Part two of the quest by 'Bilbo' and his party of dwarfs to pinch a jewel from within the lair of the well spoken aristocratic dragon 'Smaug', the adventure continues. Most definitely a controversial trilogy as we move through this second part which really should probably be the final chapter but as we all know it isn't. So do the liberties taken by Jackson and co work or do they stand out as easy filler?.
I really found myself enjoying the film as it starts out in Bree on a dark rainy night, a warm glow emanates from the dirty tavern windows and street lanterns. As the film continues we meet up with new characters and finally into the Mirkwood forest where we get the first bit of real action. I gotta be honest I loved the giant spider sequence in this film, I think its safe to say this whole idea is probably a popular phobia for many folk and its really creepy. The spiders are visually excellent and damn scary to boot! no kids innocence spared here!. I really like how we hear the arachnids talking to each other when Bilbo puts on the ring, even though they did all sound like 'Gollum'.
Up to this point I'm loving the film, the travelling band of heroes are a quirky fun bunch, Mirkwood forest is nicely realised and perfectly atmospheric, the spiders made my skin crawl and 'Beorn' the skin-changer was...hmmm OK I guess, bit 'Twilight-ish'. Everything falls apart in a reasonably big way when 'Legolas' and the newly created 'Tauriel' come along and save the group. Within seconds the film goes from being a really decent sensible fantasy to dumbed down superhero crapola just like the original trilogy, in places. Yes I dislike the way Legolas is portrayed in these films, as if he's some kind of invincible super God-like character who can do virtually anything such as defy gravity.
I've heard a lot about the infamous barrel sequence in this film and I was curious to see what it was all about. To my absolute horror it was...horrendous!. OK Bilbo and the dwarfs need to escape from the Wood Elf dungeons...even though I'm not entirely sure why they imprisoned our plucky team anyway truth be told. But hey I know, lets have the most ludicrous ridiculous videogame-like sequence we can think of just to pander to the lowest common denominator...sheesh!!. The whole idea starts off OK but it descends into such drivel I had to rewatch just to get my head around it. Yeah I know we had the same kind of nonsense in the first trilogy and first Hobbit film, but I hated that kind of stuff then too. It totally takes me out of the film every time watching Legolas leap around like Spider-Man using his bow and arrow like some kind of automatic weapon, hate every second of it.
To make matters worse Jackson felt the need to create a new character who is basically a female opposite to Legolas, this makes me think he's pandering to the female audience just to cover all the bases. Oh and that includes the annoying romance sub plot of course. Yes this female Elf is a solid character who is well portrayed within this universe but why the need to go down the Matrix route (again!) making her into another death defying, gravity defying, never misses her target super Elf overlord of justice. Why must we have this type of nonsense in an otherwise brilliant film!!.
To reach the Lonely Mountain this crack team of height restricted heroes must cross a large lake, enter this new trilogies 'Aragorn' in the form of 'Bard'. What I don't quite get is Bard takes them to the lake town of Esgaroth, but why? they wanted to cross the lake, why go to all that trouble to smuggle them into the town? just for weapons?!. Anyway the town does look really authentic, I really liked how it has this twisted kooky Monkey Island type of appearance plus you really feel the chill in the air watching. Excellent visuals and atmosphere for this old creaky wooden fishing port, and kudos on the casting of Stephen Fry as the Town Major or Master.
Finally we reach the pinnacle of the film, the part most have been waiting for, the dragon Smaug. OK I'm gonna be brutally honest here as I always am, I wasn't blown away by this giant reveal. I liked the look of the mountain interior with its hord of dwarf treasure, I think they got the scale of the dragon perfectly and I think Smaug looks good...but not great. I've been more impressed with other dragon films to be truthful, I think the dragons in 'Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire' and 'Reign of Fire' were far superior to this frankly, and the dragon in 'Dragonslayer' still impresses. The CGI just isn't quite as believable for me, it still has that shiny plastic thing going on, but I do like the Dungeons & Dragons look n feel about him. He's not suppose to be a dark savage blood curdling monster, more of a softer traditional fantasy beast, like a unicorn (I think). The other factor is that Smaug talks, I know Tolkien envisioned this but watching this dragons jaws move to speech doesn't really work. Its a creature, a beast, so its gonna be hard to make its mouth work in sync with its speech because its not a human mouth. Would it have worked if Smaug 'thought' his dialog and Bilbo was able to hear his thoughts? risky change but I reckon Smaug would have come across a bit more convincing.
Again the casting of Cumberbatch didn't thrill me as much as the masses, I still feel this guy is merely flavour of the month (for some reason I can't quite pin down). Yes he does a solid job as the voice of Smaug but anyone could of done it really, any actor with a well spoken British accent. Off the top of my head Tim Curry for one. Lets not forget his voice will have been lowered in tone to give that deep booming frequency, so I don't quite understand the overall fever pitch with this.
Despite me picking on bits I did actually enjoy this film a lot more than the first. In fact I enjoyed it a lot more than most of the original trilogy, although much of this is down to natural progression with special effects and much less hokey-ass CGI laden action sequences. Its another visual spectacle for sure with stunning locations, perfect continuity (I like my continuity) and solid acting. I still won't defend the decision to pad out the book into three films as we all know that is purely about the money, another shitsquillion to milk out of it. That being said this film doesn't feel too elongated or forced, its not dull and its not daft either, but I don't feel entirely comfortable with the newly created bits. You know the film is stalling for time but at least Jackson has managed to do it quite well, I was surprised.