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By Elias Savada | December 13, 2013

Jackson’s latest, too lengthy, excursion to Middle-Earth is a muddle in the middle of an overwrought trilogy derived from J.R.R. Tolkien’s fantasy novel. Stretched to the point of serious breakage, the master of extreme cinematic detail continues the saga of Bilbo Baggins’s journey to the lost kingdom of Erebor. He trots over menacing mountains and through scary forests, accompanied by his band of merry dwarves and, for a few occasional moments in the film’s 161 minutes, by the grand wizard Gandalf the Grey (thank you, Ian McKellen). The adventurous group battles numerous by-the-numbers foes—ugly Orcs, frightening Wargs, giant spiders, too-pretty-for-their-own-good-intentions elvens, the entire United States Congress, and the NSA. I did say the film’s running time was padded, didn’t I?

For Bilbo, played well by Martin Freeman, there’s also the curse-blessing of the One Ring, that small but powerful weapon that helps the resilient group escape any of its certain-death situations, especially during the climactic fight against Smaug, that caustic fog that surrounds Mexico City. Oops, wrong smog. For those living in Mexico and unable to see what I’m talking about, Tolkein’s Smaug is a very large, fire-breathing dragon (deeply voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch in Jackson’s version of the beast).

For the dwarves, it seems like you have to tread cautiously, because if you step into someone else’s realm, they’ll probably capture you. The Elvens get the better of the small company, although Bilbo saves the day with a daring, fun-filled escape. Well, it’s exciting if you laugh at barrels-filled-with-monkeys jokes. Honestly? Barrels bobbing up and down a cascading rapids as arrows fling by seems so Indiana Jones. And how do those now-helpful Elven folk shoot so many arrows without a single refill of their never-empty quivers. Rhythmically speaking it gave me shivers!

The first film in the three film set, “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey,” landed with an overwrought thump last year. It grossed over a billion dollars worldwide and earned 3 Oscar nominations (in technical categories—Jackson’s vision is always breathtaking—winning none). Methinks the current installment will make oodles of money but will find itself left off many Top Ten lists. Expect the same when the final segment, “The Hobbit: There and Back Again,” alights in theaters in December 2014.

Also, the ground-breaking 48fps 3D experience used in the first film seems to be m.i.a. in number two. While Jackson prides himself with an incredible talented technical crew, the best that money can buy, no doubt, when the end product gets to the screen, the outcome can still be in doubt. The ground-breaking, award-worthy “Lord of the Rings” trilogy remains a personal triumph for the New Zealand filmmaker. Ten years ago, “LOTR: The Return of the King,” steamrolled its way to 11 Academy Awards and 119 other awards. Yet, when that film previewed for the press at the AMC Georgetown in Washington, DC, on the first day of December 2003, it was a technical catastrophe.

All 201 minutes of film were on a single platter, but the projectionist inserted not one, but two, reels upside-down and backwards. It’s was a rather jarring experience when half-way through the screening you’re tossed on your head. Then it happened again 20 minutes later.This unfortunate situation added another 90 minutes to the “viewing experience,” on a day which I also saw two other previews, with each of those clocking in at 2 hours. Yet “Return of the King” still remains a great film.

History had a chance to repeat itself. It did, somewhat. Last week’s preview of “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug,” in Silver Spring, Maryland, was immediately and forever out of focus. Something was amiss with the added dimension. It was 3D on the left, but, at best, 2½D on the right. The color was murky. A futile attempt to fix the problem did nothing to make it an enjoyable experience, and I kept hoping for the story to help pull the film out of its technical funk. Not the beauty of Evangeline Lilly as the new character, elf-maiden Tauriel. Not the pretty Orlando Bloom, returning as the ace archer Legolas. Not the strong determination of Richard Armitage portraying Thorin Oakenshield, the dwarves’ leader desirous of reclaiming his throne at the foot of the Lonely Mountain from one nasty dragon. Nothing worked for me.

Of course, the movie is still just a very long prologue to the final film based on an over-extended script adapted from the 1937 book. Like a long, run on sentence. “Smaug” is probably a real nice film to look at, but I’ll have to assume that based on Jackson’s exceptional history. I hope your viewing of the film doesn’t offer the same visual problems I had. I also wish you a happy holiday and new year, catching up with the many other, much better, films in release this winter.

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  1. Elias Savada says:

    Review written by Elias Savada.

  2. Simon Kulberg says:

    I thought the movie was good and disagree that it was too long. I will never understand all the people who always want less Middle Earth when somebody finally bothers to make movies out of the great Tolkien material. The same kinds of people who want everything “exactly like the book”, which would have meant about 12 longs songs, talking handbags and dogs serving food on their hind legs in the case of the Hobbit, and even more songs in the LotR trilogy.
    It`s a different medium and the same story needs to be told differently, have more detail in some places and less in others. In all five movies the only thing that really bugged me was the scenes at the end of Fellowship where Aragorn gives Frodo his blessing to take off on his own, an unforgivable misinterpretation of the entire episode which diminished the main character of the book.
    The second installment of the Hobbit takes some liberties but none that remotely change the plot, the characters or anything of significance whatsoever. And it digs into the essential side story about the rise of Sauron, without which the movie would be crap. It needs to foreshadow all of this because that`s what is in the background of The Hobbit and what the book is a prelude to. Even Tolkien himself tried for years to rewrite the Hobbit to include this material but gave it up, because he understood that that was the story he wanted to tell. But who cares about Tolkien these days eh?
    From my perspective Jackson has nailed Tolkien in his Hobbit movies, far better than he was able to do with LotR. And where I`m sure Tolkien would have been annoyed by a lot of things in LotR I think he would have loved Desolation of Smaug had he been able to see it. No higher praise available for a Tolkien adaptation.

  3. Rob Holford says:

    as a film buff I am easily transported to where a film takes me, but… while I enjoyed the movie, I found the constant camera movement (cg or otherwise) not only distracting but maddening. It turned a dark and fantastic middle earth into a liftetime TV melodrama (crane shot drifts slowly through the spanish moss up to the front door of a dreamy plantation home entrance, pan back to appreciate the view of the oak alley), too well lit lest we miss any of the pixel painters’ clever and high priced wizardry, reminiscent of your overzealous home movie parents who don’t know how long to keep the camera still or how fast to pan…”wait was that Aunt Bunny?…hey I thought I saw the old Plymouth in the backgraound, waa that our trip to…ugh I think I’m gonna be sick” or your novice 3d modeler who loves to do flyovers and orbit shots, essentially turning one rendered still into 10 minutes of dramamine inspired auto-erotica -and that’s the slow parts. The only place it works is in the barrel chase, even the whirling non-stop orbit shot of the dragon’s lair goes beyond keeping the viewer disoriented and anxious, it just breaks the character empathy and makes you aware of the apparatus, foreshadowing the “desolation” of the end credits, thousands of C.G. nerds with no one to reign them in.

  4. Beverley says:

    Hopefully the mishaps are just isolated cases, hoping to catch the movie soon. But according to other people its a pretty good film except that, as usual, its really really long.

  5. Chuck Anziulewicz says:

    The film is clocking in at 74% “Fresh” at Rotten Tomatoes, so it can’t be THAT bad. And notwithstanding its weaknesses, HOW could I possibly pass up a chance to be immersed in Middle Earth for another three hours?

  6. Ernesto says:

    What is your problem with: “For those living in Mexico and unable to see what I’m talking about, Tolkein’s Smaug is a very large, fire-breathing dragon”

    Are you serious? Can you not?

    You racist bastard

    • Mark Bell says:

      I believe the reference to Mexico is because the previous sentence discusses Mexico City smog when discussing Smaug, and is a continuation of that thought. City could’ve been swapped for Los Angeles smog and the comparison still works so… I don’t see racism there…

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