Valdosta Daily Times

December 19, 2013

Latest ‘Hobbit,’ desolate entertainment

Adann-Kennn Alexxandar
The Valdosta Daily Times

VALDOSTA — “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” (Adventure/Action/Fantasy: 2 hours, 41 minutes)

Starring: Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, Aidan Turner and Luke Evans

Director: Peter Jackson

Rated: PG-13 (Violence and frightening images)

Movie Review: J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Hobbit” is a good tale. Peter Jackson is stretching this story, although it is still fine entertainment. He has taken a relatively short novel and has turned it into a three, over-two-hour photoplays. While the films remain engaging, Director Jackson’s stretch of imagination is pushing it.  

This second installment continues where “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” (2012) ceased. After a few dangerous adventures, the Hobbit Bilbo Baggins (Freeman) has now reached the lost Dwarf Kingdom of Erebor with a group of dwarves led by the legendary warrior Thorin Oakenshield (Armitage), while the wizard Gandalf the Grey (McKellen) engages an old enemy. Bilbo Baggins must now fulfill his agreement with the dwarves by entering corridors of the Kingdom of Erebor to recover the Arkenstone, a luminescent jewel guarded by the enormous dragon Smaug (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch).

Like “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy, “The Hobbit” series never loses its ability to inspire and create a sense of awe. “The Desolation of Smaug” is better than its prequel, but the story is wearing thin as an intriguing story.

The actors are exceptional. It is difficult to find an actor as talented as McKellen. Other cast members are also compelling with respects to their performances.

However, Jackson easily allows visual effects, especially computer-animated imagery, and grand stunts to overshadow Tolkien’s characters from “The Hobbit.” Though visual effects and action sequences are grand and a major part of the entertainment, they are more impressive than characters frequently.

Jackson also allows the film to make unnecessary story diversions. Was there really need to have Gandalf the Grey go on a mission that divided him from the rest of cast for a large part of this screenplay?

It appears the intent was to link “The Hobbit” films with the “Lord of The Rings.” This was unnecessary as several of the characters overlap. In this aspect, there was no need to insert Sauron in a major manner.

In addition, the dragon Smaug is talkative to the point he gives no reason to fear him other than the fact he can rain fire from his oral cavity. The sequence with Bilbo Baggins and Smaug is not gratifying in the manner of last year’s dialogue between Baggins and Gollum (Andy Serkis).

Despite those subtractions, “The Desolation of Smaug” is better than “An Unexpected Journey,” which was unpersuasive in some scenes. “Smaug” drops some of the lighter comical moments and characters repeatedly running and fighting each scene.

This outing, Jackson and his team do better, even if it is only slightly. The story remains good. The action-adventure moments are appealing and the visuals, although ostentatious, are dazzling. It has all the merits of a summer blockbuster during the chill of December.     

Grade: B- (Still some of the best entertainment, but it is quickly becoming desolate.)

“Out of the Furnace” (Crime/Drama: 1 hour, 56 minutes)

Starring: Christian Bale, Woody Harrelson, Casey Affleck, Zoe Saldana, Willem Dafoe, Sam Shepard and Forest Whitaker

Director: Scott Cooper

Rated:R (Profanity, extreme violence)

Movie Review: Life does not have to make sense. Fiction does. This fine notion is missing with respects to “Out of the Furnace,” an oddly edited tale directed by Cooper (“Crazy Heart,”2009).

Russell Baze (Bale), along with his uncle, Gerald “Red” Baze (Shepard), begin their search for war veteran Rodney Baze (Affleck), Russell’s brother, after law enforcement fails to find Rodney. The search for Rodney will not be easy considering he is in a countryside area ran by Harlan DeGroat (Harrelson), a violent, hick kingpin.

Cooper wrote this piece with Brad Ingelsby. The film has a talented ensemble, so it is a well-acted piece. However, the disjointed manner in which the film transpires feels like one of those old millimeter films spliced together incorrectly.

The scenes do not flow in an order that facilitates the plot effectively. Some scenes appear out of place or have little to do with the overall story. The link from one scene to the next is not there occasionally. This screenplay appears like an assortment of random plots put together. They eventually come together, but something appears lacking in the middle. This makes characters’ behaviors appear odd and often disjointed.

This disjointedness also makes character development problematic. The haphazard display of scenes means one must get to know characters through messiness. This complicates the story, but the actors do their jobs well. Bale, Affleck, Dafoe and others are great. Harrelson is especially good as a drug-addicted brute.

“Furnace” works concerning a talented cast, but it fails to be compelling because of the shabby manner in which its story is distributed. This is a shame considering the story is interesting.  

Grade: C (Out of the furnace ... still cold.)