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The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

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With stunning visuals and a solid cast, Director Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is a beacon of high expectations in the realm of fantasy films this Holiday season.  Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage), a member of Dwarf royalty who must reclaim his homeland of Erebor from the murderous dragon, Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch). Accompanying him are a team of dwarves and the Hobbit, Bilbo Baggins (Martin Friedman). Baggins is unknowingly tasked with reclaiming the Arkenstone, Oakenshield’s proof to rule, from a very live dragon.  Along the way, the group faces the path of vicious Orcs, unfriendly Elves, a Skinchanger, terrifying giant spiders, and human beings who really just want to be left alone. Gandalf the Grey (Sir Ian Mckellan) accompanies them for part of the journey but departs on a side quest in an attempt to stop The Necromancer, a figure that is working to resurrect old evil and bring terror to the land.

Martin Friedman does something that he has proven over and over again with Sherlock; interacting well with Benedict Cumberbatch, even when he’s not in scene. A large portion of the movie features Bilbo Baggins speaking in lofty terms of praise to Smaug in hopes of gaining the Arkenstone and not being eaten.  Friedman shows the playful courageous side of the hobbits, but also shows moments of desperation when wearing the one ring.  Kili (Aiden Turner) coined a phrase in my head I thought I would never utter; sexy dwarf. With smoldering eyes and stories of his home, the character of Kili is one of those ridiculous romantic figures that will likely tear it up with the ladies. Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly), the female leader of the Elven Guard, will also be perpetuating the popularity of archery among young women. In the same vein as Katniss Everdeen and Disney’s Princess Merida, Tauriel defends her people, kills orcs with incredible skill, and looks gorgeous while doing it. While the character is cliché and pretty tw- dimensional, no doubt it will spawn a new generation of women in fantasy.

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Tauriel

Though they have small roles in the film, The Master of Laketown (Stephen Fry) and Radagast (Sylvester McCoy) steal the show. McCoy plays the curious and wary assistant of Gandalf the Grey, sneaking into a series of very creepy tombs and acting as a messenger to Galadriel when Gandalf “most certainly” enters a trap set for him by a great evil. Stephen Fry is the very selfish Master of Laketown, but his bumbling and selfishness actually comes across more charming than it was likely intended.

My chief complaint about The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug comes from the length. Many scenes, including an initial terrifying giant spider sequence, drag on past the point where they are interesting. In one particular battle between the dwarves and orcs, a dwarf is sent sailing through the air in a barrel, leading to orc after orc toppling over into a river below. A few seconds of this would have been entertaining, slapstick even, but instead the scene drags on for just over a minute. It reminded me of a Seth McFarlane joke on Family Guy; too long with not enough pay off to make it funny.

Purists of the Tolkien books will also have a great deal to chew on. The movie takes several liberties with the timelines of characters, as well as introducing one or two that never existed in The Hobbit in the first place. If the viewer is able to see the movie as an interpretation of Tolkien and not as a shot for shot make of the book, they will likely enjoy the film more.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is visually stunning, with a great sense of adventure. Lovers of fantasy will enjoy this second part in the trilogy. I would advise against bringing small children, those with short attention spans, or those who are terrified of spiders (giant or otherwise).

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