HTS Moderator , Reviewer
Title: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug 3D
HTS Overall Score:85
By the most part this review will mirror the 2D release, except in the Video and 3D department. The same extras apply and everything, but with the 3D version being split across 2 discs it garners it's own unique video score. now back to your normal programming.
Let me say this first off. I’m a HUGE Tolkien fan, and have been an avid reader of his novels since I was in single digit years. I read “The Hobbit” and its associated books so many times that I had to buy a second set of the books, which I then left unopened, in case my original set became irreparably damaged with some many hours spend pouring over the dog eared pages. So, as a film fan, and knowing that books and movies rarely are perfectly adapted to each other; I have to take a breath before I watch a Tolkien adaptation and tell myself to forget the book for a few hours so I can enjoy a movie. As an adaptation of Tolkien’s book, "The Desolation of Smaug" fails in an utterly spectacular manner. The amount of liberties taken in this installment far outweigh the liberties taken in its predecessor. Characters have been taken out, other characters from the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy have been added in, and new characters have been created from scratch, let alone the inclusion and twisting of entire portions of the book. Now, with that laid out on the table, I have to say that if you can look past the difference between celluloid and text, Peter Jackson has created another wildly rousing film that will entertain people of all ages.
“The Desolation of Smaug” is a much faster paced film, being the 2nd act of a full trilogy it has none of the hindrances of the first film where we had to deal with a full hour of exposition and character building before the story could really take off. Bilbo (Martin Freeman) and crew are past the mountains and headed right into Mirkwood forest. Gandalf (Ian McKellen) is still deeply disturbed with the increased Orc invasions and the report of his comrade Radagast the brown. Giving the dwarves and young Hobbit strict instructions to stay on the path, Gandalf must go and find out just what is going on with that Morgul blade that was found in the last film. Checking out the tombs of the Nine wring wraiths he finds that there is nothing left but empty coffins and deadly fear that evil has once upon been unleashed upon the land.
Back in Mirkwood our merry band of travelers must get through the forests of Mirkwood, fighting gigantic spiders and even the forest Elves along the way. Amusingly enough, this is where we meet a much younger Legolas (Orlando Bloom) and his captain-of-the-guard Tauriel (Evangeline Lily). Captured by the Mirkwood elves, the dwarves are detained by the Thranduil (Lee Pace), the same Elven king who turned his back on the Dwarven race in their time of need. With the help of Bilbo, the Dwarves escape the clutches of the Elves and venture out to the Mountain. Unfortunately, their problems are far from over, for they must sneak past the broken city of Laketown, ruled by a despotic noble who is clutching onto what little power he has left (Stephen Fry) and face up against their most terrifying foe yet. The incredibly powerful Smaug the Dragon (Benedict Cumberbatch).
I’m torn over the changes made to the film. Many of them are actually quite good. The inclusion of Legolas is quite harmless, and it’s refreshing to see Orlando Bloom reprise his role as the incredible archer. It wouldn’t have made a difference if he was in the film or not. His character is benign enough that any actor of good quality could have played the role, but it’s a nice thread to try and bind the trilogies together. Tauriel is actually the one I was most worried about. Her character was never even in the books and is entirely a creation of Fran Walsh and Peter Jackson. I have to say that I actually was really pleased with her inclusion. Her character is passionate, kind, and every bit the warrior as Legolas. The action scenes greatly benefited from her and I have to admit, when I heard that there was a gorgeous RED-HEADED elf included, I was already on board.
It seems that Peter Jackson has a real fetish about Orcs, though. His insertion of Azog the Defiler in the first film was innocuous enough, but here he’s intent on including at least one full on battle scenes with Orcs in every one of his three “Hobbit” films. They spill out from every corner, chasing our heroes across the land, and even include a full on fight scene with the orcs, the dwarves AND Legolas right in the middle of Laketown. The action was appreciated, especially with the slower pace of the first film, but at times it felt a little out of place. The second act tended to be the downside of the movie, with some sporadic action sequences and the inclusion of a very out of place Luke Evans as Bard. Bard’s character himself was much needed, but Luke Evans seemed strangely out of place amidst the rest of the cast. I can’t place my finger on it, but his character was a bit oddly played.
Now the real fun is the 3rd act. Everyone has been waiting for it, and it’s finally here. We get to see Smaug in all his ferocious glory. While I was expecting his entrance to be a great one, I was bowled over by just how spectacular Benedict Cumberbatch played the voice. His acting has always been above reproach, but here he knocked it out of the park. The sheer power and menacing PRESENCE emanated from every vocal inflection, every guttural roar and the cunningly sly tone that every dragon is famed to have. While the vocal manipulation made it so you could readily realize it was Benedict, that sheer visceral vocal impact that Benedict puts into all his role seeped into the character and really brought the CGI dragon to life. With a dragon being all CGI and effects the voice really makes or breaks it, and Mr. Cumberbatch sent chills down my spine and really raised the film a good notch in my experience.
Whether you agree with the changes made, or not, it’s hard to deny that they aren’t a wild load of fun on their own merits. There is some out of place humor and Peter Jackson’s need for constant action hampered a couple spots, but otherwise “The Desolation of Smaug” is a very satisfying film that leaves you wanting more, and gives you that wish that maybe we can speed up time and get to November 2014 sooner, rather than later, to witness the grand finale to his trilogy.
Rated PG-13 for extended sequences of intense fantasy action violence, and frightening images
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=15151[/img]Peter Jackson is nothing if not a master of style, and “The Desolation of Smaug” is just tingling with the sensation of the master’s touch, and the 2.40:1 AVC encode is magnificent to look upon. As with the first film we have a nearly flawless transfer, a good bid darker than its predecessor in tone, the video decides to follow suit. Bathed in deep shadows from the wreckage of the abandoned fortress, to the dwarven kingdom home, to the misty forests of Mirkwood, shadows and blackness ooooooze from every corner and crack, permeating everything. Throughout this deep, dark world the black levels are literally as perfect as you can get. Shadows are well detailed, but retain enough depth to make you feel as if you’re going to be swallowed up by the darkness. The mist makes you squint your eyes to try and see through the fog, but still retain all of the accuracy of real life. When you feel like the entire film is black, we shoot to the open fields, resplendent in golds and greens and blues, shining in the sun of Middle Earth. As you can imagine, the long sweeping shots are stunning to behold, but every bit as stunning is the fine detail in the close ups. You can actually see the dirt and grime ground into Bilbo’s skin, each pore absorbing a different color and texture depending on how dirty the skin is, and the Elven clothing is picture perfect with each thread and fiber showing through. Contrasts are good, and skin tones are very pleasing, albeit a little bit pink at times. The only real flaws I saw were a few instances of softness in Mirkwood and a few POV shots during the barrel escape, mostly caused by lower quality POV cameras used to capture the mayhem up close.
Now, being that the 3D discs are split across 2 BD-50's due to the amount of data I analyzed them piecemeal to see if there were any major differences, and I have to say, unless you're looking at the movies back to back you wouldn't tell a difference. Under really really close scrutiny it's noticeable that the black levels and details is a HAAAAAAAAAIIIR bit better on the 2 3D discs, but it's mainly due to the increased bitrate and even the most snobbish videophile would be able to tell the difference between the 2D disc and the 3D discs unless it is for bragging rights.
As with "An Unexpected Journery" the natively shot 3D presentation is near flawless. The depth and clarity shown in the 3D is mind boggling as gigantic 3D bees buzz around Bilbo's head and seemingly shift across every plane that it can, feeling as lifelike and as in front of you as one could wish for. even though the film was shot in 48 fps 3D that can't be translated into Blu-ray due to specifications, but the 24 fps 3D shown here is just about as good as the theatrical feeling (besides the extra smootheness that 48 fps provides the home presentation may actually be a bit better). I couldn't detect any crosstalk in the image and only a minor bit of shimmering upon the armor or any other reflective surface. I'm actually not one to enjoy 3D films, but "Gravity" and now "The Desolation of Smaug" has given me a new take on the genre. If more films were shot as delicately and intricately as this one I might actually put on the glasses a bit more often.
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=15152[/img]Like the first film, the 7.1 DTS-HD MA is simple jaw dropping. The design of the Middle Earth sound tracks has always been something to aspire to and “Desolation of Smaug” is no different. The hauntingly beautiful score by Howard Shore winds itself and intertwines itself with the film itself, creating an inseparable synergy between visual and auditory story telling that feels incomplete if one is missing from the mix. The immersive power of the track is unmistakable and breathtaking, sucking the viewer into the center of a whirlwind of sound. The surrounds pulse with energy, rippling around the listener from all angles, giving the sound track a truly enveloping power. Dialogue is crystal clear and carries with it some very solid directional queues that allow the presence of the track to felt from any corner of the room. LFE is powerful, MUCH powerful than the first one, albeit this is where the flaw of the sound track is. The mid bass is crushing at times, generating a much more visceral low end than the first movie had, but there is STILL a high pass filter at work here. I don’t think I ever heard the LFE dip below 30 hz once the entire film. That deeeeeeep extension that can push a great track into awe inspiring just wasn’t there. Don’t get me wrong, there was PLENTY of midbass, but the lack of really low extension was disappointing, but unfortunately expected considering the first film had the same issue in both theatrical and extended editions.
• Peter Jackson Invites You to the Set
• Production Videos
• Live Event: In the Cutting Room
• New Zealand: Home of Middle-earth, Part 2
• Trailers & Previews
• Music Video
Now choosing between the 2 editions is really a matter of choice here. Both have the same 2D disc, the same Special features blu-ray disc and the same DVD and even identical special features. Luckily Warner hasn't gone the Disney route and put all the cool special features on the 3D edition only and gimp the 2D version. So it really comes down to whether or not you want the 3D experience, or the really neat Lenticular 3D slipcover that the 3D version comes with. (although I could really throw a monkey wrench into the OCD nature of us collectors and impress how neat the bookend ultra special collectors edition is, albeit with a much higher price tag).
“The Desolation of Smaug” is just about as entertaining as “An Unexpected Journey,” and I maintain the same conclusion as last time. “The Hobbit” entries are immensely satisfying films that still are rather flawed at the same time. Peter Jackson has tried to create a trilogy as epic as his first, and does his absolute best to connect the two trilogies more than the book had done, which ends up creating the flaws I mentioned. With that being said, the movie is a wild load of fun with some great characters and fantastic scoring. While it may not be AS epic as the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, Jackson has created a series that is an absolute blast to watch and is going to be spinning many many times in my own home theater, I can tell you that. The audio video are fantastic, as usual, but the extras are expectedly minimal. While I normally would say “wait for the extended cut” where we can expect for extras, the fact of the matter is that the theatrical cuts still remain my favorite so far and both are easily worth owning for their respective benefits over the other.
Starring: Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman, Benedict Cumberbatch
Directed by: Peter Jackson
Written by: Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens
Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1 AVC
Audio: English: DTS-HD MA 7.1, French, Spanish, Portuguese DD 5.1
Studio: Warner Brothers
Runtime: 161 minutes
Own "THE HOBBIT: THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG" Limited Collector’s Edition Blu-ray 3D Combo Pack, Blu-ray 3D Combo pack, Blu-ray Combo pack, 2-disc DVD special edition, and Digital HD on 4/8
Buy The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug 3D Combo Pack Blu-ray on Amazon
Recommendation: Buy It
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