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Fantasy The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
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The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
Genre Fantasy

Will they be releasing an extended edition of The Hobbit trilogy? It seems as though that's already happening. If anything, there will be a special director's cut, which will probably get a cinema release, drawing all of the films together in the space of three-and-a-half hours. If not, there will undoubtedly be a fan-made version doing the rounds on the Internet. Everyone's thinking it - why did Peter Jackson decide to stretch The Hobbit into a three part saga?

The short answer must surely be money. Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy is regarded as the best fantasy trilogy out there raking in box office takings and countless royalties on figurines and extended edition box sets. J.R.R. Tolkien's world has become accessible to a new wave of fans who probably first got wind of the Lord of the Rings from watching Bastian discover the magic of reading in The Neverending Story.

John Boorman wanted to adapt The Lord of the Rings in the late '70s. However, the scope was limited by the visual effects technology and sheer size of the production. So he decided to reinvigorate Arthurian legend with the iconic, Excalibur. Peter Jackson leveraged visual effects technology to craft The Lord of the Rings trilogy and having done it once before, was compelled to do it again with The Hobbit after taking the reins from Guillermo del Toro.

Both sagas happen in the same Middle Earth universe... The Hobbit weighs in at roughly 300 pages and The Lord of the Rings roughly 1000 pages. While it features several characters from The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit's considered to be a children's book. The Lord of the Rings amounted to about 10 hours as a trilogy, which would suggest a three hour film would just about cover The Hobbit.

However, what started as a two part adaptation of The Hobbit has now been converted into a trilogy. Jackson has stretched the 300 page fantasy adventure to encompass about 9 hours of screen time. While you could justify an extended run time on the back of dazzling visual effects and more in-depth characterization, there's very little chance of filling an extra 5-6 hours of movie without some significant padding.

Peter Jackson has been arguably more ambitious with The Hobbit than The Lord of the Rings. While the director has chosen the long and winding road, the main commendation is that The Hobbit holds up as a series. The visual effects are breathtaking, the production values are first-rate and the beloved Middle Earth breathes again to the delight of many a Lord of the Rings fan.

What the story lacks in substance, it makes up for in casting, make up and special effects - crafting a mesmerising fantasy-adventure epic that many would be proud to call their own. Unfortunately, The Hobbit is always going to be compared with The Lord of the Rings and perhaps this was part of the reason why Jackson originally declined to direct the "prequel".

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug picks up the adventure where The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey left off. We're treated to what seems like a number of Lord of the Rings theme park rides waiting to happen as Bilbo, Gandalf and the dwarves continue their quest to reclaim their homeland, Erebor.

Martin Freeman reprises his role as Bilbo Baggins, spearheading the cross-country adventure with the power of the ring. The fierce and funny dwarves, under the leadership of Thorin played by Richard Armitage, provide much of the comic relief when they're not fighting their way out of trouble. Sir Ian McKellen is and has always been Gandalf, the Middle Earth connection, whose solo mission finds him battling shadows.

While these characters were central to The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, this sequel seems more preoccupied with visuals and swashbuckling adventure than characterisation. It's not that they don't do a good job of portraying their characters, it just feels like we're at arm's length, just outside the story and never fully invested in any of the divergent story paths.

It's a welcome return for Orlando Bloom as a much colder Legolas. Despite being a decade after the Return of the King, Bloom seems out-of-time, giving the Elvish archer another opportunity to ratchet up some Orc kills. He ushers in Tauriel, played by the beautiful Evangeline Lilly, whose presence adds some much-needed femininity to proceedings as a Resident Evil type heroine.

There's a nice match-up between Sherlock co-leads, Martin Freeman and Benedict Cumberbatch, who engage in a smouldering game of wits as Bilbo and Smaug meet for the first time. Cumberbatch's voice isn't instantly recognisable, but gives Smaug a sly, all-knowing intelligence to top off his near-invincibility.

The seemingly effortless blend of visual effects and make up is the main feature in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. The visuals are spellbinding and have integrity, despite leaning so heavily on CGI. Peter Jackson has not only transported us back to Middle Earth, but has ensured that each scene holds an otherworldly reality. The dwarves are stubby, the orcs are grotesque, the elves are superhuman, Smaug slithers with grace and severity, while each checkpoint on the map has roots.

When you're not being dazzled by the visual effects artistry, it's the production values that give this sequel its edge, providing the backdrop for the tale's misadventure through dark forests, rapids, mountains and caverns.

Beyond this beautiful tapestry of visual majesty, there's a story that has been stretched to breaking point. While delving headfirst into the action helps maintain the pacing, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, feels thin against the array of characters. You're intrigued by the fantasy characters, compelled by the quest, yet somewhat disconnected... growing more and more distant as the story's padding and delaying tactics weigh in on the run time.

While the pacing is better than The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, which seemed to use The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring as a blueprint, this middle chapter leaves with very little guesswork for the grand finale in The Hobbit: There and Back Again. It will be interesting to see how Jackson wields the concluding chapter.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is a high quality product, a sweeping fantasy-adventure, bolstered by a first-rate cast, with beautifully composed cinematography, spectacular visual effects, amazing make up effects and production values of the highest order. Unfortunately, it's a matter of style over substance. The performances are okay, the story is stretched and the characters are out-of-reach, which just weighs down an already long run time. Fans will be more forgiving, but others will be saying "get on with it" under their breath.

The bottom line: Tarnished


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