Better reviews for new Hobbit film
Middle Earth has its mojo back.
The first installment of Sir Peter Jackson's Hobbit trilogy, An Unexpected Journey, got an unexpected mauling from critics.
Many found it far too slow - not that it hurt box office receipts as the film went on to bring in $US1.02 billion worldwide, beating two of the Lord of the Rings trilogy as it became the 16th highest grossing movie of all time (or a little further down the pack if you adjust for inflation).
The first reviews for the second movie in the trilogy, The Desolation of Smaug, have just hit newsstands, and the news is a lot brighter for Sir Peter.
"One problem with the former film was that it re-trod too closely the footsteps of the Fellowship: it was difficult to share Bilbo’s awe at entering Rivendell, given that we’d already been there 11 years before. Here, you can feel Jackson’s relief at having entirely new worlds in which to play," writes Empire's Nick de Semlyen, who gives Smaug five out of five.
"While An Unexpected Journey had plenty of bucolic charm, it did, for a Middle-earth film, feel oddly inconsequential. The Desolation Of Smaug remedies that. Moody, urgent and, for want of a better word, Ringsier, it’s a much more satisfying film. If anything, it dispenses with early events with something approaching impatience," says Mr de Semlyen.
"This second episode commences with a narrative whipcrack," writes The Guardian's Peter Bradshaw in his four-out-of-five review.
"The Desolation of Smaug is a cheerfully entertaining and exhilarating adventure tale, a supercharged Saturday morning picture: it's mysterious and strange and yet Jackson also effortlessly conjures up that genial quality that distinguishes The Hobbit from the more solemn Rings stories."
And, yes, the location gets a nod.
"The New Zealand landscapes look as majestic as ever," says Variety's chief film critic, Justin Chang.
Not everyone was knocked out.
Slant's R Kurt Osenlund, who liked the first Hobbit film for being "naturalistic" writes, "In The Desolation of Smaug (or in its first half, at least), Jackson serves up something else entirely: a lightning-paced, nuance-deprived succession of busy set pieces, many of them exasperating in their breathless insistence on pandering to the blockbuster crowd."
But even Mr Osenlund is eventually won over, writing of the climatic scenes, "Of course, the climax involves Bilbo's eventual encounter with Smaug, whose monstrous bed of gold coins slopes like desert hills in the mountain halls, and contains, somewhere, the dwarves' Arkenstone, a sacred gem seeming to have corruptive powers like those of the One Ring. Awesome to behold, the thick-scaled, fire-bellied, fluidly enlivened dragon is one of the single most magnificent creations to emerge from effects house Weta Workshop, which is to say it's one of the greatest CG creatures to hit the screen. Along with a jaw-dropping encounter concerning Gandalf and the ethereal Necromancer, whose true identity is one of a handful of Lord of the Rings-related reveals that doesn't feel proud of itself, Smaug's dwarf-realm standoff with Bilbo and friends exemplifies this brand at its history-filled, aesthetically wowing best, and it raises the bar for Middle-Earth-ian cinematic spectacle."
And most critcs see Smaug sitting on box office gold. "For Jackson and Warner Bros., it's another movie, another billion," concludes The Hollywood Reporter's Todd McCarthy.
The Desolation of Smaug opens in NZ on Thursday.