It’s not Smaug who is left desolate at the end of this second-in-a-trilogy; it’s the desolation the dragon will soon reap as it flies off on a mission of massacre. “What have we done?” asks Bilbo Baggins in the film’s final line, which left me barking “No!” as the credits rolled. I was totally into the movie and wanting to see what would come next — even though it had been running for more than two-and-a-half hours. Many people were disappointed by the first HOBBIT because of its measured pace that refused to get to Point B until every single aspect of Point A had been explored. That’s why I loved it so; Part One’s total immersion into the world of Middle Earth entranced me. In SMAUG, however, Peter Jackson got out his spurs and kicked this thoroughbred project into a stampede. There is a set piece in the middle, a fight-and-chase sequence involving dwarves in barrels hurtling down a river’s rapids, that has got to be among the greatest action scenes ever filmed. It keeps topping itself so many times that the audience while letting out hoops of excitement was also laughing at the sheer impossibility of what they were seeing. It’s that amazing. Every dime in the budget seems to have made it on screen (including an entire chasm of gold coins and loot under which the dragon sleeps). The flawless cast includes some of Martin Freeman’s best work — especially when he isn’t talking, but merely reacting; you can read his facial responses like text. Only Howard Shore’s thumpy, uninspired score falls short, but there’s a lovely song, “I See Fire” by Ed Sheeran, at the start of the final credits. — Jeff Schultz

The first HOBBIT movie was a mess. It was long, bloated and worst of all, boring as hell. THE HOBBIT: THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG fixes most of those problems. There is plenty of action. The set pieces are all well done and string together nicely. The story holds your interest and leads to a menacing cliffhanger. Maybe one reason is the addition of Benedict Cumberbatch as the voice of Smaug. Even though it is digitally enhanced, he brings a gravity to what could have been a “mail it in” performance. There are also new characters introduced that also keep things interesting. I saw it in the high frame rate. While some complain that it flattens out everything and washes color out of the film, I found the effect captivating and appropriate for the story. While I dreaded having to sit through SMAUG, I now cannot wait for “THERE AND BACK AGAIN”. — Alan Yudman

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