Review: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
PLOT: Furthering Bilbo Baggins and his company of Dwarves adventures through Middle-earth, the ragtag group discovers that their journey is getting more and more treacherous. On this quest to take back the Lonely Mountain from the dark and powerful dragon Smaug they find themselves fighting a myriad of foes. With a collection of giant spiders, orcs and enemies of old, they find they must rely on a few unlikely allies along the way.
There is no doubt that THE HOBBIT: THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG is spectacular. Early on when Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) and his company of Dwarves are under siege by the descendants of Shelob – the massive spiders are incredible – it is clear that the second chapter is just as relevant to THE LORD OF THE RINGS TRILOGY as it is AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY. There is a foreboding sense of urgency and exhilaration with this continuing saga. The action this time around is becoming darker and a little less family friendly as it appeared in the previous chapter. Bilbo himself is changing as the effects of the “one ring” are beginning to rear its dark and manipulative head.
With the story already underway, Peter Jackson continues the saga while once again not simply sticking to the original source material “The Hobbit, or There and Back Again” by J.R.R. Tolkien. The script by LOTR alum Jackson, Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens as well as Guillermo del Toro – who was once set to direct – expands on this world with the help of Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings Appendices.” What may have some purist crying foul will most likely have fans of the films eager to see how this beloved world has been expanded – this second chapter is bigger in scope than the first in nearly every way. Even the controversial 48 FPS seems to be far less divisive this time around.
The second chapter begins near the arrival of Bilbo and company at the entrance to the black forest of Mirkwood after an exciting sequence with a “skin-changer” named Beorn (played by Mikael Persbrandt). Once the massive spiders attack deep inside the dark woods, it was beyond thrilling at the same time helping Bilbo come into his own. Freeman is once again fantastic in the character as is the rest of the cast including the terrific Richard Armitage as Thorin. It is the two unlikely brothers in arms that develop a stronger emotional core as Gandalf (Ian McKellen) has other business to attend to off on his own adventures for most of the film. As well it is great to see the roles of this motley Dwarf crew expanded including Fili and Kili (Dean O’Gorman and Aidan Turner), Balin and Dwalin (Ken Stott and Graham McTavish) and the rest of the bunch.
Turner is especially good as he finds himself caught up between a strangely compelling triangle between the Wood-elves Tauriel and LOTR fan favorite Legolas (Evangeline Lilly and Orlando Bloom). Lilly is a great addition to the cast for an original role not created by Tolkien. She is a much needed dose of femininity and strength – as she is just as powerful a force as her male Elven counterparts. After the Wood-elves successfully fight off the giant spiders, they take the Dwarves prisoner and lock them away. Tauriel finds herself drawn to Fili and his stories much to the dismay of Legolas which adds a little melodrama to the proceedings. The return of Legolas yet again adds another strong connection to the world of LOTR. His welcome arrival opens up the character in a way that even the original trilogy hadn’t accomplished as much as it could have.
Without having to set up the characters as he did the first time around, Jackson is able to present one incredible action set piece after another. From the exciting trek through the dark forest with Shelob’s family attacking to a daring escape from the Wood-elves capture courtesy of a few large barrels, the edge-of-your-seat theatrics are reminiscent of LOTR. Visually it is an improvement over the first film with slight overuse of CG early on, yet this dissipates as the story plays out. Things slow down a bit with the arrival of Luke Evans character as he unwittingly introduces the Dwarves to the people of Lake-town. Even so Evans gives a strong performance here and makes for another inspired addition as he plays an important part in the THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG and beyond. Thankfully both Evans and Lilly are very talented actors along with the already impressive returning cast.
I cannot give enough praise to Benedict Cumberbatch and the effects team for the marvelous creation of Smaug himself. This beast of a character living with only the company of wealth is a mesmerizing creation. Once Bilbo faces this behemoth of a dragon, it is just as compelling for the wordplay as it is for the visual effects. This confrontation is the centerpiece of SMAUG and it is a ferociously good one. Cumberbatch’s booming voice gives this mythical monster a sinister quality as he plays with this impossibly small creature that he is toying with. Yet for those of you expecting a clear ending, this final sequence leads to one hell of a cliffhanger similar to the recent THE HUNGER GAMES: CATCHING FIRE.
As a LOTR fan I thoroughly enjoyed AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY yet it lacked some of the intensity and power of the original trilogy. As this current story continues, it manages to blend both THE HOBBIT and LOTR together in a satisfying way. At one point in a simple moment with Bilbo and “the ring,” the familiar Howard Shore theme begins to play I was fully reminded of the power of this incredible cinematic adventure.
My only real qualms are that I didn’t get to see the film in HFR 3D which I’ve heard has been improved greatly. I also feel that there are just a couple of moments particularly in the middle section with a few edits and pacing issues that didn’t quite seem to work – I tend to prefer the extended editions as opposed to the theatrical cuts. However, THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG is a near perfect blend of the previous trilogy as well as giving Bilbo Baggins his own fully realized story with another brilliant creation in the form of Smaug.