Movie Review: “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug”

Starring
Martin Freeman, Ian McKellan, Richard Armitage, Luke Evans, Orlando Bloom, Evangeline Lilly, Benedict Cumberbatch
Director
Peter Jackson

There are a couple of reasons why the “Hobbit” movies, to date, have not had the impact that their “Lord of the Rings” predecessors did, despite having better special effects. The first one is obviously fatigue; Peter Jackson has now made what is for all intents and purposes the same movie five times. Five, times, and there is one more coming. The bigger problem, though, is this: five hours into the “Hobbit” story, the good guys have slaughtered hundreds upon hundreds of bad guys (both biped and arachnid), and they have not lost a single soldier. The lack of stakes for the characters, combined with the knowledge of which characters play a larger role in the subsequent “Lord of the Rings” books, undermines all attempts to establish a realistic sense of peril. Wait, Gandalf is in trouble? Whatever – he clearly lives to fight in “The Fellowship of the Ring,” so don’t sweat it.

This is unfortunate, because “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” is quite entertaining despite the lopsidedness of the battles and needless “Clone Wars”-type political drama that director Peter Jackson foists upon the good people of Lake-town. A Tolkien-loving friend of ours swears that only five percent of the story in “Smaug” is in the original text. That is not nearly as much of a concern to us as the fact that no one dies in these movies.

Fresh from their escape from a pack of Orcs at the end of “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” courtesy of a group of giant eagles, Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), Gandalf the Grey (Sir Ian McKellen), and a band of dwarves led by Thorin (Richard Armitage) continue their journey to reclaim Thorin’s family’s homeland in the Lonely Mountain, inside which are untold riches and a fire-breathing dragon named Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch) who claims both riches and fortress as his own. Gandalf leaves them at the edge of the forest of Mirkwood to do a fact-finding mission. Bilbo and the dwarves find themselves in trouble almost instantly, battling giant spiders in the forest, only to be captured by wood elves afterwards. Bilbo uses the invisibility powers of the Ring to slip past the elves and free the dwarves, but the Orcs are soon on their tail again. To escape the Orcs, the group makes a deal with shipman Bard (Luke Evans), who smuggles them into the human-populated Lake-town so they can fulfill the prophecy and take back what is theirs. Smaug, however, is not inclined to go quietly.

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2013 Holiday Gift Guide: Movies

These days, if you don’t own a Blu-ray player, you’re missing out, especially with a variety of classic movies being offered in high definition for the first time ever. But while we could easily fill several pages with suggestions of great films and cool box sets that deserve a spot on any holiday wish list, we’ve picked some of our favorites released over the past 12 months. If you can’t find anything worth buying here, then chances are that the person you’re shopping for doesn’t like movies.

Click on the image next to each item to purchase it online, and for more gift ideas, check out the other categories in our Holiday Gift Guide.

The Dark Knight Trilogy: Ultimate Collector’s Edition

Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy will likely go down as one of the best franchises in movie history, so it’s not too surprising that Warner Bros. has decided to capitalize on the films’ success with a fancy Ultimate Collector’s Edition box set. Though most people have probably already purchased the movies individually, this limited edition six-disc set (with only 141,500 copies produced) is geared more towards diehard fans – the kind that would gladly buy all three films again if it meant getting their hands on the exclusive bonus disc (featuring a new retrospective on the series and an interview between Nolan and “Superman” director Richard Donner) and the Happy Meal-sized reproductions of the Batmobile, Batpod and Batwing. The set also includes an introduction letter from Nolan, a glossy photo book, and a series of cool art cards by Mondo artist Jaw Shaw featuring the trilogy’s villains. The only thing it’s missing is your very own Batsuit.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey – Extended Edition

It was never going to be an easy job adapting “The Hobbit” for the big screen, especially after the success of the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, and although that likely played a hand in Peter Jackson’s initial decision to let another director take the reins, at the end of the day, it just wouldn’t have felt right with anyone else behind the camera. Not only does Jackson know the source material inside and out, but in keeping with the same tone and breathtaking visuals from the original trilogy, the movie feels like it’s part of a bigger story. Though it’s not as great as the “Lord of the Rings” films, “An Unexpected Journey” is still a delightfully fun trip back to Middle-earth with a solid lead performance by Martin Freeman. And for those diehard fans who have been patiently awaiting the customary Extended Edition, it’s arrived just in time for the holidays with 13 minutes of additional footage, an audio commentary by Jackson and co-writer Philippa Boyens, and two entire discs of supplemental material clocking in at over 9 hours. If this doesn’t satisfy your “Hobbit” fix, nothing will.

Star Trek: Stardate Collection

Most diehard “Star Trek” fans probably already own all of the films on Blu-ray, but for those that still haven’t gotten around to picking up high-def versions of the U.S.S. Enterprise’s first 10 big screen adventures, the Stardate Collection is the easiest and most cost-effective way to remedy that. This 12-disc set combines the previously released Original and Next Generation Motion Picture Collections into one massive box of sci-fi goodness, including every feature-length film starring the respective crews of Captain Kirk and Picard, from 1979’s “Star Trek: The Motion Picture” to 2002’s “Star Trek: Nemesis.” Additionally, there’s over 25 hours of bonus material like audio commentaries, featurettes and the 70-minute roundtable “The Captain’s Summit.” While “The Wrath of Khan” remains the only installment to have received a 4k restoration (though likely not for long with the original show’s 50th anniversary just around the corner), the rest of the movies still look and sound better than ever.

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2013 Father’s Day Gift Guide: Entertainment

Everyone loves watching a great movie or TV series, so we’ve compiled some of our favorite releases from the past year that just about guy will enjoy. And for more gift ideas, be sure to check out the other categories in our Father’s Day gift guide.

Ultimate Gangster Collection: Classic and Contemporary

gangsters

Most guys love gangster films, so it’s hard to think of a better “one size fits all” gift than Warner Bros.’ recently released Ultimate Gangster Collection on Blu-ray. Divided into two volumes, the Contemporary edition is arguably the more desirable of the pair as it’s comprised of favorites like “The Untouchables,” “Heat” and three Martin Scorsese films (“Mean Streets,” “Goodfellas” and “The Departed”). Though the Classics edition is a little more niche, you really can’t go wrong with a quartet that includes Golden Age standards like “Little Caesar,” “The Public Enemy,” “The Petrified Forest” and “White Heat.” All four films have also been remastered for their Blu-ray debuts, and like most Warner Bros. catalog titles, they look fantastic. Each collection also includes a 32-page book with images and additional info on each movie, and the Classic edition comes packaged with a feature-length documentary. The best part? At $40 a pop, you’re getting some great movies at an unbeatable price.

Die Hard: 25th Anniversary Collection

die_hard

What better way to celebrate Father’s Day than with one of the coolest dads in movie history? We’re talking about John McClane, of course, even if he wasn’t exactly a very good father himself. Though Fox has released the fifth installment in the “Die Hard” series, “A Good Day to Die Hard,” just in time for the holiday, we’d actually recommend picking up the “Die Hard: 25th Anniversary Collection” on Blu-ray instead. Though the earlier films haven’t been given the HD restoration that they deserve, the set does include a nearly two-hour retrospective on the franchise titled “Decoding Die Hard” that’s definitely worth checking out. Plus, unlike the latest installment, the other four movies are all worthy of repeat viewings (yes, even the underrated “Live Free or Die Hard”), making this five-disc box set a must-have for any fan of the series, Bruce Willis or great action films in general.

Forever Marilyn Collection

marilyn

She’s probably our most iconic sex symbol. Marilyn Monroe remains relevant after all these years for more than just her amazing beauty and charisma. She was a true starlet, but she could act as well. Now you can get many of her best films in one collection with “Forever Marilyn: The Blu-ray Collection.” The films include classics like “The Misfits” and “Some Like It Hot,” along with new-to-Blu-ray titles “How to Marry A Millionaire,” “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes,” “The Seven Year Itch,” “There’s No Business Like Show Business” and “River of No Return.” We’ve included some images of Marilyn from the films courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment, including the memorable scene of Marilyn’s white dress being blown up in the subway in “The Seven Year Itch.”

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Blu Tuesday: Hobbits, Terrorists and More

It’s another fantastic week for movie fans, with some pretty major titles hitting Blu-ray today, and a few more (like “Les Miserables” and “This Is 40”) being released on Friday. Though I didn’t really like Tom Hooper’s big screen adaptation of the popular stage musical or Judd Apatow’s quasi-sequel to “Knocked Up,” there are still plenty of new releases worth checking out, including one of 2012’s best films and the most anticipated prequel since “The Phantom Menace.”

“The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey”

It was never going to be an easy job adapting “The Hobbit” for the big screen, especially after the success of the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, and although that likely played a part in Peter Jackson’s initial decision to let another director take the reins, at the end of the day, it just wouldn’t have felt right with anyone else behind the camera. Not only does Jackson know the source material inside and out, but in keeping with the same tone and breathtaking visuals from the original trilogy, the movie feels like it’s part of a bigger story. Granted, “An Unexpected Journey” only covers about a third of Tolkien’s novel, and as a result, there are times when the movie seems to be holding back in fear that it’s covering too much too soon. Martin Freeman is perfectly cast as the young Bilbo, and Ian McKellan effortlessly slides back into the role of Gandalf, but the dwarves are another matter, with Richard Armitage’s leader the only one to really distinguish himself from the pack. However, the film’s real MVP is Andy Serkis, who delivers his best work as Gollum in perhaps the most memorable scene of all four movies. “An Unexpected Journey” still falls a bit short of “The Lord of the Rings” in the end, but it’s a delightfully fun trip back to Middle-earth whose biggest flaw is not knowing when enough is enough.

Blu-ray Highlight: It’s a bit disappointing that the only bonus material Warner Bros. saw fit to include on the Blu-ray are the two hours’ worth of video blogs that were already made available online in the lead-up to the film’s release. With that said, it’s an impressively in-depth look at the making of the first movie (back when it was only two parts), from location filming in New Zealand, to shooting in 3D and 48 fps, to the dwarves’ intricate makeup and costumes, and much more. Some newer extras would have been nice, but with the inevitable Extended Edition in the pipeline, it’s not much of a surprise either.

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The Light from the TV Shows: A Chat with Antony Starr (“Banshee”)

In his homeland of New Zealand, it is virtually inarguable that Antony Starr is a somebody, given that he spent six seasons starring – as twins, no less – in “Outrageous Fortune,” one of the most successful NZ-produced series in the country’s history. Here in the United States, however, it is fair to say that he has yet to achieve any particular degree of recognizability, but there’s a very real chance that that could change with his starring role in Cinemax’s “Banshee,” produced by Alan Ball (“True Blood”). Bullz-Eye had a chance to chat with Starr at the winter Television Critics Association press tour, and he discussed how both men and women could fall in love with his new series, touched on past U.S.-released efforts that you might have caught him in, and praised some of his country’s finest musical exports.

Bullz-Eye: There are times when I watching “Banshee” where I found myself thinking, “This really couldn’t be much more of a ‘guy’ show.”

Antony Starr: Oh, really? Why?

BE: Well, you know, it’s action-packed, there’s sex, there’s violence…you can’t go wrong with those things in the “guy” demo.

AS: Yeah. I mean, look, it’s definitely and obviously going to appeal to a sort of masculine demographic. But interestingly, though, I’ve talked to a lot of women who’ve seen it, and the fact that the show is basically a love story…you know, it’s anchored on a love story. It’s the only reason this guy would get straight out of prison and make a bee-line for his lover. And a lot of women I’ve talked to have really responded to that and are prepared to go through the violence and some of the more masculine elements because of that. So I think it’s…well, we’ll wait and see, but I think it’s got a good appeal to women as well.

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