Five reasons why ‘The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug’ does not suck

For those who saw The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey in theaters a year ago might have found it, familiar, in that it followed so many of the beats found in the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, all the way down to a scene with Gollum crammed in. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy more than a fantasy quest and a Peter Jackson adaptation of a J.R.R. Tolkien novel, and it was created in magnificent craftsmanship, but as a stand-alone film, it left a lot to be desired. That says a lot about a film that was nearly three hours long. Oh there were technical bells and whistles and many film fans and pundits found themselves talking more about the merits of 3D or 48 frames per second more passionately than the actual story itself. We don’t think that will be the problem this time around. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is out this weekend and is a vast improvement than the first Hobbit film; here are the reasons why:

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1. No drawn out introductions
The attempt to introduce viewers to dwarf culture didn’t go over too well with most movie audiences. I found the backlash a shame as I found it a throw back to when films would break into a song and dance. The lore of Tolkien allows for it. Jackson tried to make sure no leaf is unturned, especially in his extended editions. But there was purpose to it in An Unexpected Journey as it gave a deeper understanding of the dwarves since there is so little time spent trying to help us actually care for most of these little fellows, but I could also see why people want a much tighter film when they’re spending three hours on it.

Songs be damned, there’s a dragon to get to and a kingdom that needs to be reclaimed. This installment wastes little time getting Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), Thorin (Richard Armitage) and the rest of his merry band of dwarves to the Mirkwood Forest, which serves as a great portion of the adventure to reclaim Lonely Mountain and the riches it houses from Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch), the fire breathing dragon. There’s no extra contemplation by the characters. There’s no need to find inspiration or inch towards the end game. They’re all driven by the same goal and that helps keep the story moving along with only a handful of slow spots.

 

2. Legolas and Tauriel
It’s true, Jackson created Evangeline Lilly’s character Tauriel, who gave the screen a break from all of the grizzly dwarves and hobbit feet, as a departure from the novel. She reinforced the relentless parade of female archers in popular culture. For those keeping score, she’s infinitely better than Princess Merida and Young Justice’s Artemis but falls short of Katniss Everdeen and even Arya Stark. Still, for Lost fans, it’s been ages since we saw Lilly and there’s some fine action sets that she’s a part of, but her presence also introduces a love triangle element between Tauriel, Orlando Bloom’s Legolas, and one of the dwarves.

Speaking of Legolas, the arrogant and cocky warrior from the LOTR trilogy is in rare form here. Ever the brash one, he is the badass these films have been sorely needing. We had Aragorn in the first trilogy and try as he may, Armitage is no Viggo Mortensen. By design Thorin and Aragorn are not playing the same sports but this franchise needed a bit of ferociousness. Legolas provides that swash-buckling, slicing and spearing that was missing from the first Hobbit movie.

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3. Less emphasis on Orcs
We get it, the Orcs are one bad bunch, but after seeing hordes of them in the entire LOTR trilogy, enough already. Look, they are cool, but they lose some of their punch when all you see is orc after orc after… well, you get the point. But there are other threats in this film that de-emphasize the Orc hierarchy and that’s a fresh breath of air. There are other moving parts, that build towards the confrontation between the dwarves and Smaug and that equates to a better, balanced film. It may still be two hours and 41 minutes but it doesn’t feel like it’s that long.

There is also a better effort to make Gandalf’s (Ian McKellen) solo asides feel like they’re a part of the story instead of extra padding for an already bloated story. Pulled from the appendices from Return of the King, Gandalf misadventures add to the sum of all the parts as well as adds to the legacy of the Lord of the Rings and the One Ring, which should make diehard fans of Tolkien more pleased at their integration in this film.

 

4. The introduction of Bard
Since the Hobbit films do little to advance the character of Bilbo or any of the Dwarves, we are given Bard (Luke Evans) and his back story.  Bard is family man from Laketown, once the trading port for all of Middle Earth until darkness fell upon it. Bard represents an interesting counterpoint to Thorin and his rushed decisions.

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5. Smaug in all of his full Glory
An Unexpected Journey was such a bad tease to talk up a bad ass dragon for two hours and 40 minutes, only to leave us with an open eyeball at the end. Not to worry here as at least one third of the film is devoted to the fire-breathing giant – and it’s worth the wait. This enormous adversary gives purpose to the number of dwarves and provides another antagonist that’s not an orc or Gollum. So few of the bad guys in the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings have a full personality, so it’s a surprise that Smaug be able to show a full spectrum of emotions and desires instead of being another intimidating and imposing “big boss” villain. Like Gollum before, Weta knows how to breath life into digital characters and Smaug is not a letdown.

 

So those are the main things that largely make The Desolation of Smaug a more enjoyable experience than An Unexpected Journey. I could continue on about the beautifully orchestrated action sets, but those are a given benefit of Jackson’s monstrous films. The ones here hold up to many of those in the LOTR trilogy. However, there are still things that are annoying, like having too many Dwarves that don’t do anything except clutter up the screen. It also doesn’t help when viewers are trying desperately to connect to the Dwarves but are often upstaged by the heroics of Bilbo (he doesn’t have to be the hero of every moment). One wonders how the race of Dwarves rose to such heights.

There’s still an excruciating cliffhanger that will make you strangle those sitting beside you and no, there’s not more after the credits. For all of the craft and purity theater experience Jackson speaks of, he’s yet found a way to stick a clean landing. Instead, many of his films play to the home video capability of dropping a blu-ray to finish the story. These films come out 12 months apart, and end in manner that could be best described as a your college roommate barging in on a steamy one-night stand. Considering these few foibles, The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug not only salvages the Hobbit Trilogy, it will fuel the desire to see the final installment – and that’s a big improvement over how we felt a year ago.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey that was Much too Long

Long. Perhaps too much so – even for seasoned Lord of the Rings fans.

That about sums up The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, the start of the newest trilogy from Peter Jackson. Although many viewers griped about The Hobbit’s 48 frames per second footage when it hit theaters, at the end of the day, every movie boils down to story. And this one just never seemed to end.

As a matter of full disclosure, I’m one of those Lord of the Rings fans who prefers watching the extended Blu-ray cuts of the LOTR trilogy. The extra twenty-plus minutes of additional footage affords me the opportunity to savor the world of Middle Earth for that much longer. However, The Hobbit has only 320 pages in novel form, whereas the LOTR trilogy has over three times the number of pages. Jackson may argue that he was aiming to expand on the appendices through this new trilogy, but he didn’t succeed in his attempt.

In truth, An Unexpected Journey is a lesson in excess. There are just too many meaningless scenes, none of which really offer much to expand on the LOTR mythos.

The film begins by bridging the gap between the older Bilbo Baggins (Ian Holm) we met in the LOTR trilogy and his younger counterpart, played by Martin Freeman. We start off in the Shire, just before Bilbo’s birthday. Bilbo plans to disappear with Gandalf (Ian McKellen) and leave Frodo (Elijah Wood) his most precious possession. But first he must finish his memoirs. Cue the flashback and the start of our tale.

Once again, Gandalf shows up in the Shire and does what he does best – cause trouble for Hobbits. He marks Bilbo’s door so that Thorin Oakenshield’s dwarves can later use it as a meeting place. It is in this dining sequence where we are first privy to one of The Hobbit’s needlessly long, overindulged scenes. We watch Oakenshield’s dwarves make a mess of Bilbo’s home, while throwing food, plates and cutlery around like ninjas. The scene just never seems to end. Within the first five minutes, most viewers got the point. Dwarves like to eat and drink. It didn’t need to be ten minutes long and it didn’t need to feel like it was thirty minutes long.

Bilbo ends up going off with Thorin’s dwarves in an effort to reclaim the ousted-dwarves’ lost Kingdom of Erebor. There are a few good action sequences and we even get to see Radagast, the tender of beasts. Gollum (Andy Serkis) also makes his debut (or return as it may be). Serkis’ performance as the dual-minded Gollum is always great to watch – that is if you managed to stay awake long enough to make it to his scene. Seasoned fans will be able to labor through the film, but those who sit on the fringe of genre loving will easily let their attention wander.

Did I enjoy the film? Yes. The acting is great and so are the wonderful set pieces. But, unlike the first trilogy, An Unexpected Journey just isn’t as exciting to rewatch. Instead of an extended cut, it can really use a shorter cut.

The Blu-ray features behind-the-scenes footage from the movie and 10 video blogs from Director Peter Jackson. There will also be a sneak peak of the second movie, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, on March 24.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey [Blu-ray]

Starring: Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, James Nesbitt, Ken Stott
Director: Peter Jackson
Studio: Warner Bros
Release Date: March 19, 2013

Rating:
7.5 / 10

An Expected Journey Extension – Peter Jackson Confirms Stretching The Hobbit Out Into Trilogy

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Ever walk into a great buffet restaurant and realize that you should’ve worn your sweat pants instead of your jeans? In the classic case of more is definitely better, Peter Jackson has confirmed that adapting J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit would be extended into a trilogy instead of the planned two-film experience. The decision came from Jackson sitting down with his creative circle and discovering they had an opportunity to tell more stories, and thus seemingly devoting his entire life to Middle Earth. Not really, but it certainly feels like it when you consider he first won the rights to film Lord of the Rings back in 1997 and Return of the King was released in 2003, all of the drama and torment getting The Hobbit made to today’s announcement.

Does anyone remember when Jackson did not want anything to do with New Line Cinema, and then was just going to oversee The Hobbit as a producer and Guillermo del Toro directing? All of that is a distant memory as Jackson embracing more responsibility in growing Tolkien’s legacy in film. The new release schedule for the three films is looking like December 14 for The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, December 13, 2013 for the sequel, The Hobbit: There and Back Again, and a summer 2014 target release date for the third film.

Here’s Jackson’s official statement released on his facebook page:

It is only at the end of a shoot that you finally get the chance to sit down and have a look at the film you have made. Recently Fran, Phil and I did just this when we watched for the first time an early cut of the first movie – and a large chunk of the second. We were really pleased with the way the story was coming together, in particular, the strength of the characters and the cast who have brought them to life. All of which gave rise to a simple question: do we take this chance to tell more of the tale? And the answer from our perspective as the filmmakers, and as fans, was an unreserved ‘yes.’

We know how much of the story of Bilbo Baggins, the Wizard Gandalf, the Dwarves of Erebor, the rise of the Necromancer, and the Battle of Dol Guldur will remain untold if we do not take this chance. The richness of the story of The Hobbit, as well as some of the related material in the appendices of The Lord of the Rings, allows us to tell the full story of the adventures of Bilbo Baggins and the part he played in the sometimes dangerous, but at all times exciting, history of Middle-earth.

So, without further ado and on behalf of New Line Cinema, Warner Bros. Pictures, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Wingnut Films, and the entire cast and crew of “The Hobbit” films, I’d like to announce that two films will become three.

It has been an unexpected journey indeed, and in the words of Professor Tolkien himself, “a tale that grew in the telling.”

Cheers,

Peter J

We can’t blame the powers that be for extending this franchise out. Jackson, Weta and company are the very best people to adapt Tolkien’s work and if there were 15 more stories that could be gathered from the appendices, then honestly, we’d see 15 more films. From a planning standpoint, Warner Bros. Pictures is looking for any no brain home runs it can knock out of the park with the Harry Potter franchise ending, as well as Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy ending, resting the future of DC Comics film adaptations and a potential Justice League film on the success of Man of Steel. What’s that you say, Peter? You want another cash cow? [Cue in WB executives showering in dollar bills]. No, this is announcement certainly isn’t as unexpected as Bilbo Baggin’s big screen adventure, but it is certainly welcomed by many parties, including the fans.

As long as Jackson has the energy for it, and feels that the footage he has in addition to the footage he will have, gives him three strong films over two bloated ones, then sure, who are we to argue against it? Let’s just hope that the summer 2014 release date holds.

‘Wilfred’ Interview: Elijah Wood Still Sees Dog People in Season 2

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Before Elijah Wood headed back to Venice Beach to shoot the second season of FX’s critical hit comedy, Wilfred, he returned to the shire to reprise his Lord of the Rings role of Frodo Baggins for December’s The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey and next year’s follow-up The Hobbit: There and Back Again, and was surprised how “normal” it felt to put on the fake feet, the shaggy wig, and the pointed ears. He thought, “here we are again, this is what we’ve been doing all this time.” As if time stood still but it’s hard to believe almost a decade has passed and countless films and voice work have kept Wood busy.

Wood, now 31, just finished working on a big ensemble film called Pawn Shop Chronicles, directed by Wayne Kramer (The Cooler, Running Scared), which he says is going to be “fucking amazing” with an all-star cast. He’s also starring as “Beck” in the new Disney XD cartoon, TRON: Uprising. That’s a lot to fit in between two seasons of television, but then again, Wood’s not your average actor, and his role of Wilfred’s Ryan Newman is anything but average.

Ryan is a confused, young man trying to navigate through life and forms a tight bond with his neighbor’s dog, who is simply a dog to everyone else. In spite of that, Ryan sees an obnoxious, foul-mouthed Australian man in a dime-store dog suit. They’re TV’s latest odd couple, but that doesn’t make them any less of best friends. We sat in on a conference call with Wood, who discussed his reactions to Season 1 and what we can expect with Season 2. (For those who’ve yet to see through the Season 2 Preview episode, beware of spoilers.)

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For Those Keeping Score
The second half of last season’s Wilfred was a tempest brewing when Wilfred took taking Ryan to a dark trip to a retirement home in the episode “Respect.” Two introductions to Ryan’s mother, Catherine in “Compassion” and Bruce who could also see Wilfred in “Doubt,” sent Ryan into a tailspin. And the finale, aptly entitled, “Identity” brought out the evil side of Ryan, a glimpse into the side of him that led to that lonely place in the pilot. When Jenna needed legal help, we saw a return of Ryan’s dark and selfish ways. Wood explains why, for a moment, it was important to see him slip back into that darkness and whether or not we’ll see him regress again in Season 2.

“It provided a color to the character that was very different from the character we were introduced to and that we’ve only kind of ever alluded to that side of him in the first season until we saw it at the end, so it was great fun to play.”

“We won’t necessarily see that darkness again. He allowed himself to get to the precipice a little bit, and in doing that, he almost lost everything that was holding him together–Wilfred included–and so now we see him having come out of that space, and I don’t think it’s likely that he’ll return there any time soon. But we now are aware of the fact that that exists, and to a certain degree, more importantly, that is ultimately what led to his initial downfall. I think it was that selfish activity and doing things that he knew was wrong that put him in the place that made Wilfred come into his life in the first place.”

EDITOR’S PICK: Read Our Review of the Wilfred Season 2 Preview Episode, “Progress”

We were left to stew over a puzzling ending where the closet that led to the basement stairs was revealed to be a closet with no stairs, putting many events of Season 1 into question. Wood loved the challenge showrunner David Zuckerman came up with.

“To leave people on a bit of a cliffhanger in such an extreme way was really exciting,” Wood said. “Then trying to figure out how best to come out of that was an interesting challenge for David. But I love the way that he ultimately did. What I’m proud of with the show is where it goes in that first season.”

Because of the multi-layered nature of Wilfred, the finale worked, but don’t think that Zuckerman’s Season 1 finale can’t be topped..

“We do a similar thing this season as well, where from episode 207 on, things get a little bit more complex in the storytelling, and those are some of my favorite episodes. We have an interesting finale this season as well that I’m very excited about.”

Wilfred S2 Tennis Ball Promo

Teaching Ryan New Tricks
Walking up to the front door of Season 2, after viewing the preview episode, “Progress,” we see that matter of the basement is real, and Ryan is now employed. Small steps have been made towards a recovery but the evidence of some of Ryan’s vices were uncovered “digging” between the sofa cushions. Despite whatever improvements he feels he’s made, Ryan still sees Wilfred. Still, Wood insists that Ryan will be wiser in Season 2, “a little bit less passive” and be more aware of Wilfred pulling the fur over his eyes.

“Ryan is constantly trying to look ahead to any of the things that Wilfred’s suggesting as possibly being a trick or a manipulation.  So there is a bit more of struggle between the two of them this time around. I think he’s a lot more active in trying to almost stay ahead of Wilfred. He’s not always successful, but he has his eye out.”

“But as much as Wilfred cannot entirely be trusted, I think those sorts of schemes and lies end up in Ryan learning something and continuing to grow and advance as a person, despite the method for getting him there. I think deep down Ryan has a sense that Wilfred does have his best interest at heart.”

“[Ryan’s] aware of the fact that he’s on a path of self-discovery and a journey to bettering himself, and Wilfred’s his friend. It’s the person that knows and understands him the best, again, despite the difficulties present in their relationship sometimes. It’s the person that he can actually rely on and that can truly understand what makes Ryan who he is.”

In “Progress,” Ryan finds Wilfred’s will and reads two words on the last page of a stack of blank paper, “Keep Digging.” And does so in the final credits, finding his trusty Gatorade bottle bong. Surely this can’t be the extent of his dig, just don’t expect Ryan’s to begin his hopeful journey right away. Wood explains that in the first few episodes, Ryan gets his bearings and everything seems more familiar than changed.

“But as the season progresses some of those existential questions and complications start to arise again,” Wood previews. “We’ll see more of that digging, I suppose, and of his self-discovery and growth, or lack of growth, as the season progresses. Wilfred starts to become a little bit more like that, which represents, again, an element of the show that I think I’m most in love with.” And while he adores the upcoming funny, ridiculous episodes that kick off Season 2, he believes “Progress” is emblematic of Wilfred at its best.

CLICK HERE FOR PAGE 2 of the ELIJAH WOOD Wilfred Season Two Interview