Movie review: The Desolation of Smaug (Hobbit II)

While I’m a huge J.R.R. Tolkien fan, “The Hobbit” has always been my least favorite of his Lord of the Ring series of books.  And I simply could not fathom how anyone could make three movies out of such a short book.  I liked but didn’t love the first Hobbit movie (you can read that review here), but I thought the second movie was surprisingly excellent.

A caveat:  if you’re a Tolkien purist, I don’t think you will enjoy this movie as much as the first one.  This movie is less true to the story line than the first and is much less Tolkien-ish, for the lack of a better word (much as “The Two Towers” – often regarded as the best movie in the Lord of the Rings trilogy – is the movie least true to the books).  There is virtually no narrative arc to the story.  Or, perhaps more accurately, what there is in narrative arc is completely trumped by the heart-pounding, non-stop action sequences.

And those sequences are marvelously done.  We saw the IMAX 3D fast frame rate version of the movie, and it’s amazing how the orcs and arrows leap from the screen.  The escape from the wood elves’ dungeons, with the barrel scene over the water, is about as amazing an action sequence as I’ve ever seen.  (And I’ve seen a lot.)  The choreography and cinematography of that specific sequence and of all the action sequences in the movie are simply mind-boggling.

For those who are seeing the movie because of Benedict Cumberbatch (o daughter mine, for example), all you really get is an enhanced and barely recognizable version of his voice.  (Smaug, however, does bear a curious resemblance to the actor who voices it, at least, for a dragon.)

Martin Freeman does his now-typical excellent acting job as Bilbo Baggins.  There is the surprise return of Orlando Bloom as Legolas and the always wonderful Ian McKellen as Gandalf.  All of the main actors are well cast and convincing in their roles.

For the diehard Tolkien and Middle-earth fan, I don’t believe this movie will be as satisfying as the first.  But for the rest of us, this is an excellent action/adventure/fantasy film.  The pacing is fast (unlike the first movie), and the acting is solid.  Oh, and just to reassure everyone, no harm is done to the audience’s ears by dwarves singing in this movie.  J

The family gives this movie a thumbs up.

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