I rang in the new year seeing Desolation of Smaug with Deidre and Inspector Climate. It's been a month or so since it came out, and a good 75+ years since the book was first published, so I don't think anything in here can count as spoilers. Therefore, this is a jump cut free zone.
On the whole, I really enjoyed the film. It was beautifully shot and set and costumed, there was plenty of action without it feeling relentless, and I mostly enjoyed the stuff that had been added to Tolkien's original story. But there were other things that I was somewhat skeptical about and others that had me completely on the NOPE train. You want more detail, you say? No problem.
What I loved:
- Smaug. Brilliant from start to finish. Dragons, much like werewolves, have a tendency to look a little not quite right in films. But not this one. Benedict Cumberbatch - who's quick to tell interviewers that he provided the motion capture as well as the voice - did a fantastic job.
- Lee Pace as Thranduil. Especially when he was chopping off heads.
- The spiders and basically everything with the dwarves wandering around in Mirkwood. Creep-tastic. Plus, Bilbo got to be the hero again.
- Tauriel. She may be a completely made up character, but I thank all the stars in the heavens for her inclusion. Not only would it have been a total sausage-fest without her, but she's the most BAMF-tastic female character we've seen in Middle Earth thus far. Yes, Eowyn goes into battle and kills the Witch King. But apart from that, she mostly seems to lurk around making awful soup and pining over Aragorn. And Arwen, outside of her one moment of "If you want him, come and claim him!" excellence, seems to mostly turn up in dreams to keep Aragorn on his path. Tauriel, on the other hand, is captain of the guard. She goes to Laketown not to save Kili - if that was the reason for it, she'd have taken medicinal herbs with her - but to prevent innocent people from being killed because of Thranduil's decision. She does her job protecting the borders, though it's not her homeland, and she does what she thinks is right. And she does it all with truly fabulous hair.
What was just okay:
- Gandalf going off by himself to investigate the necromancer. It seemed a little too similar visually to his fights with Saruman and the Balrog. But maybe that's just me...
- Legolas. While I did enjoy the fact that this lets us see how much his character changes over the year - dwarf hater here, BFFs with Gimli in Lord of the Rings - and he did have some fabulous lines, it did feel a little like they were trying to jam him into a situation where he didn't quite fit. Add in a few little situations where he gets to reprise his LOTR role as the-one-who-dances-across-the-top-of-the-enemy-and-who-slides-into-the-shot-on-a-shield and it was enough to have me rolling my eyes a little. Plus, the eyeliner was a liiiiiiiiiittle over the top...
- The barrels scene. Most of it was really brilliantly shot, considering they would have had a limited number of opportunities. But the footage that was shot IN THE WATER? Nope. It was really low quality compared to the rest of the footage, and it stuck out like a sore thumb.
What I really didn't like:
- Gold plated dragon. Yes, a dragon has scales to protect it. But you cannot cover an entire animal in MELTED METAL and then have it fly away without a scratch. Gold may be a soft metal, but it still melts at over 1,000°C. The temperature of lava is somewhere between 700° and 1,200°C. You can't set things up so that the One Ring (and Gollum) can be destroyed by the lava river in Mount Doom, but Smaug could be all "Nah, I'm good". Especially seeing as he has eyes and nostrils and (presumably) a butthole and that one spot where a scale fell off that wouldn't be protected. IT JUST DOESN'T WORK (even if it is visually awesome).
- Thorin zooming down the melted gold in a wheelbarrow. Even if it's made of a metal that melts at a higher temperature than gold, there's no way that his legs wouldn't melt off from the radiant heat.
- "You have keen eyes, Master Baggins!". Are you fucking kidding me, Thorin? THERE'S A TEN STOREY HIGH STATUE OF A DWARF LITERALLY RIGHT IN FRONT OF YOU.
- Bombur fighting orcs in the dregs of a barrel. It just...no.
- The love triangle. SIGH. Apparently Evangeline Lilly was equally pissed off about this because she said that she'd only do the movie if there was no love triangle. They filmed it all and there was nothing, then they called her back in a few months later to do some extra scenes, and BOOM. Love triangle.
- The ending. If they'd finished it with Smaug's little speech, I would have been fine with it. But Bilbo's "What have we done?" just smacked off "LOOK, A CLIFFHANGER!!!!!!! Come back in 12 months!". And it was completely unnecessary.
Overall, it came out at about a solid B+ for me. What did you think?