Let Sleeping Dragons Lie

Bilbo Baggins spies a special stone among millions of gold pieces. That gem is what he’s after inside the lair of Smaug, a greedy dragon who sleeps in stolen wares. When awakened, Smaug kicks the stone, and Bilbo’s agitated, flailing reaction is basically everyone by that point in Desolation of Smaug – get on with it already.

Desolation of Smaug’s final act is a dazzling, brilliant showcase, bridging filmmaking superpower and storytelling. Smaug is a sensational villain, the dwarves (and lone Hobbit) heroic underdog fodder.

Desolation of Smaug’s ceaseless runtime spares nothing

Getting that far requires an agonizingly slow journey through Middle Earth, ponderous at the best times, dreadfully dull at the worst. Its pieces, shredded like side stories, offer glimpses of interesting subplots. Most coalesce by the end, others fall to the wayside. Lakeside’s Master (Stephen Fry) presents an engaging character, an egotistical authoritarian willing to send others to their probable death because in the end, he’ll get a cut of their riches. Other than a few scenes, he’s nothing other than an avenue to move the plot.

Of more importance, a romance between Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly) and Kili (Aidan Turner), created specifically for Desolation of Smaug movie adaptation, but imperative only as exposition for later. It’s a necessary part to build on themes on togetherness, yet creaky in execution, which, like too much of the Hobbit trilogy, plays like empty exposition.

Fans want everything. Peter Jackson is a fan. That’s where the fault lies. As with King Kong (although his Kong found a pleasant, easy escapism), Desolation of Smaug’s ceaseless runtime spares nothing. Although Martin Freeman is a joy in the role, Bilbo is but a spectator in his own story. Short of Thorin (Richard Armitage), the dwarf crew blend as one, barely identifiable in their traits, only looks. Desolation of Smaug relies more on known entities – Legolas (Orlando Bloom) and Gandalf (Ian McKellen) – for an identity.

Much as the plot limps along, the action does too, especially a visually striking river rapids ride that seems endless. An essential theme, bubbling up the teamwork fable crucial to Battle of the Five Armies, but collapsing in on its own bulk. To think an extended version exists is outright painful.

Video

When Bilbo climbs the trees to see sunlight, the Dolby Vision shows tremendous power. It’s more than simply brightness, but shadows too. The image’s density is overall spectacular, true of the entire runtime, if not to that degree of boldness. Flames and candles glisten properly. Black levels provide the needed counter force, thick and preserving shadow detail.

Heavy with visual effects, even though Desolation of Smaug isn’t that old, composites and CG lack refinement. Gritty, edgy appearances mar any shot with digital elements/extensions. This means ringing and a waxy noise reduced look, keeping in line with Lord of the Rings’ 4K discs, if still jarring.

Shot digitally then finished at 2K, that appears unchanged given the routine definition. Texture is fine, but lesser compared to true 4K scans. That’s even accounting for a hazier approach to the cinematography. Compression luckily holds firm, no signs of wavering. Still, while the facial detail looks splendid, seeing those epic wide shots reduced to mush is a an unfortunate disappointment.

Deep color keeps the warmth high, occasionally spreading the palette to allow bolder primaries, green especially. Rich grays near mountaintops sport natural gloss too.

Audio

No surprise this Atmos track spares little. A truly marvelous rapids ride stands as one of UHD’s best examples of positional design. Water splashes into each speaker, arrows meeting the same accuracy as they zip past. Orcs growl, every channel producing sound in a flawless mix. Great as other scenes sound – including spiders running about in an arachnophobia nightmare, or tree branches creaking – that one is a standout.

Matching other discs in the set, grand range uses the low-end to it max potential. Heavy jolts from stampeding armies, Gandalf battling the Necromancer, and Smaug’s spectacularly deep voice all provide the needed bass kick. Smaug hunting for Bilbo is great too. All the rushing gold in addition to Smaug’s girth create stupendous rumble.

Extras

Extended and theatrical discs, but nothing more.

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The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
  • Video
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  • Extras
2

Movie

An overlong slog through exposition territory, Desolation of Smaug leaves characters dangling on the way to a spectacular finish.

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The following six screen shots serve as samples for our subscription-exclusive set of 61 full resolution uncompressed 4K screen shots grabbed directly from the UHD: