December 13, 2013

"It never ceases to amaze me, the courage of Hobbits ..." 
One year I've been waiting impatiently solely out of excitement and curiosity, all thanks to Peter Jackson who gave us the Smauggy cliffhanger in 2012's The Hobbit : An Unexpected Journey. His decision to make an adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien's 310-pages book of The Hobbit into 3 installments worthed more than 2 hours running time was ... bizarre. But well, it was a golden slot and in the name of fans all around the world, he shall. My expectation was floating high, REALLY HIGH; I demanded the least flaws in this second installment, so folks, how was it?

Picking up what The Hobbit : An Unexpected Journey left off, Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), Gandalf The Grey (Ian McKellen), and the 13 dwarves  led by Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) continued their quest to the Lonely Mountain, to reclaim the Dwarf Kingdom of Erebor which had been taken over by the almighty fire-breathing, steel-hard skin dragon named Smaug (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch) 150 years ago. Their journey (of course) didn't go smoothly; there were the Elvenking Thranduil (Lee Pace), his son Legolas (Orlando Bloom) and his Elvenking guard Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly), the giant spiders, and Azog (Manu Bennett) and his Orcs. But along the way, the also met some 'allies' like the skin-changer Beorn (Mikael Persbrandt), Bard The Bowman (Luke Evans) and the annoying Master of Laketown (Stephen Fry). Unfortunately, they were on their own, as Gandalf decided to 'ditch off' the pack to deal with the rumour of the presence of Necromancer (also voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch) of Dol Guldur (ehm, Sauron). Together they fought their way to the secret door of the lost Erebor, to take back the precious Arkenstone from the hands of the vicious Smaug.

I am happy. Really. Not wanting to sound like a crazy maniac, I'm grinning out of excitement while writing this review, although I am having quite a terrible stomachache due to the excessive eating this night. Ok. PETER JACKSON DID IT AGAIN. 161 minutes long (which was considered as the shortest of all LOTR-related movies) I held my breath with amazement clearly stated through both of my eyes. It was a complete harmony of action, drama and comedy; an action-packed and compelling storyline with gripping pace, striking and sharp visual and rich characters. Opened with western-like sitting-at-the-tavern moment and closed by the 'usual' Jackson's style, this second installment was filled with actions and beautifully-coordinated stunts rather than just talking and walking; it was more energetic and alive, a super exciting ride. Screenwriters Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson, and Guillermo del Toro did a great job on maintaining the pace throughout the entire sequences (though the Beorn scene was rather vague and awkward). The barrel scene was a top-notch and the final quarter of Smaug was the best of all. As for the ending? Well, it HAD to be that way.

Let's talk about the visual here. Peter Jackson decided to use 48 FPS 3D rather than the usual 24 on all three Hobbit adaptations, but I didn't watch it in HFR as my local movie theatre didn't provide one (oh hey, thanks). The visual was strikingly better than the first installment and slightly better 3D (don't mind the bees). Middle Earth (!!!!) was looking as good as ever, the Necromancer was OK, but the entire thing was outdone by the visual perfection of Smaug the dragon. Using WETA digital and motion capture to create Cumberbatch's facial animation, Smaug was probably the most believable CGI creature ever made. The details of his scales, the smooth movements as he glided over the mountain-piles of coins and golds, the richness of his skin color; NAILED NAILED NAILED IT!

Let's talk about the characters here. Freeman as Bilbo was getting more portions in terms of action and his demeanor was gradually affected by the negative effect of the One Ring. Bilbo still got his clumsiness and his smartypants act and it was daring. McKellen as Gandalf didn't pretty much appear in the scene, but come one .. it's Gandalf; whenever there's Gandalf, you'll notice. Armitage as Thorin was still as almighty, cockyhead and mysterious as ever. Being the handsomest dwarf, Kili (Aidan Turner) was getting more portion here thanks to his taboo affection to Tauriel (and boy was it one great juicy plot distraction). Balin (Ken Stott) was given the most striking one-liner ever (the one I wrote as a tagline above). The other dwarves were just sprinkles on top, but they served their purpose. A lot of new characters were being introduced here, as well as the appearances of the well-known(s). Legolas with his over-the-top but exciting bow-shooting action, the relentless Azog and of course Luke Evans' Bard who will surely have more portions in the third movie. But, the main attraction here was the head of the Elvenking's guard, Tauriel, played by Evangeline Lilly, whose character was purely made by the screenwriters (ehm, Peter Jackson), not one of Tolkien's original. Tauriel with her striking red hair, pointy elf's ears, impeccable shooting skill and of course, her juicy affection with Killi and her striking side-by-side battle with  Legolas; a well-executed character and a worthy side dish.

This paragraph is dedicated solely to Benedict Cumberbatch whose baritone, demanding, careful, deep, sharp, thick, threatening and frightening voice over Smaug was considered the soul of the movie and it gave me chills. "I am King Under the Mountain!" Oh yeah I believe you. #CUMBERBITCH

Finally said, though this so-called 'bridge movie' was considered unnecessary because it could have just been told in two movies instead of three, that it felt more like Peter Jackson was having fun with it, but who cares? IT WAS FREAKING GOOD. Watch it. If you haven't watched the first one, watch it. Then watch this. Then watch the third installment "There and Back Again" next year. I AM SERIOUS.

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