So I'm a little late to the party on this one but The Desolation of Smaug was just released on Netflix so I thought I'd better watch it. Although An Unexpected Journey was a very impressive film, I still firmly believe that The Lord of the Rings trilogy is much better, despite the fact that it was made over ten years prior to The Hobbit and with the release of the second instalment of The Hobbit, I still stand by that. Although perhaps more visually impressive, the use of computer generated effects is also much more obvious and things are less 'real' than in Lord of the Rings. What I do love about this, however, is the vibrancy that these effects bring to the film. Both The Desolation of Smaug and An Unexpected Journey are such colourful and vibrant films and this really stands out to me. Whether the scenes are full of dark magic, Smaug's orange fire or the green Shire the picture on screen always looks incredible. It's so nice to see familiar places from The Lord of the Rings trilogy made even more impressive by the use of modern technology, in addition to the fact that The Hobbit is set before LoTR thus these places are much 'younger' in this story anyway.
In term's of plot, being the middle instalment I feel that this film was much more developed that An Unexpected Journey which did much for setting up the world of The Hobbit but not much for developing the plot. Of course, the big plot point that is introduced in this film is Smaug himself, a fearsome dragon who sleeps on a bed of Dwarf gold. The voice of Smaug is absolutely perfect, giving off an incredibly dangerous and evil feel and every time Smaug spoke it sent shivers down my spine. Benedict Cumberbatch has proved that even when you can't see him on screen, he's still incredibly talented. There are a few different plot strands running through this film but they all fit together nicely meaning that there's very little room for confusion and it's always quite clear what is going on. Although I have read the book, it was a very long time ago and I'm glad to see that it's still easy to keep up with the plot even if you don't have any prior knowledge of Middle Earth or Tolkein's world. That said, you will almost certainly have to watch this film after having seen An Unexpected Journey otherwise the full impact of the quest that Bilbo is on will not be realised. Despite the fact that there's nothing explicitly 'funny' in this trilogy, there are numerous humorous elements throughout which help to stop this film from becoming a horribly, dark tale.
The cast in this trilogy is very strong with numerous famous names and a few familiar faces from Lord of the Rings, most notably Legolas. Although Legolas is supposed to be younger in The Hobbit, somehow the effects make him look like he has aged instead which is disappointing. I've found that Legolas' character seems to be rather different in The Hobbit, almost more cold than his later self in LoTR and I don't know whether this was intentional or not. It is a shame that we don't see more of either Gandalf or Legolas in this film as it is these subtle ties to the original LoTR trilogy that make these films all the better for existing Tolkein fans. Ian McKellen's Gandalf is much the same as he is in LoTR so obviously he is a superb character the little screen time that he has in this film still makes a mark.
Martin Freeman continues to play Bilbo Baggins and he does so just as well as he did in the first film. He makes an excellent Bilbo managing to be both a bumbling idiot and an incredibly intelligent hobbit both at the same time. His character is brings both humour and humility to this film the audience really roots for him. Of course, this trilogy is all about Bilbo's adventure and Jackson has managed to perfectly balance the film between focusing on Bilbo himself and the rest of his comrades, who are also incredibly important. The entire group of Dwarfs are also made up of very good actors, though it is difficult to distinguish between different Dwarfs but as a collection you can't help but love them. It is particularly nice to see Stephen Fry in this film who only has a few short minutes of screen time but he also makes a lasting impression.
The action sequences are not just made up of mind-numbing fights but highly exciting and dramatic scenes. During a particularly stressful fight between some orcs and elves I was literally sat with my hands covering my mouth, with my heart pounding for the safety of the elves. I found myself incredibly drawn into this film, much more than I thought I would be and the whole process of watching this trilogy is quite an experience.
This film is very, very, very long. Almost three hours long, in fact. It is a little slow to get started, but once you've made it through the first 45 minutes or so, you stop noticing time passing as it's just action packed amazingness for the next two hours. There are action scenes, romantic scenes, humorous scenes, adventurous scenes, fight scenes - everything that you could wish for in a Tolkein adaptation. There wasn't a single moment in the second half of this film that I was bored in and I was very disappointed when this film came to a close. The way that this story has been cut into three pieces is absolutely perfect for giving audiences enough of a story per film, but leaving them excited enough about the next instalment to ensure that they return to the cinema for the next part. I cannot wait for the third, and final, film in this trilogy to be released as these films are moving from strength to strength and I'm sure that the finale will be stupendous. If you haven't watched The Desolation of Smaug yet then you absolutely must. It is a fantastic film that spreads across so many different genres that it's impossible not to enjoy or be drawn in by it. All in all, I'd highly recommend this film (and trilogy) as it's an excellent example what great acting and special effects can offer audiences.