The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013)

Hobbit2_1Starring Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, Ken Stott, Graham McTavish, William Kircher, James Nesbitt, Stephen Hunter, Dean O’Gorman, Aidan Turner, John Callen, Peter Hambleton, Jed Brophy, Mark Hadlow, Adam Brown, Orlando Bloom, Evangeline Lilly, Lee Pace, Benedict Cumberbatch, Mikael Persbrandt, Sylvester McCoy, Luke Evans, Stephen Fry, Ryan Gage, Manu Bennett, Lawrence Makoare

Directed by Peter Jackson

Expectations: The highest of high.

threehalfstar


The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is both better and worse than its predecessor. While An Unexpected Journey focused on Bilbo and his character arc, The Desolation of Smaug is more about the action and the adventurous journey. Even though we find ourselves exploring previously unseen regions of Middle Earth, there isn’t the same sense of wonder draped over The Desolation of Smaug. We’re no longer just seeing this world through Bilbo’s eyes, and while this leads to some incredible set-pieces and a lot of fun, without the wonder it’s much harder to be dazzled by this film in the same way.

But like how An Unexpected Journey did not dazzle in exactly the same way as Jackson’s previous Lord of the Rings films, The Desolation of Smaug is its own beast and should be allowed to flourish in its own way. And it does. Rather well, actually. This is a much darker, almost purely adventure section of the journey, which the film’s muted color palette helps to convey, but coincidentally this is also Jackson’s funniest Middle Earth film. Well… as long as you are on-board with Jackson’s dark sense of humor, where the biggest chuckles come from creative decapitations and other grisly treats. (Is this a record for decapitations in a PG-13 movie? I should think so.)

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The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)

returnoftheking_1Starring Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen, Viggo Mortensen, John Noble, Bernard Hill, Sean Astin, Andy Serkis, John Rhys-Davies, Miranda Otto, Karl Urban, Billy Boyd, Dominic Monaghan, Orlando Bloom, David Wenham, Ian Holm, Hugo Weaving, Liv Tyler, Cate Blanchett, Paul Norell, Lawrence Makoare, Sarah McLeod

Directed by Peter Jackson

Expectations: High. I love this.

fourstar


Can I give this one five stars? It took 10 years and more than a few re-watches, but I have finally come around on this one. Don’t get me wrong, I always loved the film, but I also always thought it was the weakest of the trilogy. This time I was struck by how powerful a film Return of the King is, and how well it brings everything set forth in the previous films together. But what this recent change of heart proves to me is that there is no truly standout film from the others. They are all interdependent and equal in their greatness, and I will most likely shift allegiances between the three throughout my lifetime.

Opening with Gollum’s backstory provides us with a glimpse of how he became the creature we’re familiar with, and it also allows the film to open in the quiet green of the Hobbit lands. The Two Towers ends with a lengthy battle sequence at night, finishing a film that contains trial after trial for our fellowship. So to begin the next film in a peaceful, happy place (if only for a few moments) is surprising and brilliant. It reminds us a bit of what the hobbits are fighting for, and shows us the depths of despair, all within that first scene. It also skillfully leads us right back into the thick of things where we can finally reckon with the one ring and finish the journey once and for all.

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