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HOBBIT, THE: THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG

SYNOPSIS:
After successfully crossing over (and under) the Misty Mountains, Thorin (Richard Armitage) and Company must seek aid from a powerful stranger before taking on the dangers of Mirkwood Forest--without their Wizard. If they reach the human settlement of Lake-town it will be time for the hobbit Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) to fulfill his contract with the dwarves. The party must complete the journey to Lonely Mountain and Baggins must seek out the Secret Door that will give them access to the hoard of the dragon Smaug (voice of Benedict Cumberbatch). And, where has Gandalf (Ian McKellen) got to? What is his secret business to the south?

Review by Louise Keller:
With its breathtaking production design and astonishing reality, Peter Jackson's second in the Hobbit trilogy offers more ballast this time with spectacular highlights, namely the extended sequence featuring the gigantic fire-breathing dragon Smaug that makes the world of Erebor quake around the hobbit, dwarves, elves, wizard and orcs. Filled with amazing visuals and special effects, fans of J.R.R. Tolkien's work lovingly brought to life by Jackson will lap up every minute of the 161 minute marathon and once again, the rugged beauty of New Zealand features strongly. But those who are not familiar with the different characters might be forgiven for being a little confused and restless in the early scenes: the story begins rather clumsily with an overload of sub-titled dialogue and ugly, ungainly orcs, the villains of the piece.

The screenplay by Jackson, Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens and Guillermo del Toro is dense and the establishment of the plot in which the dwarves set out to reclaim their homeland of Erebor takes too long to get going. There is plenty going on and much to see, but the lack of a single heroic focus as was prevalent in the Lord of the Rings series, tends to detract somewhat. Meanwhile, Howard Shore's music soars, Andrew Lesnie's cinematography magnificently captures the fantasy elements and editing is mighty sharp.

Watch out for the sequence in which the little hobbit Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), recruited to steal the famed Arkenstone jewel in the dragon's lair, makes his way through an impenetrable maze of gargantuan spiders from Mirkwood. It is creepy. Also worthy of attention is the daring escape scene in which the dwarves, hidden in wooden barrels, cascade down a waterfall, with elves and orcs at the chase. Luke Evans is charismatic as the barge-man, who helps the dwarves across the lake, Orlando Bloom dashing as Legolas and Stephen Fry is a hoot as the master of Lake-Town.

If it drags at times, the film comes into its own when Bilbo finds himself in a sea of silver and gold treasures, beneath which the terrifying dragon is sleeping. The moment when Smaug wakes up is one to savour, as is the sequence when the dragon becomes spectacularly gold-coated.

As much as I appreciate every intricate and wonderful detail of the reality of Jackson's film creation, especially the gob-smacking fiery dragon spectacle, the film feels like overkill - there is too much going on and too many characters vying for our attention all at once. There is no denying Jackson's immense passion and skill, and from the fans, there will be few complaints.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
The attention to detail is extraordinary, and the filmmaking techniques are all excellent, yet I find myself outside the picture looking in throughout the film, analysing it instead of believing it. I daresay it's my own shortcoming, but my unfamiliarity with the story and the world the characters inhabit (despite having seen the first Hobbit as well as The Lord of the Rings trilogy) is a hurdle. It occurs to me that audiences need to have a good understanding of the cultures represented - the hobbits, the dwarves, the orcs, etc - for the conflicts and relationships to be meaningful.

Maybe it's the story itself that doesn't have the power or clarity to engage on screen.

It unfolds like a black fairytale, fire breathing dragon and all, with a central quest (not yet complete - episode three to come next Christmas) and a bunch of characters who are heroic or amusing or plain weird. The bad guys (orcs) look ugly as sin, the heroes are handsome, the heroines lovely and the dwarves likeably bizarre. That much is as expected.

This is such a fantasy for the children in all of us that adult sensibilities are misplaced: rationality is alien. The names, places and creatures are symbols, perhaps, of our own world experiences, but paraded in the livery of 'foreigners'. Yet the values to which the characters adhere (good or bad) are recognisably human and contemporary. Hope, courage, loyalty, love and pride are easy to spot, no matter the costume or the make up.

This is also true of Smaug (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch), who comes across as a combo of smart and smarmy, clever and not so clever, wise but evil - in an extended, somewhat overblown sequence. But the technicals are amazing.

It is hardly surprising, given all that I've said, that at 161 minutes the film is far too long for me; the ambivalent cadence and phrasing of the dialogue (shifting from archaic to contempo and back) has also dragged down my interest level. I recognise the lilting comedic sensibility that Peter Jackson injected in the first Hobbit, and its role as the yeast to lighten the heavy load, and the sense of loyalty that drives the heroes forward.

The production design and the score are marvellous achievements, and I wish I could say I love it.

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CRITICAL COUNT
Favourable: 0
Unfavourable: 0
Mixed: 2

HOBBIT, THE: THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG (M)
(NZ/US, 2013)

CAST: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Richard Armitage, Benedict Cumberbatch, Hugo Weaving, Cate Blanchett, Billy Connolly, Elijah Wood, Christopher Lee, Andy Serkis, Aidan Turner, Ian Holm, Mikael Persbrandt, Luke Evans, Evangeline Lilly

PRODUCER: Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh, Carolynne Cunningham

DIRECTOR: Peter Jackson

SCRIPT: Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Guillermo del Toro (novel by J. R. R. Tolkien)

CINEMATOGRAPHER: Andrew Lesnie

EDITOR: Jabez Olssen

MUSIC: Howard Shore

PRODUCTION DESIGN: Dan Hennah

RUNNING TIME: 161 minutes

AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Roadshow

AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: December 26, 2013







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