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|By AARON SKETCHLEY (aaronsketch@HOTdelete_thisMAIL.com)||Ver 1.0 2020.06.22|
However, after reading the book and rewatching the LotR saga, this movie lost a bit of its luster. It also started to drag a bit in some parts; namely the scenes that were added to embellish and expand the book into a 3-part movie (which, oddly, were some of the parts I found to be the most fascinating when I first saw it!). Nevertheless, the movie is nicely filled with character (and world) introductions, sword and sorcery action, and most importantly: character growth. Gollum steals the show when he appears, but Martin Freeman truly embodies Bilbo Baggins.
It's a shame that the balance wasn't maintained in the two sequels to this film. One of the main strengths of the novel is the characterization, and that is sorely missing in this film's two sequels. Obviously, with so many dwarfs, the production team had to focus on a few of them, and give the rest just enough for the casual viewer to differentiate between them—and they succeeded in that in this movie. They also introduce a powerful antagonist in the form of Azog, and the fuel that his story arc provides to the movie is one of the better additions to this first chapter of the film adaptation (though, as he's present in the LotR appendixes, rewriting his role might be a better way to think about it).
It dawned on me after rewatching the LotR trilogy that this film echoes the plot of LoTR: Fellowship Of The Ring. Alas, it also quickly came to mind that this film is no where near as epic as that one, nor does it have nearly as well developed characters or a plot through line. That said, the character aspect is understandable, as that's something that comes directly from the source material. Nevertheless, it is an excellent addition to the LotR saga, and if you enjoyed the LotR trilogy, you'll definitely get a kick out of this movie.
My initial viewing was right after rereading the novel. Suffice to say, I was surprised at the additions to the first movie (a lot of which were resolved when I read the indexes at the end of Return Of The King), and the creative 'interpretations' (as spectacular as the giants-made-of-rock were on first viewing, when I see them now, I can't help but smile and shake my head at their ridiculousness).
Going into this second movie, I knew a few things—the novel was about halfway over, and there was an excellent opportunity coming up right away to reintroduce all of the main characters—specifically the manner that the book reintroduces all of the characters as they enter Beorn's house. I was flabbergasted that the movie not only missed such a great opportunity, but practically neglects to develop and expand upon the dwarfs during its running time! Yes, there are many of them (perhaps too many to effectively juggle in a movie; justifying the decision to leave some of them in Esgaroth/Lake Town as the rest go up Erebor/the Lonely Mountain), but I strongly feel that they take precedent over the secondary characters. Characters that this movie takes the time to introduce and expand upon, some of whom are not even in the book! That's not to say that those new characters are bad additions, as they do allow for some character development in the main dwarf party. Alas, by the end of the movie, the plight of the dwarfs, and a lot of my sympathy for them, had been replaced with concern for the residents of Esgaroth.
The other disappointment was that despite the dwarfs being on a multi-month quest, they are still breathlessly running everywhere in this film! I didn't like that, as instead of taking the time to develop scenes and the setting, they race right through them. Also, despite the dwarfs being mythical creatures with legendary powers, having them run up Erebor was just one step too far into the unrealistic for me.
Nevertheless, the movie does have decent pacing, and I don't think any scene overstayed its welcome. The conclusion of the movie is also breathtakingly epic, and in the process, develops the interior of the Kingdom Under The Mountain, something that the book never really gets around to doing. Nevertheless, I found myself shouting, "they ended it there?!", when the film concludes—in part because of the cliffhanger, but also because at that point, the book is pretty much finished, with only 3 chapters remaining for the sequel...
Thorin was completely unrecognizable—yes, he's bewitched by the gold-madness that befalls those who become King Under The Mountain; but the subtler way that was introduced in Desolation Of Smaug was much more effective. And what about the other dwarfs? Aside from moping around the caverns or building stoneworks in inhumanly short time frames... it was a missed opportunity to further explore Erebor (the Lonely Mountain) at the same time as showing us sides of the dwarfs that aren't necessarily present in the book.
The new bits that flesh out the greater Middle Earth saga are a mixed bunch: some are interesting, but others are more distracting then they are entertaining (where did the goats come from that Thorin used to race up the side of the mountain during the battle?) The battle between the White Council and Sauron (the Necromancer) was also, oddly, out of step with those kinds of battles in the preceding films—they had been presented more or less as a battle of wills. The change to a hectic sword fight between corporeal and non-corporeal foes was jarring, and makes the relatively slower-paced sword fights that come later all the more monotonous.
Nevertheless, the highlights of the film are Smaug's all too brief appearance at the beginning, the fortress at Gundabad, and Bilbo's return to the Shire at the end. The later is, sadly, the only time the film truly comes alive. But it is a joy to behold Hobbiton once more, Bilbo's troubles with his estranged relatives, and hear the immortal line, "put that pouf down!".