300: Rise of an Empire/The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug

Warner Bros./Legendary Pictures

I’m not entirely sure what Mother Nature is doing in other parts of the country, but this weekend has been one of the grayest, rainiest weekends we’ve seen in the DMV in awhile. It’s the kind of weather that makes you want to curl up on the couch and not do much of anything. And though I am perfectly content to do just that, the Mysterious Mr. C and I decided to use the weather as an excuse to have our own little double feature instead!

First up was 300: Rise of an Empire.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve been dying to see this movie for a long time. I absolutely loved the first 300 film, and not just because all of the guys were buff, chiseled, and running around half-naked. Then, as now, I was completely enthralled by the battle scenes and the strategies that were used, particularly by the Spartans and Greeks, who were heavily outnumbered by Xerxes’ Persian forces. Though I am not a military strategist, I’ve always been struck by the creativity and innovation that seems to come from facing those kinds of lopsided odds.

300: Rise of an Empire did not disappoint in that regard and, being on the water, was a nice change of pace from most of the other war movies I’ve seen. It was also fun to see the interplay between Themistocles and Artemisia, the commanders of the Greek and Persian navies, respectively. While they were certainly enemies and clearly wanted to see each other lose, there was also a certain level of respect and admiration between them for their abilities in commanding their fleets.

Which brings me to another reason why I like these movies – there are strong female characters that are totally badass (technical term!) in their own right. First there is Queen Gorgo, who more than holds her own in 300 and leads the Spartan navy into battle in Rise of an Empire. Then there is Artemisia, a trained killer with no shred of mercy – yet one cannot help but admire the way her men listen to her orders. Her costuming is also pretty spectacular.

Though the artistry of Rise of an Empire was impressive, it lacked some of the stylistic nuances of the first film. It is hard to describe, but the first 300 film definitely had a graphic novel feel to it with the way things were colored and shadowed. Rise of an Empire on the other hand was fairly monochromatic, and at times, flat. It’s a minor quibble, I know… I was just expecting something a little closer to the first film or Frank Miller’s Sin City.

Ultimately, I still think 300 is the better of the two films, but I’m fairly confident Rise of an Empire will find a place among our DVDs as well!


New Line Cinema/MGM

Next, having seen the tail end of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey on television before we headed to the theater to see Rise of an Empire, C and I decided to watch The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug when we got home.

If you’ve read my review of the first Hobbit film, you’ll know that I wasn’t too impressed with it. While the cinematography was indeed spectacular, I was predominantly preoccupied with trying to figure out what was from the book and what came from Peter Jackson’s imagination.

Interestingly, I did not have the same problem with the Desolation of Smaug. However, this isn’t because it is a better movie – more it’s that I went into this film knowing that there were a lot of non-book additions (e.g. Legolas and Tauriel). Having accepted that, I was able to relax and escape into the story.

Yet as I continue to think about it, I’m realizing that I’m still a bit ambivalent about that story. Or maybe it’s the characters? Whatever it is, I’m just not sure I really care what happens. After nearly six hours of movie, I haven’t been drawn into the dwarves’ plight and quest; at least not like I was in all of the LOTR films. And it strikes me as odd that instead of more fully developing his protagonists, antagonists, or storyline, Jackson has been adding sub-plots that don’t even come from Tolkien’s Hobbit. Ironically, the parts of Smaug I liked the most were the ones with Legolas, who isn’t in the book, and Tauriel, who isn’t even a Tolkien character!

As I’ve said with other series, whether books or films, now that I’ve started the Hobbit trilogy, I’m going to see it through to the end. But while the release of the individual Lord of the Rings movies were events I looked forward to, watching the Hobbit films feels more like something I have to do.

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