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.