Monday, January 6, 2014


When last we saw our intrepid hobbit Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), he and thirteen stalwart dwarves led by Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage), en route to the Lonely Mountain to reclaim their lost home and a treasure hoard stolen by the dragon Smaug, had barely escaped the clutches of a band of Wargs and mercenary Orcs with the help of the resourceful wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen) and a convocation of Eagles. After a brief respite with the shape shifter Beorn the company continues its journey following a treacherous path through Mirkwood Forest sans Gandalf, who departs to determine the doings of the Necromancer. Except for Bilbo, who vanishes using the magic ring he took from Gollum, the company is captured by elf warriors Legolas (Orlando Bloom) and Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly) and taken to their king Thranduil (Lee Pace) deep in the wood. Bilbo breaks the dwarves out of their cells and sends them down river via wine barrels to Laketown, which lies in the shadow of the Lonely Mountain. With the help of Bard (Luke Evans) the company dodges the corrupt Master of Laketown (Stephen Fry) and makes its way to the mountain. Thorin sends Bilbo into the dragon’s lair to find the Arkenstone, a precious family heirloom, but the hobbit must first match wits with the dreaded Smaug (the voice of Benedict Cumberbatch). Like the film’s first installment, writers Fran Walsh & Philippa Boyens & Peter Jackson & Guillermo del Toro pack the tale with so much extra material it feels as though J.R.R. Tolkien’s modest book plays only a small part in the whole. At least this time around director Jackson’s brisk pacing allows the film to carry its excess girth with a modicum of grace. Nevertheless, despite excellent special effects (Smaug is a jaw-dropping marvel) and an appealing cast, this excess diminishes the heart of the story. Here the filmmakers want the journey of Bilbo and the dwarves to have the same emotional and world-altering heft as Frodo’s quest to destroy the One Ring in THE LORD OF THE RINGS. But Tolkien’s “enchanting prelude” cannot support that much weight, and the film smothers the considerable charm of its source material.

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