Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug - Extended Edition
(Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, Benedict Cumberbatch, Evangeline Lilly, Lee Pace, Luke Evans, et al / 5-Disc Blu ray / PG-13 / 2014 / Warner Bros.)
Overview: Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage), his mighty band of dwarves, Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), and wise wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen) embark on a crusade to reclaim Erebor from the vicious dragon Smaug (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch) in this sweeping fantasy adventure that picks up where the events of THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY left off.
Blu ray Verdict: OK, let's get this straight from the start: This is not a movie for devoted Tolkien fans. Or even for true fans of 'The Hobbit.' This is Peter Jackson's fan-fiction "re-imagining" of Tolkien's first book. He's known for taking liberties with the source material. It worked well 90% of the time in the extended editions of the LOTR films. But the reverse is true with this prequel series (so far.) His changes and additions are jarring, annoying, and pointless.
Like Lucas with his digital tools at ILM, Jackson has taken the Weta CGI SpFX and turned Middle Earth into a cheesy theme park full of action rides for adolescents. The overuse of 3D computer graphics in place of actual real-life sets and characters resembles a Pixar cartoon more than a fantasy-adventure epic. The orcs and villains in LOTR looked solid and believable. They were played by actors on-set.
In 'The Hobbit,' the goblins, trolls and orcs are video game characters with no substance. It's a shame what can happen when directors like Jackson, Lucas and Shyamalan, who held such promise, are given carte blanche and huge budgets to feed their inflated egos. They lose all restraint and the ability to edit themselves. Every crazy idea is implemented. Nothing is too far-fetched or ridiculous.
If you thought some action sequences in King Kong (2005) went overboard and on screen for too long – the dinosaur stampede being an example – that's nothing compared to what 'Desolation of Smaug' has in store. It's mostly one implausible, dizzying roller-coaster ride after another. I'm all for thrill-rides, but enough is enough. At some point you need a break from the constant camera shots weaving in and out, up and down, etc. Indeed, for my money, it loses its impact after the first 4 minutes, then proceeds to make you nauseated or bored, or both.
Whatever happened to story, character development, and emotional involvement? Marginalized in favor of Saturday morning cartoon fare. Battle sequences galore.
OK, all that said, the film does feature some nice bits of cinematography and Smaug does have his cool moments, but beyond that this is nothing more than a shameless cash grab that feels more and more irreverent to Tolkien with each passing minute. I despise the fans who demand that a film adaptation hold strictly to the novel, but 'Desolation' is in a league of it's own where films seem to go out of their way to disregard and tarnish everything the novel set out to do in the first place. This is a Widescreen Presentation (1.85:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs and comes with the Special Features of:
Discs 1 & 2
Extended Edition, Parts 1 & 2
Extended Edition, Plus the Filmmakers' Commentary includes New Zealand: Home of Middle-Earth, Part 2.
The Appendices, Part 9: Into The Wilderland, The Chronicles of The Hobbit, Part 2.
The Appendices, Part 10: The Journey To Erebor.