Review Roundup - Get ON With It

THE HOBBIT: THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG (2013)

The first installment in Peter Jackson's adaptation of The Hobbit as a three part series had a lot of problems. It was slow to get moving, there were too many subplots, and there were a lot of characters to introduce; many of which didn't get dialogue. The word was that this would be more direct, having setup the story there would be room to get down to business. After all the main quest involves 14 characters, sometimes 15 while many others have to be introduced along the way. The Lord of the Rings trilogy had this trick down, despite one or two anomalies you got a feeling for who everyone was, they had personality and little things that were memorable. Could they manage the same again? Well in short, no.

Dragon tales, whoo-hoo

For a film called The Hobbit, Bilbo doesn't get a lot of screen time here. Considering this is such a straightforward fish of out water plot device, they don't seem to ever capitalize on that element. I would have also expected by now that the other dwarves that didn't have a speaking role in the first film would have come to the fore, particularly as Gandalf leaves them to go on another quest early on - this is a ripe time for characterisation. Unfortunately even though the story has three segments where Bilbo gets to become more heroic and show his development, they barely interact with him. Forgetting names for a moment - since even if you know them, the dwarves don't say much - what happens is just one madcap set piece after another so I just don't know who is who; I don't know them as characters or even just as placeholder titles like "guy with tattoos" and "guy with crazy axe wound". Even the leader Thorin is just "guy frowning" most of the time. There isn't enough real personality. Instead there are more unnecessary subplots, more links to the first trilogy that distract from the story in hand, and things like clich├ęd romantic scenes and comic relief moments shoe horned in which just brings everything down. Splitting the story up and dragging it out for this much running time could have been a good plan and I expected depth and detail, with time for everyone to have a moment. Instead there's just nothing but one note scowling, swirling camera work and effects spectacle.

Talking of spectacle, gone is the grit of Helm's Deep. The action this time is nearly all a CG mess of characters running all over the place, orcs leaping, elves spinning around and creatures running wild. It makes the Goblin Town escape in part one look restrained. Considering this is current day Weta Digital doing their best stuff, none of this is particularly convincing either. Even for a fantasy story the colours are garish and over saturated, characters leap around like something from an animation, and so the few shots of actors standing on a real location stick out instantly as having real lighting and detail. It's really strange to experience as you suddenly notice an actual landscape amongst the effects shots. And yes the titular dragon is pretty good when it finally arrives, the voice, the effects, the design work - but after their previous work on Gollum and King Kong, it's not that amazing. It stands out as being the most coherent and least messy sequence in the film, but even then there is constant editing to show other scenes and characters; it keeps cutting away when it starts to become engaging. There's a complete lack of focus all round that left me wondering what went wrong in the creative process, when even the notable themes in the soundtrack have been lost. Maybe the lack of budget constraints and studio pressure has just left the makers dizzy with the level of pure excess they can now achieve. I certainly felt that way after the credits rolled.

2/5

BONUS REVIEW
RIDDICK (2013)


After the headache of overblown exposition and endless Dutch angles that was The Chronicles of Riddick, those involved have stripped down the number of words in the title and gone back to basics - by doing Pitch Black again instead. Surprisingly though, it mostly works - and they hold off the more direct recycling until the third act. This gets points for some neat creature effects, some silly B movie moments, and ultimately making me laugh and keeping me entertained with a mix of survival scenes and sci-fi nonsense as our friend Richard fights off monsters and bounty killers. But while some dialogue is so bad it's good, a lot is just plain bad, and there are some sexist elements that are kind of embarrassing. But it's shlock I suppose, and doesn't try to be anything else at least.

3/5