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Review: “The Desolation of Smaug” is the meat of the “Hobbit” sandwich

Review: “The Desolation of Smaug” is the meat of the “Hobbit” sandwich

Review: “The Desolation of Smaug” is the meat of the “Hobbit” sandwich
December 12
15:52 2013

Preston Barta / Film Critic

Rating: 4/5

Clocking in at a seat-squirming length of nearly two-and-half hours, “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” gives a stronger adventure and more enjoyment than its predecessor. From the first frame to the last, the film is a thrilling achievement to behold. The action in this year’s edition is unrivaled by the previous Middle-Earth installment.

The second chapter of the three-part film series based on J.R.R Tolkien’s 1937 novel, continues the events of last year’s “An Unexpected Journey,” in which Bilbo (Martin Freeman) and his merry company journey through Mirkwood, Esgaroth and Dale to battle a boastful dragon named Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch).

While entertaining to boot, the film doesn’t come without its flaws. For fans of the novel, many may find that the film’s greatest faults are the unnecessary plot threads. Director and co-writer Peter Jackson seems keen on making sure his “Hobbit” trilogy connects to his “Lord of the Rings” motion pictures. The film takes a great deal of time  to introduce us to things we already know the outcome to. At certain points throughout the narrative, the story pulls audiences away from Bilbo and the dwarves to instead follow Gandalf (Ian McKellan), as he goes off on his own adventure to uncover the growing evil Lord Sauron (“The Lord of the Rings” villain) and his armies.

Hobbit Life

Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) sees the fierce Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch) for the first time in “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug.” Photo courtesy of Warner Bros.

The rest of the film, however, is an exceptional and well-crafted thrill-ride. There is a great sense of character growth, especially from our titular hero, Bilbo, who is struggling with the power of the ring and its greed. “Lord of the Rings” admirers know where this is heading, but the film and Freeman’s portrayal are fascinating considering where Bilbo was when we first met him in “An Unexpected Journey.”

The dwarves have their shining moments, especially Thorin (an excellent Richard Armitage), Kili (a charming Aidan Turner) and Balin (a comical Ken Scott), who take front and center. Armitage, however, is the real standout. He goes through many of the same changes and internal struggles as Bilbo.

The rest of the cast is excellent in their parts. Returning members, such as fan favorites Orlando Bloom (Legolas) and McKellan (Gandalf), add more spice to their characters. New faces, including the always-dashing Evangeline Lily (Tauriel) and commanding Luke Evans (Bard), make warming additions to the franchise. But the real showstopper is Cumberbatch’s menacing voice as the ferocious Smaug.

Cumberbatch (“Star Trek Into Darkness,” 2013) has a voice born to scare the money out of moviegoers’ pockets around the world. While audio effects were applied to give his voice more pop, he does an outstanding job. His encounter with Bilbo at the film’s end is a memorable scene that is worth the price of admission.

“The Desolation of Smaug” doesn’t quite reach the same heights as Jackson’s previous trilogy, but it sure does come close in capturing that sense of danger and thrill. If you felt like the first “Hobbit” left a bit to be desired, get ready for a blockbuster that will surely make you wish part three was coming out sooner than next December.

“The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” opens at midnight.

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