Give Martin Freeman an empty room and he'll give you comedy. The best parts of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey — an admittedly mishandled movie in large — involved his subdued grimaces, his Chaplinian waddling, and the way he carried himself with equal parts neurosis and snark in every scene. If there is one primary misstep of An Unexpected Journey's terrifically improved sequel, The Desolation of Smaug, it is the spiritual absence of Bilbo Baggins.
Freeman's good-natured but disgruntled Hobbit takes a backseat to the Dwarf team in this chapter of Peter Jackon's three-part saga, distributing the heavy lifting among the front lines of the bearded mooks. Thankfully, we're not shafted with too much "Thorin's destiny" backstory, instead focusing on the trek forward, through far more interesting terrain than we got last time around. The Dwarves voyage through a trippy woodland that'll conjur fond memories of The Legend of Zelda's unnavigable forest levels and inside the borders of Lake-town, a man-occupied working class monarchy that is more vivid and living than any place we have seen yet in the series. And while Unexpected Journey's goblin caverns might have been cool to look at, none of the quests in Desolation feel nearly as close to a tangential detour. Every step the Dwarves take is one that beckons us closer to the central, increasingly engaging story.
Desolation is not entirely without its curiosities. While Gandalf's mission to meet the Necromancer serves to connect the Hobbit trilogy to the Lord of the Rings movies, the occasional cuts over to the wizard's pursuits are primarily distracting and just a bit dull. Although we're happy to welcome the Elf race back into our Middle-earth adventures, it's easy to imagine a version of this story that didn't involve side characters like Legolas and Kate... I mean, Tauriel... and still felt whole (perhaps even more cohesive). The latter's love affair with hot Dwarf Kili seems like a last minute addition to the canon, and one not built on anything beyond the cinematic rule that two sexually compatible attractive people should probably have something brewing alongside all the action.
But the most egregious of crimes committed by Desolation is, unquestionably, the shafting of Bilbo Baggins to secondary status. Yes, he proves himself a savior to his fellow travelers four times in the film, but long stretches of action go by without so much as a word from the wide-eyed burglar. When he finally takes center stage in his theatrical face-off with Smaug — an exercise in double-talk reminiscent of Oedipus outsmarting the Sphinx — the film picks up with a new, cool energy, with a chilling fun laced around the impending doom of their back-and-forth. We've been waiting since the first frames of Unexpected to see how the dragon material will pay off, and it does in spades... albeit in the final third of Desolation, but with equal parts gravitas and fun, to reunite us with our Tolkien passions once more.
Benedict Cumberbatch's dragon doesn't do much to subvert expectation — he's slithering, sadistic, vain, manipulative, and vaguely Londonian. But tradition feels good here. Smaug's half hour spent toying with the mousey Bilbo (who does get a chance to showcase his aptitude at small-scale physical comedy here) is terrific in every way.
Its Hobbit problem aside, Desolation proves itself worthy of Bilbo's past proclamation. "I'm going on an adventure!" more than pays off here, in the form of mystifying boat rides, edge-of-your-seat efforts in dragon slaying, and the most joyful action set piece we've seen in years. Twelve Dwarves, twelve barrels, and one roaring river amounts for enough fun to warrant your trip to the theater for this latest outing into Middle-earth.
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The New Zealand Symphony Orchestra has scrapped a number of upcoming shows to concentrate on recording music for The Hobbit sequel. The orchestra was slated to play concerts in Christchurch, Wellington, Hamilton and Auckland in September (13), but the performances have now been postponed so the musicians can work on the score for The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, which will be released in December (13).
They will record the work of renowned composer Howard Shore, who has overseen the scores of all the movies in the Lord of the Rings franchise, at Wellington Town Hall.
The orchestra's publicist Trudy Shannon says, "There have been a few noisy constituents as you'd expect, but overwhelmingly the public support is in favour of The Hobbit.
"People who have had this situation explained to them can see the financial benefits of a six-week full-time recording over a four-concert tour."
The film's director Peter Jackson adds, "We feel very lucky and excited to be able to work with the extraordinary talents of the NZSO in this world class auditorium as Howard Shore once again journeys into Middle Earth."
Hollywood director James Cameron has moved a step closer to becoming a permanent fixture in New Zealand following a ruling which has paved the way for his residency application. The Titanic director has moved his family Down Under from the U.S. and last year (12), he began the lengthy process of becoming an official resident.
He filed a residency application with the New Zealand Overseas Investment Office (OIO) as part of a three-year process which requires a local investment of around $8 million (£5.3 million).
Cameron previously purchased a farm in the country and a number of other properties, and now officials have approved his plans to buy up 420 hectares of land in Wairarapa, north-east of the capital city of Wellington.
The director, his wife Suzy Amis and their three children will now be eligible to apply for permanent residency at the end of the designated three-year period, and they will also have to stay in the country for 88 days over the final 24 months, according to Stuff.co.nz.
Dutch Prince Johan Friso has been transferred to his mother's home in the Netherlands from a London hospital 17 months after he suffered brain damage in a skiing accident in Austria. The European royal, son of former Queen Beatrix, fell into a coma after he was buried in an avalanche in February, 2012. He had been receiving treatment at the private Wellington Hospital in the U.K. since March last year (12).
On Tuesday (09Jul13), the prince was flown back to the Netherlands, where he will continue to receive care at Beatrix's palace in The Hague.
Representatives for the royal family revealed the 44 year old's condition "remains worrying", adding in a statement, "Prince Friso will spend the summer with his family in the Huis ten Bosch palace, where a medical team... will take care of him."
Friso is the younger brother of the Netherland's new King Willem-Alexander, who was crowned leader in April (13) after the siblings' mother abdicated the throne after a 33-year rule.
The Rolling Stones star Keith Richards is feeling apprehensive in the run-up to the band's performance at Britain's Glastonbury festival over the weekend (29Jun13) as he fears the gig will be marred by bad weather. The veteran rockers will make their Glastonbury debut on Saturday night (29Jun13), headlining the event's iconic Pyramid Stage.
However, weather reports have suggested rain will put a damper on the festival, and Richards admits he is feeling nervous about playing an outdoor gig in a storm.
He tells Britain's BBC Radio 1, "I think the only pressure we feel is that it is the first time we've done an outdoor show for yonks (a long time) and English weather. Throwing in those two equations, yeah, there is maybe a little apprehension."
The guitarist adds, "I'm looking forward to it because it is an iconic gig and it's an iconic band and finally the two meet at last. In a way it's kind of weird that at last we've made it to Glastonbury. It's like building Stonehenge right?"
On Friday (28Jun13), Richards' bandmate Ronnie Wood revealed he has purchased a special pair of red Wellington boots to prepare for adverse weather conditions at the site in Somerset, south-west England.
Hopkins drowned after the raft he and friends were on in the Waiohine River in the Wellington region capsized on Sunday (30Dec12).
His body was found by a helicopter rescue team. His two companions, a man and a woman, were rescued.
Police Senior Sergeant Carolyn Watson tells TVNZ, "All three were wearing lifejackets, wetsuits and helmets at the time. We would like to thank all those who assisted in the recovery of Mr Hopkins and the rescue of his companions, particularly the jet boat operator who came to our aid and, at considerable risk to himself, was able to rescue the female.
"Our thoughts are with the family at this difficult time."
Hopkins had a close working relationship with Peter Jackson, first teaming up with the director as sound designer for the 1992 horror-comedy Braindead.
He also joined Jackson for 2002's The Lord Of The Rings: The Two Towers and 2005's King Kong, and he picked up Academy Awards for Sound Editing along with Ethan Van der Ryn for the blockbusters.
Hopkins was nominated for an Oscar for his work on the first Transformers movie, as well as five British Academy of Film and Television Arts awards during his career.
His other film credits include Public Enemies, Valkyrie, Kung Fu Panda and Dreamgirls.
The 77 year old hit headlines in November (12) when she was seen visiting the private Wellington Hospital in London.
Reports suggested she was hospitalised after suffering severe chest pains and taken to a specialist cardiac unit, but her representative played down reports of ill health, saying, "She is fine and well at home."
Downton Abbey producer Gareth Neame has now insisted Smith is not sick and blamed false rumours for upsetting fans.
He tells the New York Post, "She went into the hospital for a routine check-up and was at a lunch party the next day, but for a few quid (money) someone in the hospital sent out word she's ailing. Not true... People make things up."
Activists at People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) launched a public war of words with the moviemaker this month (Nov12) following complaints from four wranglers who worked on The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, the first film in the trilogy.
Jackson denied their claims that animals suffered abuse and died as a result of incompetence during the making of the films, and he spoke out again on Wednesday (28Nov12) as the first blockbuster received its world premiere in Wellington.
A number of protesters demonstrated outside the event, holding up placards which read, "3 horses died for this film" and "The Hobbit: Unexpected Cruelty".
During a press conference, Jackson insisted he wouldn't let the protests overshadow his big day, telling reporters, "(There was) absolutely... no mistreatment, no abuse... At the end of the day we've made a movie we're extremely proud of. So many people have worked for so long, it will take a bit more than that to spoil the event...
"You have got a very radical, political organisation that has jumped on this and personally it's an insult to anyone who worked on the film... We care about what we do, we care about all the animals."
The Lord of the Rings director revealed on Saturday (24Nov12) that he was rushing to put the finishing touches to the film ahead of the red carpet event - and he succeeded in his mission.
Elijah Wood, Cate Blanchett, Martin Freeman and Andy Serkis were among the stars of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey who took to the red carpet for the premiere, and Jackson admits he found the massive event overwhelming.
He told reporters, "It's emotional and very humbling to see all these people in my hometown who've turned out.
"It's been two years with this narrow focus on the film where we're trying to keep everybody out. You have security, you don't want people to know what you're doing.
"Then you get to that moment where filming's over and 100,000 people come along to the premiere, it's kind of like the whole world has turned upside down."
The movie, the first of three films based on the book by J. R. R. Tolkien, will hit screens in December (12), with the second part in the trilogy set for release next year (13) and the final installment scheduled for 2014.
The Lord of the Rings filmmaker wrapped an epic 266-day shoot in New Zealand in early July (12) and the first movie in the highly-anticipated trilogy, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, is due to be unveiled in the city of Wellington this week (begs26Nov12).
However, in Jackson's final video blog about the making of the fantasy franchise, he confesses he and his post-production team are scrambling to complete the final edit before their deadline.
In the clip, posted online on Saturday (24Nov12), he says, "It's due to be completed literally two days before the premiere... hopefully...
"You're gonna see a lot of sleep-deprived people in this blog. Everyone's working around the clock to get the film finished."
Officials in New Zealand are gearing up for a big week as they prepare to celebrate the release of the movie - they have renamed Wellington "The Middle of Middle-Earth" and have released a collection of special coins based on the franchise, which can be used as legal tender.
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is based on J.R.R. Tolkien's classic novel and stars Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins.
It is set to hit theatres next month (Dec12) and will be followed by The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug in December, 2013, and The Hobbit: There and Back Again the following summer (Jul14).
Jackson isn't the only blockbuster filmmaker to cut it close when it comes to completing films just in time for premieres - Sam Mendes was working on the latest James Bond movie Skyfall right up until the film first hit cinema screens.