How does an arachnophobe literally incapable of watching the Shelob scenes in Return of the King and who refused to get Skyrim because of the Giant Frostbite Spider enjoy this latest Peter Jackson Epic? Quite pleasantly, actually.
Mainly because the moment they entered Mirkwood to the moment I heard Elves, I practised my traditional Arachnophobia shutdown method and clamped my eyes shut. It worked for Shelob when I saw ROTK in the cinema - although a bit harder as the sequence was intercut by others - but thankfully it was easier here, as the spider-horror was confined to a continuous scene. I still heard them though, which was scary enough. That pattering of legs... *shudder*. Fucking Spiders, you guys. Ugh!
Anyhoo, here's a quick rundown of my thoughts in a Pro and Con fashion:
Pro: Pacing - The meandering pace of An Unexpected Journey didn't bother me as much as other people, but it seemed like they definitely listened to people for Desolation of Smaug. Even at 2 and a half hours, it felt like it moved at a decent clip and covered the majority of the rest of The Hobbit's plot well enough. I was almost surprised come the ending because it really didn't feel like the full length, both out of my overall enjoyment of the film and because of its storytelling speed.
Con: Most of the fluff - I like me some fluff every once in a while, and even though the pacing was good, there's still things I would've cut from the film. The whole Kili (Fili? Oh, curse you Tolkein!) subplot could've been removed entirely - they took what happened to Frodo in what, 20 minutes of Fellowship, and stretched it out for most of the film, for christ's sake! - and I could've done with less of the Dwarves fighting/running from/gold-dipping Smaug (mainly because it brought flashbacks of the Geonosian factory scene in Attack of the Clones when they were in the forge) as well as the entirely unnecessary Bolg and Legolas fight near the end. I mean, I didn't really hate those bits, but they did feel like they were added once the decision to make a Trilogy happened.
Pro: Tauriel! - What a proper badass! She was like a walking Elven rendition of The Raid, but with more arrows. Nice to have a cool lady warrior-type in these films, I'm glad she was put in. But...
Con: Tauriel, Love, and Elvish Medicine - It would've been really nice if most of her dialogue and the dialogue about her wasn't that she either fancied Legolas or fancied whichever-one-it-was-out-of-Fili-and-Kili, with the rest being typical 'omg, evil things be happening' stuff. Oh, and is the Elven NHS entirely reliant on a weed and some really bright stage lighting? And if Kingsfoil is that great, why does virtually every other race in Middle-Earth treat it as compost worthy? Blerrrrgh.
Pro: Cumbersmaug - Man, what a fab looking Dragon. This is the first weird thing I'll say about Smaug - he looked like a gold coveting Dragon. Like, he didn't look just overtly tough and bullishly beefy like lots of 'badass Dragons' tend to be, he looked lithe and cunning and still entirely deadly. Weird thing two: This may have been the heat of the cinema getting to me, but... did he kinda look like Benedict Cumberbatch? Did they put a bit of his face into Smaug's? Maybe the voice threw me, and the fact that he was mainly up against (the completely 100% fabulous) Martin Freeman most of the time, but I felt like there was something of the Batch about our draconic friend.
Kinda Con: Cliffhanger - Boo. I wanted more Cumbersmaug goodness! Guess I'll have to wait another year. I did like the 'Oh fuck' look on Bilbo's face though with his final line. It was a nicely put together cliffhanger, but still, I want more!
Pro: The way everything looks in this movie - Oh, everything looked so gorgeous! I loved the way Thranduil's kingdom looked (that throooone), Laketown looked like it was straight out of Fable or something, and even Erebor, as grim and dark as it was, was imposing and grand. Really stunning set work and art design all around, aided by some sumptuous direction.
HUGE Con: 48fps - My local IMAX showed the 48fps version this time round, and man, it is jarring as hell. Really, really couldn't get used to it. It looked amazing in scenes where it was close up on an actor and with a still camera, because it allowed you to see every little inflection in their faces, but the moment the camera moved or it was a wider shot, it felt like the film was being played at 1.5 times normal speed. Maybe because as a video game player I'm used to stuff either being 24-30 or 60fps I noticed this in-between framerate even moreso, I dunno, but I have to say that I hope that Mr. Jackson's wrong about this being the future. Not fond at all.
Pro: Thranduil, Master of Elf Shade - More Lee Pace being a bitchy and totally fabulous Elf-King, please. Those eyebrows are magical.
Con: Spiders - Fucking spiders man. Fuck 'em.