Lots to like and lament in this, rather like last year’s first instalment ‘An Unexpected Journey’, including the realisation that Smaug is not pronounced ‘Smawg’, which sounds great, but rather should be uttered as ‘Smowg’, which sounds crap. At least, if we are to believe Martin Freeman’s Bilbo, who finally meets the great red dragon in person (voiced by man of the hour Benedict Cumberbatch, and yes dragons can talk, as well as type). Having a particular vested interest in seeing how well the animated creature bears up, I have to say I am impressed – even if he does seem to be a little easy to give the run around, certainly the hubris of Bilbo and his dwarves to rob him of his rightful home and treasure is deserving of some toasty punishment.
Like part one, for the 3D releases (not for the 2D ones I believe – check with your cinema) this was filmed with a double frame rate (48 frames per second instead of the normal 24 that pretty much every other film in history has been made with) and director Peter Jackson has stated that he listened to criticism of the technology before and endeavoured to ensure the film had a more ‘cinematic’ look this time. Well, for large chunks of footage MISSION FAILED – the negative aspects of this high speed rate largely disappear as the film progresses, but initially there are several scenes where things are happening laughably quickly. A scene with Gandalf (Sir Ian McKellen gives another fantastic performance as everyone’s favourite wizard) and Thorin in a Bree tavern (The Prancing Pony one presumes) sees sharp clear images that would be more at home in a made for TV episode of something, with the patrons zipping ludicrously about in the background. Surely someone working on it noticed it looked daft? Some of the effects (look out for the giant bumblebees that appear around Bilbo) also simply look fake, whilst others are fantastic: like most of the last third, and there is a scene featuring a captured orc at one point – the makeup and prosthetics would have us believe we’re looking at a real humanoid that once inhabited the Eurasian plate. In terms of the decision to even attempt a high speed frame rate – the cinematography from the original Lord of the Rings films was amazing, there really was no need at all to change it, and here, as well as the aforementioned misgivings, more could have been made of the natural beauty of Middle-earth/New Zealand in this instalment.
Jackson does seem to have listened to other criticisms and made better adjustments though – here the bad guys are nowhere near as squishy as before, although they remain pretty hopeless. We meet some new elves in the guise of Thranduil, played by Lee Pace, and Tauriel, played by Evangeline Lilly who was the absolute perfect choice for the part and seems to love every moment of her role, and the return of Orlando Bloom as a supposed to be younger but not really pulling it off Legolas. Those with a keen memory of ‘An Unexpected Journey’ will no doubt be puzzled as to why the eagles which saved the adventuring troupe did not take them all the way to The Lonely Mountain, and instead part two opens with them being chased by the same pesky wargs that the eagles purported to take them away from. This should really have been explained in the film, but the reason is either that the eagles believe in the balance of nature and don’t want to interfere too heavily on one side of any conflict, as Tolkien would ascribe to, or that they have a sense of humour, or indeed that they would also not really like a nearby, enormous sleeping dragon be woken up any time soon if it can be avoided.
The adventure is continued in a pleasingly convincing way, although I would probably suggest that seeing it in 2D is going to be by far the best way to enjoy it. It still feels like Lord of the Rings ‘lite’, a more palatable version for a younger audience which is in keeping with the novel but will still slightly annoy adult viewers. Nevertheless, the final part is set up to be the best of the bunch, and delving back into Middle-earth still feels suitably exciting.
Alas, there is no extra scene at the end of the credits. I certainly know what I would like to have seen a little sneak preview of ….