My short summation of The Desolation of Smaug, whenever asked, is currently that the first half felt enormously rushed and often crafted primarily to sell games/theme park rides/lego ( ‘escape via barrels’ scene, I’m looking at you), whereas the second half had excellent pacing, good writing AND A DRAGON.
I think there are few who would disagree with the idea that the greatest problem with the Hobbit franchise so far (and yes, don’t worry kids, there is yet another film coming) has been that the sheer length of the movies/franchise itself is utterly mind boggling (The Hobbit: 310 pages long [according to Wikipedia] given three, three hour long films; The Lord of the Rings trilogy: 1600 pages in total [according to wiki.answers – yeah, that’s right, I only use the most reputable of sources] also given three, three hour long films. Go figure). Yet despite this self-indulgent length, a huge swathe of the narrative in both films has felt very hurried – in all honesty, I think the entirety of the first film seemed to take place at break-neck speed. Let’s look, for example, at the journey through Mirkwood in Desolation – a really most fantastic, rich part of the novel; gone in what seemed a blink of the eye (lol, Sauron pun) in the movie.
As to what I thought Desolation did really well….have I mentioned there was a dragon? A 3D dragon? (Excuse me whilst I flail about in over-excitement). In all seriousness however, the visual rendering of Smaug (and the Dwarves’ treasure for that matter) was absolutely glorious; even whilst watching the 3D version, I didn’t feel there was much loss of detail of colour saturation. That will be sorely missed in the DVD release.
Whilst on the subject of visuals, though, we cannot really ignore the issue of Jackson’s choice of frame rate and how this effects the viewing experience. Now, unless you were living on the moon (or, you know, have more to do with your life than trawl about on the internet reading about arguments in the film industry and super nerdy movies), you may have heard that Jackson made rather a big deal about using a much higher than normal frame rate (48 frames per second – fps) in the Hobbit films, which he said would give the viewer a much higher definition and clarity than the more traditional 24 fps. I can’t deny that it is difficult to watch the Hobbit films without drawing comparisons to Jackson’s Lord of the Rings – which, by the way, is an effing masterpiece – and I think a friend of mine perfectly summed up how most people feel about the frame rate decision when he said: ‘…there is no excuse for producing a film less visually realistic than the original trilogy [by which he means the Lord of the Rings films] of ten years ago’. The Hobbit films, for the most part, look more like a BBC made drama than a high-budget Hollywood production – the high frame rate somehow makes the costumes more costumey, the make-up more make-uppy. Don’t even get me started on the polyester-looking beards. Yet at the same time, one of the reasons Jackson pushed for the higher frame rate is that he really believes in modern 3D technology and there is no denying that the second half of the film featuring the DRAGON (have I mentioned that the dragon was voiced by none other than Sherlock himself, Benedict Cumberbatch? Oh yeah, he also motion captured for the animation. Ergo, Benedict Cumberbatch is a giant lizard) and the majority of the detailed CGI did look really rather impressive, so perhaps Jackson got half of what he set out to achieve? It remains to be seen how this will transition to the small screen.