Monday, January 13, 2014

Hey! We Saw a Movie! - The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug

 Recently, Jonny Prophet and I braved over a foot of snow and a -35 wind chill in a literal life or death journey to see the new Hobbit movie. But instead of walking like our heroes in Middle Earth, we had the good sense to drive there.

Toaster's Contribution - I have to say I enjoyed this one much more than the previous Hobbit installment. The Desolation of Smaug didn’t feel like it was lagging and bursting at the seams with filler. You had a lot of good rise and fall in action, some great battle sequences and a definite feeling of plot advancement. Unlike the previous film, this one didn’t feel like it was three hours long.

This film added some characters, some new and one old. Lee Pace, the pie-maker from Pushing Daisies, played Thranduil. He was the king of the elves of Mirkwood and really helped give them that bad reputation of being assholes to everyone else. Tauriel, a red headed she-elf was played by Lost’s Evangeline Lily. I’m glad to see her get work. Plus, now she has another role on her resume where she played a sexy geek fantasy character. (She was pretty damn hot, I must admit.) Then there’s Legolas… the sexual fantasy of most women and a few men (whether they want to admit it or not) from the original LOTR trilogy. But he was different here. In the LOTR movies he was fairly light-hearted and kind. I mean, yeah, he was a killing machine to be sure, but Legolas carried himself as a nice guy. In this movie, he was a dick. Legolas was always scowling and treated everyone like he had a chip on his shoulder. (He also looked older, which is weird because this took place years before the LOTR! I thought elves were virtually immortal!) I know that the movie had set up him to be in a love triangle with Tauriel and Kili the cute dwarf (aka the Paul McCartney of Thoren’s group!). I don’t get it, though. Legolas was so zen in the previous films. Maybe they will explain this personality shift in the final film. Or maybe Legolas will be a sort of ‘reverse Anakin’ of the Middle Earth films, being a total mismatch of how he was originally perceived.

So you have this love-triangle subplot in addition to the main plot featuring Thoren Oakenshield and Bilbo Baggins taking back treasure from Smaug… but then there’s this other subplot that I can only describe as “Gandalf and Radagast’s Excellent Adventure.” Early on in the film, Gandalf excuses himself from the plot to go investigate the ruins of Dol Guldur over the alarming number of orcs and necromancers reported in the vicinity. He ends up getting followed around by Radagast, that other wizard that’s covered in animal crap. I’m honestly not sure what purpose he serves toward the movie. Radagast is like that smelly dumb guy who you let hang around with you out of pity but then after a few days you end up really regretting the decision. Even Gandalf knows he’s too cool to be seen with a guy with bird shit in his hair and beard! That’s why Gandalf tells Radagast to stay behind once he reaches Dol Guldur.

I’ve never read the book, but I am wondering if Peter Jackson is making the connection of this “prequel” trilogy to the Lord of the Rings films a lot more pronounced. The previous Hobbit film had Gandalf discussing the “ring wraith” threat with Galadriel, Elrond and Saruman. This one of course dealt with the Necromancer, but in a specific scene the character was directly identified as Sauron by Gandalf, even going to far as to show the silhouette of the fully armored Sauron as the iris of the flaming eye (appearing to be the same flaming eye over Mordor). It’s not a bad idea for Jackson to take a few creative liberties with his films, especially to connect The Hobbit (written before the Lord of the Rings books) to his LOTR trilogy. However, it will lead me to question something. The events of the Hobbit occur about sixty years before Fellowship of the Ring. If all of this evidence of the return of Sauron and his forces, especially the supernatural ones like the ring wraiths, why would the powers of good (i.e. Gandalf, the elves) sit on their asses about it for so long? Even though it may have looked like Sauron was defeated (as I assume the Necromancer and his forces fall in the final part of The Hobbit), the dude’s come back before! Maybe the elves should have gotten together and purged Middle Earth of the orcs and other bad guys to make sure the Dark One can never resurface as a threat again. Maybe then it wouldn’t have seemed like the rise of Mordor caught everyone with their pants down!

I do have a complaint that doesn’t really pertain to the quality of the film itself but more a gimmick of the presentation. Hobbit 2: Hobbit Harder was filmed using that High Frame Rate, or 48 frames per second instead of the usual 24 frames per second. This method can look very pleasing; the on-screen motion can seem a lot more fluid and easier to see in fast paced situations. The problem is that the HFR method can make the CGI look out of place. One of the triumphs of the original LOTR trilogy was how seamlessly the computer animation blended with the live action (for the most part at least). For some reason though, during the fast paced fight sequences, the HFR made the CGI look obvious and fake. The rest of the time, the HFR made the movie look like it was shown on a giant LCD television... which is cool I guess. Not really anything I was demanding nor something I would necessarily gravitate toward when choosing a movie. (For note, Jonny and I saw the 3D HFR showing because it was the nearest time to our arrival at the theater.)

The ending was an obvious cliffhanger, so much so that nothing was really resolved. Almost every plot thread was left dangling. Unlike the Lord of the Rings films, there wasn’t a ‘mini-climax’ to end this film. Even the first Hobbit movie had its own climax. This film literally just leads into the next one. It wasn’t necessarily unsatisfying, but it is always a little irritating to know I have to wait a year before getting resolution. Granted I could read the book, but I already have a stack of comic book trade paperbacks and graphic novels to plow through (Marvel’s War of Kings, Realm of Kings & Thanos Imperative storylines, Grant Morrison’s JLA run, volume 1 of Garth Ennis’ The Boys, volume 8 of the ‘Ultimate Edition’ of Invincible and first volumes of various Brian K Vaughan books like Saga, Pride of Baghdad, Y: The Last Man & Ex Machina to name just a few).

And now for Jonny Prophet to earn those meds he's been prescribed...

Jonny’s Contribution – Well, it’s another movie set in Middle Earth, a place where people walk, and walk a lot they do. Why can’t they make a mass transit system? Why can’t Gandalf use those giant eagles the whole trip?  Why doesn’t Radagast, that brown wizard, clean the bird crap off himself?  Birds are evil.  Anyways, a large part of the movie takes place in the Elf kingdom of Mirkwood, where there are no hand rails and in Lake Town, where there are also no hand rails. Do they want people to fall off stairs in Middle Earth? Lake Town is a run down city that is a shadow of its former glorious self, so basically it’s the Detroit of Middle Earth…  only better because they have Steven fry as The Master. (stupid Kwame) The movie did have a cliffhanger, but don’t feel like I did when I watch Catching Fire. (stupid drag queen future). The best part the movie is clearly with Smaug. He and Bilbo should get apartment together in London and solve murder mysteries. Come on, a dragon and his Hobbit sidekick solving mysteries? That’s freakin’ amazing.  I also enjoyed Evangeline Lily in the movie, as well as the cameos by Peter Jackson and Steven Colbert… even if Toaster didn’t catch them.

Okay, to be fair, we are watching the movie in that 48 frames per second 3D… that’s a lot to take in. My eyes weren’t always were they needed to be on a big screen with so much going on. I did see Jackson, but Colbert was only on screen for 2 seconds! Come on! 

Until the next review... Stay Strange!

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