Friday, December 13, 2013


The second part of Peter Jackson’s adaptation of JRR Tolkien’s famed novel THE HOBBIT, subtitled THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG, is a film which looks to accomplish many things; to continue the story of Hobbit Bilbo Baggins as he aids his dwarven companions on a quest, to further bring to the big screen Tolkien’s many writings, and to further explore the territory and peoples of Middle-Earth. How well all these goals are executed and blend together for a coherent film is the burning question.
Sixty years before the events of THE LORD OF THE RINGS, young Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) and his companion of dwarves, led by Thorin (Richard Armitage) continue their journey to the Lonely Mountain on a quest to conquer the mighty dragon Smaug (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch). Meanwhile, the wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen) investigates a growing evil which is stirring in Middle-Earth.

THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG packs a lot into one film. As Bilbo and the dwarves journey to the mountain and fall into one pickle after another, Gandalf goes off on his own to see just what is causing all the evil things (including the dragon) to cause trouble for everyone in Middle-Earth. As the film goes on and explores new territory, even more sub-plots emerge…most concerning the many peoples of this world, and it often feels like several different films are going on at once. But as things progress, Peter Jackson manages to funnel everything towards one endgame and a purpose to all of the plot becomes clear. Bilbo the character often becomes lost in all of the goings-on, and we often have to remember that he is there. The film may have been better off being titled THE HISTORY OF MIDDLE-EARTH rather than THE HOBBIT. Fans of Tolkien will eat up the all of the lore, while those unfamiliar with the territory may wonder what all the fuss is about.
The many storylines Jackson is weaving together makes for a film which plods along slowly. With the exception of a few brilliant sequences (a thrilling river-chase in barrels, a creepy-as-hell spider nest, and the buildup to the showdown with Smaug), the film has a lack of zip and you are often waiting for Jackson to step on the gas. Those familiar with the main story will notice that it takes a long time for characters to go from A to B as they often get detoured, and detoured again, and detoured again.

But fear not, there is still a lot to enjoy in this DESOLATION. For the first time since RETURN OF THE KING in 2003, Jackson has brand new territory to explore in Middle-Earth and he takes his characters to every nook and cranny. Dwarven halls, spider nests, Elven kingdoms, and a town built on a lake (Laketown) are brilliantly realized and lush with detail and wonder. The touchy relationship between elves and dwarves is explored further, even going into some surprising places. The story may not soar a lot, but Middle-Earth has never looked better and felt so vast. Howard Shore's score is a bit of a letdown; other than the familiar themes from previous films and a magnificent Laketown theme, there is a disturbing lack of a signature tune.
Every time Peter Jackson has brought us a Middle-Earth based film, there has always been at least one CGI character or creature which is a sight to behold and elevates the special effects industry. Enter the magnificent dragon Smaug. He is a sight to behold on the big screen; incredibly detailed and lifelike and terrible and beautiful. Aside from being a visual stunner, the dragon is fleshed out as a character well enough to become a true screen villain, and Benedict Cumberbatch’s voice work is as chilling as it is awesome. Smaug is jawdropping and worth the wait to see him.

Martin Freeman is once again brilliant as Bilbo, as is Ian McKellen in his second-to-last appearance as Gandalf. Richard Armitage still very much owns the role of Thorin. Orlando Bloom returns as the elven prince Legolas, who is younger and much meaner than the lovable, pointy-eared friend we knew in the LORD OF THE RINGS. Newcomer Evangeline Lilly turns in a great role as an elven princess, and Luke Evans makes a great Middle-Earth debut as Bard of Laketown.
The finale comes about after a long action/chase sequence with Smaug which is not as thrilling as it wants to be, and it doesn’t quite have an emotional beat to close out on. The film goes for a cliffhanger ending, which makes total sense storywise since this is a middle-chapter with the responsibility of bridging the opening and final act. It works, and very much sets up some great storylines for the eventual finale. THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG has many ups and downs, and its enjoyment seems to depend upon one’s love and enjoyment of Tolkien’s creations.


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