Note: I saw this film in 2D and at the normal 24 FPS; I refuse to see anything else at a higher frame rate anymore. You just don’t mess with the conventions that have been around since the invention of film. Anyway, on to the review….

I was not the biggest fan of the first Hobbit movie in what is now trilogy, when originally it was going to be only two films. The first one suffered from a lot of boring scenes that were either not in the original novel, or extended to the point of boredom. It also had a weird tone to it, almost made for children.  The second one improves on the action and pacing; the singing and whimsicality of the first one are replaced by fast-paced, exciting, and occasionally humorous battles, some awesome set-pieces, and a tone that is far more dark and mature.

Yet, the sequel suffers from the same problems that the first film did. When it was announced that the two films would be three, there was a lot of skepticism about how they could possibly make a 300 something page book into 6+ hours of film. Peter Jackson decided to incorporate a lot of ideas drawn from other Tolkien novels and introduce characters that weren’t in the original novel. This is not the first time this has been done before, but the only problem is if you’re going to make these huge changes to the story, you have to at least make them entertaining.

There are a couple of story-lines in The Desolation of Smaug that feel unnecessary. The inclusion of Legolas, assuredly put in for crowd-pleasing purposes, feels off. Yes, he does bring a new level of action to the film, in some cases outdoing some of his cool fight moves he pulled in the LOTR’s trilogy, but he was not in the original novel. Nor was Evangeline Lily’s character Tauriel, because she was a character created just for this film, my guess is because there simply aren’t any female characters in the novel, and there obviously has to be at least one attractive girl in a movie for it to sell, even though they already know, girl or no girl, that this movie will sell tickets. Her budding romance with Kili, one of the dwarves, feels completely out of place, and it goes to show that every movie has to have some sort of romance.

It seems as though Peter Jackson wrote himself into a hole with some of the new storylines and the only way to get himself out was to add new characters and incorporate them into the classic novel as if they had always been there. These additions often seem overwhelming, and other times just plain unnecessary, taking time away from something rather exciting, only to be moved along to a made up character or storyline that feels contrived. The movie runs 162 minutes, and by the end, you have really felt the length of the movie. There is a lot crammed into it, and the extra, non-original story lines make it feel even longer.

As far as throwbacks, or rather “throw-forwards”, to the LOTR’s trilogy, Legolas is the only one to appear, whereas it was Frodo and Golem in the first film. We do get quite a lot of heavy foreshadowing to the coming events of LOTR’s in this film that weren’t too clear in the novel, which for those familiar with that story, it does benefit the audience as to how the events started.

Along with the Evangeline Lily, we are given several more new cast members; Lee Pace as Legolas’ father, Thranduil, Luke Evans as Bard, and most importantly Benedict Cumberbatch as Smaugh and the Necromancer. Cumberbatch lends his voice menacingly to the mighty Smaug and it is apparently so in the scene where he and Bilbo meet, it is a great scene, sort of akin to Bilbo’s encounter with Golem in the first film. I can’t think of a better voice for the dragon.

The returning cast is still as great. Martin Freeman does an excellent job yet again as the titular hero who has grown significantly less bumbling and far more courageous and also acts as the conscience of the group. Ian McKellen will always be remembered for playing Gandalf, but he seems a lot more rigid in this film than he did in the LOTR’s trilogy. Maybe he grows a better sense of humor between the two stories.

Aside from the issues from writing, The Desolation of Smaug is a huge improvement over the first Hobbit film. There is more action, it is better paced, and it primes itself excellently for the finale of the trilogy. My only fear is the movie, not trying to give any spoilers here, ends with not too much left in the book. So the third movie, I predict, will rely a lot more on the invention and inclusion of the characters that Peter Jackson has already filled the first two films with. I guess all we can do is wait and see what the conclusion will be like a year from now, on December 17th 2014, as the final stories we will probably ever see from Middle Earth come to an end.

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