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19 Dec 2013

The Fog of 'Smaug': The Second Film in The Hobbit Trilogy Is Another Disappointment

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Martin Freeman and William Kircher in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. Martin Freeman and William Kircher in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug.

I had the misfortune of watching the High Frame Rate 3-D version of The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. Man, do I hate technology sometimes.

Only a small percentage of movie theaters had the technology for 2012’s The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, but that has changed—so many of us now have the opportunity to see just how bad this technology looks when hobbits are involved. (In fact, four Coachella Valley theaters are showing the film in HFR 3-D.)

I am sure there will be films in the future that will be a proper fit for the High Frame Rate presentation—films that are primarily set outside, boast a leisurely pace, and don’t have too much makeup.

As for Peter Jackson’s decision to shoot The Desolation of Smaug in HFR 3-D, it’s a disaster: Like its predecessor, the film is a task to watch. The look of the movie simply doesn’t jibe with the technology, and the result is a visual nightmare, even after one’s eyes adjust to the stunt.

Smaug is guilty of the same flaws that marred the first film. It’s overstuffed; the dwarves are severely uninteresting; and the action scenes lack urgency. It’s just a big, boring stunt film with people looking silly in their getups.

The film starts with a flashback in which Gandalf (Ian McKellen) has his first meeting with moody dwarf Thorin (Richard Armitage). (Actually, it really starts with a very obvious cameo by Jackson, who makes no Hitchcockian effort to blend in.) We then pop ahead to the end of the first movie—and the continuation of Bilbo Baggins’ long, extremely tedious journey.

As Bilbo, Martin Freeman labors to make things interesting during action scenes that feel redundant. (Hey, it’s another giant icky spider attack!) However, he stands out among the cast of otherwise bland actors playing bland dwarves. Oh, Gimli, how you are missed!

Jackson finds a way to bring back Orlando Bloom as Legolas; these scenes could easily be cut from the film’s 161-minute running time. Jackson has also created a new character in Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly), an elf warrior and the apple of Legolas’ eye. Legolas and Tauriel were not present in the original Tolkien novel—and movie viewers would be better off if such were the case in this film.

Too many scenes feel padded and bloated. With each passing minute, Jackson is doing further damage to his legacy. His original Lord of the Rings trilogy was a major triumph, while these Hobbit films feel and look like parody.

From the moment the Warner Bros. logo comes up, the film looks weird. Movies aren’t supposed to be this crisp. The shots of mountain ranges are breathtaking—but every close-up of an actor’s made-up face destroys the illusion.

When Smaug the dragon (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch) finally shows up, he easily becomes the best thing in the Hobbit films thus far. He should’ve arrived in the second half of the first film—and the whole damn thing should’ve been completed in three hours: One movie would’ve been sufficient to cover this story. These Hobbit movies are an overblown, messed-up slog.

The movie ends abruptly, with a big cliffhanger. Normally, that sort of thing would have me all huffy and disappointed. Not this time: I was simply happy to see the movie finally over.

I loved the Lord of the Rings films. They consistently made my year’s-best lists. Conversely, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is one of 2013’s worst.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is playing at theaters across the valley, in a variety of formats.

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