Tuesday, 11 March 2014

The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug [2013]

I was excited about this film coming out. As I was for The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. If I was the type of person easily affected or influenced by my peers or by film critics, I may, however, have reserved my excitement for something more unanimously accepted.

As it is, my eager anticipation had not waned and I revelled in an opportunity to visit my local cinema in the company of someone for whom I had spent a good many months convincing to watch, firstly 'Hobbit 1' then the newest offering from Peter Jackson and team.

There existed a great number of talking points post release that I found very difficult to avoid: The debate over the need for the 3 part adaptation; the inclusion of characters not found in the book; whether or not the appendices play any role in padding out the trilogy, etcetera etcetera etcetera...

All valid points. All rousing the passions of critics and cinema goers alike. All (in my humblest of opinions) rather pointless. Having read and thoroughly enjoyed the book as a much younger version of myself, I was keen to see Peter Jackson's version of events. Not the version I read by Tolkein. Nor the visual version I dreamt while fingering through a hard back. But Peter Jackson's version. The guy who makes movies for a career. Who made the much loved (and Oscar winning) Lord Of The Rings films. That was what I wanted to go and see. And I wanted to be surprised, challenged, excited and enthralled in equal measure.

It has to be said, I didn't feel entirely satisfied and my bottom was a little bit more sore than usual. While I did enjoy the film on the whole, it wasn't without fault. I did chuckle at the very first shot, with Peter Jackson himself flashing a knowing and welcoming glance our way. Almost a 'let the games begin' look. Which was accurate to a point. The opening hour was a pretty rip-roaring affair: A man-beast who could be friend or foe whilst being pursued by a pack of Orcs; a forest of giant spiders and an epic barrel ride down-river after escaping an Elven prison block. This leading nicely to a rendezvous with Smaug in his gold filled lair under the Misty Mountain. Thrilling.

For my money I would have been happy to end here. This would have left me looking forward once more to the final chapter in the saga, watching Martin Freeman word joust with his Sherlock compatriot before causing him to be thoroughly peeved prior to reeking havoc upon poor, defenceless Laketown. But it did not end. It kept on. And on. And on until I found myself wondering what material they possibly had left to work with.

Therein lies the problem with this film for me. It just doesn't know where to wrap up. It doesn't know the best place to finish. Unsure sure of the best cliff hanger to leave us with. Uncertain as to how much of Smaug we need to see. Not able to bring things to as rounded a conclusion as could be hoped for. Unwilling to axe any scene through its perceived importance or visual impact. (See what I did there?)

The final part of this movie is what you end up being left with when you leave the cinema. I had a sore bottom (as mentioned earlier) and until that numb throb subsided, all I could remember was the sound of hyper real (and far too digitised) gold coinage spraying about a vast oubliette and the shuddering sound of a talking dragon.

I realised that the biggest differences between Lord Of The Rings and The Hobbit are the character's relationships with one another and the pacing of scenes. The Lord Of The Rings, in review, is quite well paced, lingering when and where needed and marching forward in spades, with characters each as endearing as the other with multi-layered relationships throughout.

The Hobbit lacks all of this. Two films would have aided the pacing issues. A greater exploration of the characters in the original story perhaps would have leant nicely to more developed relationships. But maybe not. From my memory of reading the book, it seemed more a tale of adventure and recounting the fantastical geography of Middle Earth, setting the foundations for the epic to come. I can't help but feel the pressure The Lord Of The Rings puts on The Hobbit to be something that it isn't and maybe shouldn't have been.

Martin Freeman is great returning in his role as Bilbo Baggins, as entertaining with or without lines, highlighting his ability to say everything in an exasperation or be-fuzzled look. Benedict Cumberbatch lends his vocal prowess (with a fair amount of post production I'm sure) to the Necromancer and Smaug with great effect and Sir Ian McKellen as brilliantly convincing as he always seems to be; the faintest hint of wit on the tip of his tongue to lighten the mood in much the same way a Gandalf firework might.

When all said and done I did enjoy watching, will watch the final instalment and most likely add the trilogy to my DVD/Blu-Ray collection and will no doubt enjoy an improved viewing experience with the remote at my side to press pause a couple of times to grab refreshments, have a toilet break and grab a cup of tea.


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