The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Through book, film, and game I have been a frequent visitor to Middle Earth for most of my life, never seeming to to get enough of Tolkien’s world. In The Lord of the Rings trilogy Peter Jackson did the impossible. He took a well-loved series of classic fantasy novels and created what I consider a masterpiece trilogy of films. From the peaceful Shire to a tragedy laden victory at Mount Doom, I was enthralled for three films. I eagerly awaited each film, and gorged on the home video extended editions.

When the stars finally aligned for production to begin on the Hobbit, following a complicated extended pre-production period, I was of course excited. When it was announced that the Hobbit would be spread across three films, I was cautiously optimistic. The Rings trilogy consisted of three films from three books. With the Hobbit, we were now looking at 3 films from one book. Peter Jackson explained he intended to fill out the Hobbit’s tale, which takes place prior to the Rings trilogy, with additional elements form further Tolkien writings–appendices and other background pieces. The Hobbit as a novel was a less dense piece then the Rings books, skewing towards a younger audience. Not wanting to radically depart from the tone of his first trilogy, Jackson looked to beef up the tale and also add deeper connective tissue between the two trilogies.

In the first film, An

Unexpected Journey, I felt there was a good balance found between the tone of the novel and the tone of the Rings film trilogy. The film definitely felt lighter than the Rings films, as it should since  the darkness  of those films is in its infancy here. We were treated to a rousing adventure, with just enough gravitas to note the two trilogies’ connections.

The Desolation of Smaug is still a boisterous, rollicking adventure tale, but the darkness is starting to become more pronounced. The spiders that were hinted at in the fist film are here in force, having taken over the Mirkwood. The encounter with them is harrowing, but yet begins with a stirring moment of peaceful beauty as Bilbo peeks above the forest canopy. When we arrive at Laketown, we can see the economic devastation that the abandoned forges of Ereborn have caused. And most importantly, Gandalf’s side quest to check the tomb of one of the nine shows him that wraith have returned, and his investigation at Dal Guldur reveals the true, familiar nature of the darkness that has awakened.

There is a lot here that does not originate in the actual novel, including a very prominent role for the Wood elves, in particular our old friend Legolas and the film’s completely original character, Tauriel, a formidable female Elf. Many will scoff at the liberties taken here, but I found the entire scene where the company is escaping from the Elves by way of barrels in the river, while hunted by a pack of orcs, and eventually aided by Legolas and Tauriel, to be utterly thrilling. 

Of course the film ends up in Smaug’s lair deep in the lost Dwarven mountain home. The initial entry to Erebor is a stirring moment as the dwarves at long last return to their ancestral home. As one might expect, the return does not go as smooth as planned. Smaug is a formidable creature, magnificent to behold and masterfully voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch. Bilbo’s awakening of and one on one with Smaug is taught and suspenseful, and then develops into an explosive action extravaganza with the Dwarven company. I will not give too much away, except to say the spectacle is grand, exciting, and then ends abruptly, leaving us to wait another year for the conclusion.

As much I was a fan of An Unexpected Journey, I felt that The Desolation of Smaug far surpassed it. The stakes felt higher, the emotions felt deeper, and the action was even grander. If the first film marked Jackson’s tentative steps into a long awaited return to Middle Earth, Desolation of Smaug is much more sure-footed and powerful. While Bilbo surrenders a lot of screen time to the rest of the cast, his development and growing strength is clearly evident. The film feels more of a piece with the first trilogy (Look out for a familiar cameo and some familiar names), and is a thrilling ride from beginning to end. The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug is like second breakfast for a hobbit…more of what you love.

As a side note, regular readers of Living 24fps may recall an earlier entry regarding the 48 frame per second version of Unexpected Journey. I have heard there were advancements in the format for the second film, but my initial viewing of the film was in 24 fps 3D. I will say that the 3D was stellar. I do intend to see the film at 48 fps, and will certainly add my thoughts at that point.

Revisiting The Hobbit and the 48 fps Question

 

As a huge fan of all things both Middle Earth and Peter Jackson, the release of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey was a pretty big deal for me. At the time of its theatrical release, a lot of discussion centered on the 48 frame per second edition that certain theaters would be screening. As my local theater had the 48fps 3D version showing on their RPX screen, it was my format of choice for the several theatrical viewings of the film that I attended.

My initial reaction to the new format was that it was sharp and detailed, with amazing 3D, but somehow created distance from the film. It had an almost soap opera quality to the image, something that I initially found distracting. It felt more video than film. As I took in my first viewing, over the course of the film’s running time I seemed to adapt to it. And upon subsequent viewings I was prepared for the different quality. By the time I had finished with my trips to the theater to watch The Hobbit, I thought the 48 fps format had won me over. Surely you can’t go wrong with clarity and detail?

Jump to the present, where I recently purchased a 3D 1080p LED set. I just finished watching The Hobbit again, this time at the good old-fashioned 24 fps rate. And the verdict? I felt like I was seeing the film for the first time all over again. Instead of feeling distanced from middle earth, I felt much more drawn into the story. I loved the Hobbit from my first viewing, but tonight I REALLY L-O-V-E-D the Hobbit.  The Hobbit is a long film, and I was fully captivated to an even greater extent than I was in the theater.  I fully believe this is due to being more comfortable with the 24 fps rate.

What does this mean for the future? Will 48 fps eventually gain the same “intimate” feeling with enough exposure? What format will the sequels be shown at, and which will I choose to see? I don’t know the answers to these questions at this time. What I do know is I am really glad I finally experienced the film at 24 fps 3D. I have a whole new level of admiration for a film I was already quite take with.