Sunday, April 6, 2014

Video review: "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug"

"The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug" is now the fifth film to be spun out of the books of J.R.R. Tolkien, each tipping near or over three hours, so it's no surprise if casual fans of the sword-and-sorcery universe of Middle-Earth are growing a bit fatigued by now.

If you dismissed the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy as a whole bunch of walking with too many endings, then you might well be put off by the prospect of director Peter Jackson finding three movies worth of material in Tolkien's earlier, slenderer tome.

I still enjoyed the movie quite a bit, though they've ratcheted up the action set-pieces considerably over those in the book, and introduced or expanded a bunch of other characters. The net effect does tend to diminish humble hobbit Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) as the central figure of the story.

As the second film in the trilogy opens, Bilbo and his troupe of dwarves have survived a deadly trip over and under goblin-filled mountains, and must now face the daunting Mirkwood Forest rife with giant spiders and less-than-friendly elves. At the end of their journey lies Smaug (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch), the fearsome dragon who usurped the dwarves' homeland long ago.

Jackson and his screenwriters tend to skip over some of the best stuff in the book and substitute it with concoctions of their own that aren't nearly as compelling -- such as a made-up elven she-warrior (Evangeline Lilly) who strikes up an unlikely flirtation with one of the dwarves.

Your interest level for this movie will likely fall in line with your ardor for Dungeons & Dragons-type of stories. If you deem it all a bunch of adolescent silliness, best to steer clear. For those (like me) who let their geek flags fly proudly, "Smaug" is essential viewing.

As with previous iterations of Jackson's Tolkien movies, video extras are just ample enough to leave you hungry for better stuff that will likely come out later along with an extended version of the movie.
You get a making-of feature, "Peter Jackson Invites You to the Set," along with some short videos short throughout production. There's also a travelogue of New Zealand where it was shot, plus a music video.



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