The second part of any trilogy can be tricky. The novelty of the first has worn off, and yet we still expect something amazing, our minds to be blown with pure awesomeness. We know there is a third Hobbit coming, which means the second is merely a set up, a prelude to an epic grand finale. Peter Jackson has proven in LOTR he can do seconds with great dexterity and overcome the sophomore slump. For me The Two Towers was my favorite of the three. For The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, Jackson faced an additional issue, overcoming low expectations. The first Hobbit wasn't as beloved as LOTR, indeed as owner of all 3 LOTR DVD's (which were procured individually, instead of waiting till the collector's set came out after all three were released. But I digress) I don't own the First Hobbit, and I don't see me owning this one either.
That isn't to say this was a bad movie, indeed I still think Jackson can give a master class in shooting on location, the diverse landscape of New Zealand comes through in all its glory and gives other movies a run for cinematography. The more I watch of Middle Earth, the more I want to go to there. Jackson is also master of adapting book to screen, and has proven this skill yet again in adding more to the movie than what was in the book. As stated in last year's review, I don't recall the book, and after twelve months barely remember the first Hobbit movie, so this is more a feeling than actual fact supported by evidence. Jackson could also give a master class in making sequels, I'm thinking J.J. Abrams and the Avengers crew could learn a thing about how to handle sequels- the characters are already introduced, but you make them richer and further draw the audience into their story.
Ultimately, was I drawn into the story of the dwarves? That is a complex question, requiring some thought. I re read my first review and will say that there were some improvements made in Hobbit 2.0. One issue I had with the first Hobbit was the focus on just the dwarves, unlike in LOTR which masterfully wove multiple stories together. This movie brought in more stories, there is Gandalf going off to find the rising evil. Here come the Orcs and Sauron, the rising evil just mentioned. There are the wood elves and their plight, which if memory serves was just invented for the movie, and was a way to bring back Legolas. Add to that the plight of the men at Laketown, you have the same UN delegation as LOTR represented; hobbits, dwarves, elves, and men. There were more stories interwoven, but it all feels like a prelude LOTR, and not a story unto itself.
I guess then my answer to the question of if I was drawn into the story of the dwarves, is that I only partially was drawn in. At a critical point the dwarves, under the questionable leadership of Thorin, literally were willing to walk away from their goal. I wanted them to prove the doubters wrong, that the spirit of a dwarf wasn't so easily broken. C'mon, for Bilbo the burglar to be the only persistent individual? I expected more from Jackson and company. With the least vested in this journey more intent than the others, was a little more disbelief than I was willing to suspend.
There were big action scenes, violent and bloody to keep with the times. And yet the main villain of this, Smaug didn't come in till the last third of the movie. But when the dragon appears, he puts on a show. Is it a function of the natural chemistry between Sherlock and Watson? I would like to think so, and the lack of interaction between the two of them left me wanting more. The dialogue between Bilbo and Smaug was more interesting than the banter between the dwarves themselves.
Is it Jackson's fault he set the bar exceedingly high with LOTR, that perhaps he can't clear it himself? Is it the fault of time and order that the Hobbit was made after LOTR, would I feel differently if the order was chronological and The Hobbit was made before LOTR? And perhaps not done as a trilogy? The fact that I ask these questions suggest in an alternate universe, some of the critique and whining could be corralled, but alas we live in this universe. Clearly the Middle Earth Universe Jackson created is mesmerizing, he manages to get actors to come back, subject themselves to several years of shooting making them unavailable for other jobs. And simply queuing up the Shire Music will send people salivating. I was left wanting more, but really, I'll take any excuse to visit Middle Earth and even with its flawed execution, this movie was better than others I've seen this year.