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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Desolation of Smaug is the second installment in director Peter Jackson's three-part adaptation of The Hobbit. Unlike the streamlined adaptations of each of the three Lord of the Rings novels, The Hobbit is expanded beyond the source material with additional characters and story lines. While this series remains more tween-friendly than the more violent Lord of the Rings, there are still a few jump-worthy and frightening scenes, mostly dealing with the orcs, the dragon Smaug, and that most evil of beings, Sauron. Viewers with a fear of spiders may find some scenes difficult to watch. Bows are the weapons of choice, but hammers, swords, and other forged weapons are also used in the fight scenes (in addition to the dragon's built-in weapon of all-consuming fire).
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What's the story?
THE HOBBIT: THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG continues to follow the quest of dwarf heir apparent Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage), wizard Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellen), hobbit Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), and a motley crew of dwarves as they travel toward their abandoned kingdom of Erebor. Their journey is perilous, not only because they encounter deadly dark beings (a necromancer, a legion of orcs), militant elves who don't like dwarves, and a lake town full of hungry, upset humans, but because Gandalf leaves them to figure out if Sauron has returned, and because an angry killer dragon named Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch) will never allow the dwarves to take back their treasure-filled kingdom without a fight.
Is it any good?
This second installment is a slight improvement over the first, even if some of the reasons it's better will upset Tolkien purists; some new characters were nowhere to be found in the book. But let's just say this and move on: The Hobbit three-parter is not The Lord of the Rings, and it will forever confound some critics as to why it a standalone book was divided into three nearly three-hour films, when one would've done just fine. One of the fundamental problems with The Hobbit is that there is a lot of traveling and not enough relationship building. There's not a sense of camaraderie and friendship the way there was in the nine-member Fellowship of the Ring.
But what does work in this film is the stopover at the Mirkwood, where the startlingly beautiful but cold elvenking Thranduil (Lee Pace) is a lovely foil to his hot-headed son Legolas (Orlando Bloom), who has an obvious crush on the gorgeous (and completely new to the world of Tolkien) captain of the guard Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly). Laketown's heroic everyman Bard the Bowman (Luke Evans) is well cast. The fight scenes (particularly those with Legolas and Tauriel) are, as always, one of Jackson's specialties, as are the middle-earth landscapes by his long-time cinematographer Andrew Lesnie, who knows how to immerse audiences into the beloved universe. Lastly, one cannot write a review of this movie without mentioning Cumberbatch's motion-capture performance as Smaug. With his resonant baritone (reminiscent of James Earl Jones), Cumberbatch imbues Smaug with an imperious, psychopathic rage and arrogance. It's fascinating and chilling and proof that these sorts of performances demand the finest of actors.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how The Hobbit compares to The Lord of the Rings. How are the stories similar (a hobbit continues on a dangerous quest, deals with the precious ring), and how are they different? Which adventure do you prefer and why?
For those familiar with the book, how does this movie adaptation differ? If you haven't read the book yet, does the movie make you want to start Tolkien's classic?
Why do you think the filmmaker decided to insert a little bit of a romance/love triangle into the story? How about the reintroduction of Legolas?
- In theaters: December 13, 2013
- On DVD or streaming: April 8, 2014
- Cast: Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage
- Director: Peter Jackson
- Studio: Warner Bros.
- Genre: Fantasy
- Topics: Magic and Fantasy, Adventures, Book Characters
- Character Strengths: Courage, Curiosity, Perseverance, Teamwork
- Run time: 161 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: extended sequences of intense fantasy action violence, and frightening images
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