martin Freeman and Richard Armitage. The relationship between Bilbo and the ring was developed well, and has been commented upon by various other reviewers. For Bilbo the subtle changes in his behaviour, his increasing secretiveness, and intense attachment to the ring were neither too small to be noticed nor too pronounced, so as to be comic. Thorin’s character seems to have developed a more three-dimensional aspect since the last instalment too. He now has more backstory, and therefore more believeable depth to his desire to be King under the Mountain; his sense of desperation, and his sense of greed, which while he might deny it is his birthright as much as his claim to the throne. Stephen Fry’s Master of Laketown is also highly entertaining; a thoroughly distasteful picture of greed and corruption.
Peter Jackson has made no secret of the fact that he’s added characters and stories to these films, otherwise, surely even he could not have made nine hours of film out of such a short book. As a fan of Tolkien’s writing it was difficult for me to take off my nerd hat and not sit in the cinema thinking ‘This was never in the book!’ Indeed the character of Tauriel is completely a creation for the films, something which I think is a smart move since Tolkien’s treatment of female characters in his books has long been criticised, and rightly so, as being quite sexist. In the books, both ‘The Hobbit’ and ‘The Lord of the Rings’ as well as his other works such as ‘The Silmarilion’, Tolkien’s women are all either absent or unrealistic, ethereal, untouchable, unattainable goddess-like creatures like Galadriel. Overall, while I don’t necessarily believe that the extra stories in the film were necessary to make it work, I don’t think they detracted from the effectiveness and while sitting through it, I tried my best not to let the little nerd voice in my head become too insistent.
There were a few moments in which the audience reacted in a way that was probably not intended. During one of the many intricate, CGI filled, fight scenes involving Legolas and Tauriel there were moments when Legolas uses the bodies of the Orcs to slide across the screen, as he did with his shield in ‘The Two Towers’, and this elicited a collective titter from the audience. Similarly at the end of the film, having sat through three hours of what turned out to be build up, the audience groaned as one when the film faded to black and the credits came up. We really should not have expected a satisfactory resolution at the end of the film knowing as we do that there is a whole third film yet to come.
The final thought that I’ll leave you with is in one of the first scenes of the film, Jackson gives himself a tiny cameo in a scene in Bree, near the Shire. I laughed quite loudly and I may have been one of the only people in the cinema to realise that the man eating a carrot to the left of the screen was Peter Jackson. Either that or no-one else found it amusing, I’ll probably never know.
Overall this film is highly entertaining and well worth a watch if you’re into Tolkien or Jackson’s work or you like dragons. I’m going to give this 3.5 stars out of 5.