Year 7, Day 231 - 8/19/15 - Movie #2,125
BEFORE: I know that Benedict Cumberbatch provided the voice of the dragon Smaug in this film, so that allows him to carry over from "The Fifth Estate" and lets me FINALLY get to this film. It's been over a year and a half since I watched the first "Hobbit" film - that's the chance you take when you rely on the linking the way I do. It took me so long to get here that HBO is now running the THIRD film, but at least that will enable me to watch this one and that one back to back.
THE PLOT: The dwarves, along with Bilbo Baggins and Gandalf the Grey, continue their quest to reclaim Erebor, their homeland, from Smaug.
FOLLOW-UP TO: "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" (Movie #1,622)
AFTER: Well, I have to say this worked out rather well. When I watched the first "Hobbit" film, it was right after "Jack, the Giant-Slayer", and there was a thematic connection with giants in both films. The second Hobbit film features beasties like spiders and bears, and I watched spiders last week in "Microcosmos" and bears in "Bears" and "Grizzly Man". Barring the Cumberbatch connection, that's about an appropriate lead-in as I could hope for.
My review of the first "Hobbit" film was a little love/hate, where I operated as both a huge fan and a huge nitpicker, and that will probably be the tone of today's review also. Let's start with another unnecessary framing sequence, one that details how Gandalf met Thorin Oakenshield and formed an alliance, one night in a pub in Bree. Well, the first Hobbit film left off with the Bilbo, the dwarves and Gandalf within sight of the Lonely Mountain, so why can't we just pick up the story there? Why do we need to go BACK and show how these two met, it simply adds nothing to the story. Who cares?
Next debate, the addition of the elves Legolas and Tauriel as (nearly) active members of the party. I can see how this sets up the Legolas + Gimli connection for the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy (everyone knows that Gloin is Gimli's father, right?) and it's nice to see some gender equality with a female elf who's just as good with a bow and arrow as Legolas is, but in the end, how necessary are they? Can Peter Jackson genuinely prove that they help advance the plot, or are they just story extenders? Because on the one hand, Tauriel's addition leads to the unlikely, unholy possible romance between a dwarf and an elf, but on the other hand, their addition brings about one of the best action sequences in the movie, when the dwarves are riding barrels down the river, surrounded by orcs. Seriously, Legolas like rides on top of two guys HEADS while he spears multiple orcs with the same arrow, then jumps on shore and he's like EVERYWHERE at once taking down other orcs, while the dwarves chop down a log full of orcs over the river by passing a hatchet back to the next barrels in line, with each dwarf taking a swing in turn. It's totally awesome, and I could watch that sequence over and over - words can't possibly describe.
If you're a Tolkien purist, you can get mad about additions and changes that Jackson made - but really, there's no point. Jackson has the type of creative control over cinematic Middle Earth that George Lucas used to have over the Star Wars universe, or that Joss Whedon now has over the Avengers universe. In the end you just sort of have to surrender yourself to it, like a small child in the back seat of a car, and essentially say, "Well, Daddy's driving..." and even though you're groggy and you don't know where exactly you are, you feel secure, knowing you're ultimately going to get home OK.
The only other beefs come as a result of this "prequelitis", having turned the shortest Tolkien book into three movies instead of one, thanks to some sort of Middle-Earth equivalent of Hamburger Helper. As a result, every little detail becomes a plot point, every plot point becomes a major sequence, every sequence from the book becomes, like one-third of a film. Seriously, every time a character DROPS something (no lie) it becomes a thing, an issue, a turning point. Enough already, it was just a dwarf dropping a tobacco pouch, who cares?
But honestly, the action sequences are SO well done, I almost don't care. I'm thinking specifically of Smaug, who pretty much steals the movie after being introduced. A talking, thinking giant dragon who lives in a hollow mountain full of treasure? Damn, I'm sold. And then the fight between the dwarves and Smaug, so well-planned, so well-executed, I don't even care if it was in the book or not. I don't care that a 2 hour 40 min. film only covers SIX chapters from Tolkien's book. OK, I guess I kind of do, but really, you're in for a penny, you're in for a pound on these films. I think we all know where I stand.
Also starring Martin Freeman (last seen in "The World's End"), Ian McKellen (last seen in "X-Men: Days of Future Past"), Orlando Bloom (last seen in "Troy"), Evangeline Lilly (last seen in "Real Steel"), Lee Pace (last seen in "Guardians of the Galaxy"), Luke Evans (last seen in "Immortals"), Stephen Fry (last seen in "Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows"), Ryan Gage (last seen in "Judge Dredd"), Sylvester McCoy (last seen in "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey"), Richard Armitrage (ditto), Ken Stott (ditto), Graham McTavish (ditto), William Kircher (ditto), Stephen Hunter (ditto), Dean O'Gorman (ditto), Aidan Turner (ditto), John Callen (ditto), Peter Hambleton (ditto), Jed Brophy (ditto), Mark Hadlow (ditto), Adam Brown (ditto), James Nesbitt (last seen in "Match Point") with cameos from Cate Blanchett (last seen in "The Monuments Men"), Stephen Colbert, Peter Jackson.
RATING: 8 out of 10 dwarf furnaces