I felt the same way about “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” (2013) as I did about its predecessor — it’s a beautifully rendered, immersive fantasy that still falls short of being a truly great movie. I’d give it an 8 out of 10.
The special effects are downright beautiful. We’ve got a fantastic dragon to behold. The acting is roundly terrific too. I can only imagine it must be harder for a professional actor to portray a hobbit, dwarf, elf, or wizard, with their stylized language and fantastical quirks. Yet every member of the cast was either good or great. The obvious standouts are Sir Ian McKlellan as Gandalf and Martin Freeman as Bilbo. Ken Stott as Balin was also quite good.
Yet the monsters and action were sometimes so cartoonish that they really challenged an adult viewer’s willing suspension of disbelief. The battle sequence involving the barrels, for example, seemed like something out of a Warner Brothers cartoon.
I also noticed a couple of other things. This is my fifth of Peter Jackson’s “The Lord of the Rings” movies that I’ve watched, and I am beginning to understand the viewer contention that these film’s story structures consist of a lot of “walking and fighting.”
The most interesting story element, for me, was Bilbo’s use of The Ring as his secret weapon — all the while concealing its magic from his comrades and first gaining the psychic attention of Sauron. We also see hints that he may develop his own slavish devotion to The Ring, spookily suggested when he brutally attacks the giant spider assailants who might jeopardize his possession of it. The Ring’s subplot (and the way it sets up “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy) engaged me more than anything else. Throughout all the films, it’s a fantastic story device, and well suited for a fantasy context. The Ring could be a metaphor for greed, love of power, possessive love, or even drug addiction. It adds so much depth to the Lord of the Rings universe, and goes far beyond a story of little good guys fighting big bad guys. To me, The Ring and Bilbo were far more entertaining than traveling dwarves greeting or fighting characters throughout Middle Earth.
There may have been pacing problems; this felt slow. I got the sense that too much time was spent establishing Lake-town and its (fairly boring) residents, although it was great seeing the immeasurably talented Stephen Fry’s surprise turn as its “Master.” Too much dialogue is devoted to things like arguing with elves, negotiating boat rides, and penetrating a magic door. (And I’m still not sure how the “last light of … day” translates into an Autumn moon.)
This was a good movie, even for someone who isn’t a fan of the source material. Given its length and its slower pacing, however, I may not feel the need to see the third film right away.
[Edit: I’m not sure why the poster below appears to cite 2014 as its release date. Was it re-released in theaters?]