The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013) Film Review, a movie directed by Peter Jackson and starring Martin Freeman, Evangeline Lilly, Benedict Cumberbatch, Luke Evans, Orlando Bloom, Sylvester McCoy, Mikael Persbrandt, Craig Hall, Christopher Lee, Hugo Weaving, Richard Armitage, Ian McKellen, Cate Blanchett, Elijah Wood, Manu Bennett, Lee Pace, Aidan Turner, Andy Serkis, and Billy Connolly.
I’ll admit I was one of those fans excited to revisit Middle Earth again when the first Hobbit hit screens last year. And overall I enjoyed the hugely anticipated prequel to the Desolation of Smaug (perhaps because I was living in New Zealand at the time of its release), But there’s no doubt I enjoyed its sequel far more. Where The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey left a bit to be desired, The Desolation of Smaug delivers. Yes, the film has its flaws, but nonetheless offers a bolder, more exciting, humorous and intense adventure this time around.
Let’s discuss The Good, The Bad and The Ugly: The Good: Firstly, the pacing; a vast improvement over its predecessor. Unexpected Journey struggled to pick up the pace; spending much of its time introducing characters and providing backstory, Desolation, however, skips right to the chase (literally). A brief five minute flashback scene opens the film adding more backstory and foreshadowing and then immediately we are right back where the first film left off with Bilbo and company pursued by Orcs. From there the film rarely diverges from the action packed thrill ride.
This second installment also takes great strides over the first with more fully realized characters and a richer plotline. Where Unexpected Journey failed to fully imagine characters despite its slower pacing, Desolation of Smaug managed to create clearer character development and growth, most notably of the main character Bilbo, played by Martin Freeman. Despite the limited screen time Bilbo receives, Freeman returns to deliver another incredible performance. The one thing Director Peter Jackson does better than most in these large ensemble films is offer a refreshingly realistic representation of supporting characters as opposed to the typical Hollywood one dimensional character thrown in just so the main character can have someone to interact with. This is something the Lord of the Rings trilogy also executed effectively. With that being said, our little hero Bilbo takes a bit of the backseat in this installment, allowing the Dwarf Prince Thorin to take the wheel to drive the story for a time. Dwarves Balin and Kili also receive significant moments to take center stage.
Bilbo’s character arch is played out quite wonderfully as Bilbo’s relationship with the ring is showcased a bit more than in the previous film. We all know where this is going, (unless you haven’t seen the Lord of the Rings trilogy or read the books in which case, you should stop reading and go do that right now) but it’s none the less interesting to witness Bilbo’s obsession with the ring grow as he fights inner turmoil questioning his own humanity (or should I say Hobbitity, Hobbithood?) and place within the party. It’s admittedly tragic as we see glimpses of the ring gradually destroying Bilbo. The film doesn’t skimp on adding to the central theme in all the action packed excitement.
The Bad: It’s only bad if you’re a purist to the original Tolkien works. To Tolkien purists, the word you’re looking for is: reimagining. Think of this as a reimagining of the classic Tolkien tale as opposed to a true adaptation. In the defense of Director Peter Jackson, the films take artistic liberties in order to create a better set up and more congruent storyline for his Lord of the Rings films than the children’s book would have. Jackson’s ability to expertly craft a well-known story and make it new again can’t be denied. Fans who adored the original book or the Lord of the Rings film trilogy will find themselves experiencing Middle Earth as if for the first time in these latest adaptations.
Much to the chagrin of loyal Tolkien fans, Jackson made a bold move in adding the original character of Tauriel, played by Evangeline Lily, to the roster of an already enormous cast. While her character seems to only serve as a love interest, or rather, love triangle to Legolas, a role reprised by Orlando Bloom and Killi, played by fresh faced Aiden Turner; Tauriel adds a refreshing touch of femininity and strength to an otherwise male dominate film. I’ll be honest; the love triangle between Legolas, Tauriel and Killi does seem a bit forced and at times completely unnecessary to the progression of the main story as if Jackson has finally given in to Hollywood’s archetype for adventure films. It’s a bit unrealistic how quickly Tauriel builds an attachment or affection for Killi. They share one scene together and now they’re in love? But I digress. That aside, Tauriel holds her own in this film as a skilled, fiercely independent Elven warrior and she’s a welcome addition to the story in my opinion.
The Ugly: Unfortunately there were a few moments in the film in which the CGI looked, well, just plain ugly. There were some elements of the film in which the CGI was noticeably distracting, comparable to video game standards, not the caliber of excellence WETA is known for. I can only imagine this is due to detail spent instead on the dragon Smaug… And it is totally worth! The Good (again!): Where the CGI falls short in other places, the dragon Smaug more than compensates for with his triumphant on screen debut. Benedict Cumberbatch brings to life the undeniably stupendous Smaug, lending his voice while providing facial expressions for Weta’s signature motion capture. In the case of Smaug, the trailers fall utterly short of revealing his enormity. Smaug sets the new standard of animated dragons to an exceptionally high level. Smaug is visually stunning. Dare I say; Smaug is the greatest dragon to grace any film screen? The confrontation scene between Smaug and Bilbo is one of the films strongest, likely to become a favorite scene for many, and not just because any fan of “Sherlock” will Geek out when Freeman and Cumberbatch (who respectively play Watson and Holmes) reunite on screen. The theatre literally trembles as Cumberbatch delivers each line with threatening authority, and calculated arrogance. This intimidating game of cat and mouse serves as the films climax and is alone worth the price of admission.
The ending felt like a bit of a throwback to the “Sopranos” series finale. The audience is left stunned in the middle of a pivotal turning point with a jarring cut to blackout. This choice to end on a cliffhanger others will hate but I found it absolutely genius. It just leaves one wanting more and builds excitement for the epic conclusion.
As an independent work, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is nothing short of brilliant and I highly recommend it.
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