The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug Review
DRAGONFIRE & RUIN.
THE STORY CONTINUES.
All good stories deserve a little embellishment” Gandalf the Grey said to a young hobbit named Bilbo Baggins in Peter Jackson’s first chapter of his Hobbit Trilogy titled The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. Truer words were never spoken. The film, which debuted in December of 2011, scored big at the box office, but was heavily criticized (by fans and critics alike) for its lengthy duration and slow-moving plot points as many began to doubt how a 310-page novel could be overly stretch into three bloated feature films and still live up to the same measure as its prodigal cinematic father: The Lord of the Rings film trilogy. Now, a year later, Bilbo, Gandalf, Thorin and the whole company return to theaters this holiday season with the second chapter titled The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. Does this epic fantasy continuance of a tale rise above its predecessor or is it all Smaug and no fire?
Following the events of An Unexpected Journey, the hobbit Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), the dwarf Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) and the rest of the dwarven company continue their quest to reach the Lonely Mountain before the sun sets on the last day of “Durin’s Day” and gain entry into to the Kingdom of Erebor, where the evil dragon Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch) resides. Their journey to Erebor, however, is a perilous one with gruesome spiders, confrontational elves, ambiguous humans, and a pack of Orcs that are always one step behind them. All the while, the wizard Gandalf (Ian Mckellen), who leaves Bilbo and company, continues his investigative journey into the mystery behind the Necromancer that takes him to the High Fells of Rhudaur and to the ruins of Dol Guldur where he uncovers the truth and the rise of one of the greatest evils in all of Middle-Earth.
THE GOOD / THE BAD
First off, it should be noted that this review is a mixture of new and old. What mean is that I saw and reviewed The Desolation of Smaug back when it first came out (December 13th, 2013), but it was a part of my old blog. So I’ve went back and re-edited bits here and there to make it better (I wasn’t good at blogging at that time). So now that’s out of the way, here’s my review of Desolation!
What can I say, I’m huge Lord of the Rings fan (both the book and the movies), so, of course, I was excited for when An Unexpected Journey came out. And yes, I agree with some that it wasn’t perfect, but it was still a great return to Peter Jackson’s Middle-Earth. I remember thinking to myself on how was Jackson going to stretch The Hobbit story out so much to encompass three feature films. That was a question I thought about when I watched Unexpected Journey and further developed that question when I first saw the trailer for The Desolation of Smaug, which is still a cool trailer (both the teaser and theatrical trailer). With so much hype for this next installment and finally getting to see the dragon Smaug, my expectations were pretty high. And fortunately, those high expectations were met as The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug was a solid fantasy escapade from an already strongly established franchise.
In truth, The Desolation of Smaug is much better than Unexpected Journey. There’s more action involved, faster pacing than the first one, and is downright more enjoyable. The film does deviates away from some of the book’s suggested source material and takes more of a “Poetic License” approach to certain parts of Desolation’s narrative. This maybe a bad move for some movies to follow, but director Peter Jackson and his team seem to enrich the story by doing this, broadening certain aspects that weren’t covered in book and/or adding their own creative vision to Tolkien’s literature. This can be clearly seeing in Gandalf’s journey and that of the Necromancer, which wasn’t said in the book, but was happening off elsewhere (off-stage, if you will) and referenced later on in the Appendices in The Lord of the Rings books. Though Jackson makes this story thread more epic in scope than in its literary form; acting more like a prelude of what’s to come in the following trilogy. As a side-note, much like The Lord of the Rings films and Unexpected Journey, the quality of the film production is still at a high caliber level. From practical effects (i.e. set designs, concept art, costumer design, armor, weapons) to cinematographers (camera crews), to visual effects artists, and even down to the immersive musical score (composed by Howard Shore), Jackson and his massive filmmaking / creative team continue to create a very vivid cinematic world within Tolkien’s Middle-Earth.
Another scene that benefits by doing this creative licensing is in the setting of Laketown as it seems like there’s much more to do there than in the book as viewers get to see more depth within the character of Bard the Bowman, played by actor Luke Evans, and his family / position in Laketown. In addition to more time spent in Laketown, the character “Mayor of Laketown” (played by actor Stephen Fry) is also expanded upon, who, much like the Goblin King from Unexpected Journey, has become grotesquely fat and a corrupt ruler. Alongside Fry’s role is the Mayor’s underling character Alfred, who is played by Ryan Cage. Like these movies, Cage’s Alfred has been expanded upon (his character is briefly mentioned in like one sentence in the book) as his character, along with Fry and Evans, adds more complexity in enriching the whole “Laketown” location.
Martin Freeman still brings a layer quality of a character to Bilbo Baggins as he could be funny and quirky in one scene, terrified and frightened in another, and even a little devious as we begin to see the One Ring starting to take hold of his sanity (like Frodo in The Lord of the Rings). Likewise, Sir Ian McKellan still brings the loveable and talented theatrics to the character of Gandalf the Grey. Richard Armitage’s Throin has more of a central struggle in Desolation, coming to grips with his right to rule as “King Under the Mountain” and in his leadership ability, but also a dark side that derives from his ill-fated lineage. Other dwarven characters like Aidan Turner’s Kili, Ken Scott’s Balin, and Graham McTavish’s Dwalin are given character-focused moments at various parts and do help those scenes in that regard. The rest of other dwarven characters that make up the “company” of Thorin Oakenshield all give good quality performances in their respective characters, with little moments here and there to shine in the cinematic spotlight. However, with so many characters (new and old) weaving in and out of Desolation’s narrative, some (if not most) of these dwarven characters are pushed to the back-burner.
Desolation also presents some well-defined supporting Elven characters. Lord of the Rings’s actor Orlando Bloom returns as his character Legolas, who isn’t present in The Hobbit book, but (in a possibility) could’ve been as Jackson clearly shows this in his inclusion. The addition of Legolas brings more familiarity to Jackson’s Middle-Earth with more action, ass-kicking punch to the story in a fanciful array of sword and arrow killings to dozens of orcs throughout the movie, while also exploring a tad bit more of his backstory prior to his Fellowship of the Ring debut. And yes, Bloom still has the character of Legolas down pat. With the re-appearance of Legolas, two other elves make their presence known in Desolation. One is Legolas’s cold-hearted father, the Elvenking Thranduil, who is played by actor Lee Pace. Having more screen than his brief glimpses in Unexpected Journey, Pace finally gets to show his persona of Thrandruil and its great, showcasing a snobbish character with a steely demeanor. The second elf is actually a female elf (or She-elf) named Tauriel, who is played Lost actress alum Evangeline Lily. She just as beautiful as she is deadly, matching combat skills and elven prowess with that of Legolas. Yet, her character is completely made up, which is not bad thing, as she brings a bit of romance to this fantasy adventure with her relationship with Legolas and to her ambiguous romantic feelings towards the dwarf Adian Turner’s dwarf Kili.
Finally, there’s the big reveal of the dragon Smaug towards the beginning of Desolation’s last act. Smaug was teased briefly in An Unexpected Journey (bookending the feature in the beginning and end) and now viewers finally get to see the mighty fire drake on-screen. Let me tell you, its truly one of the best parts of the film. Smaug is truly a wonder to bold on-screen. He’s huge in enormity, impressive to look at (both from a visual effect stand point and from a geeky fantasy nerd who loves dragons), and strikes fear in your heart with Cumberbatch’s baritone voice (albeit distorted here and there, but still amazing to hear). The initial scene with him and Frodo is Desolation’s big scene and, while it may be a bit long, it is a great and memorable scene from the book (think of the Gollum’s “Riddles in the Dark” part from An Unexpected Journey). In short, from Vermithrax Pejorative (Dragonslayer), to Saphira (Eragon), to the blind pale dragon (Harry Potter & The Deathly Hallows Part 2), and even the Smaug from the 1977’s animated version of The Hobbit (who looks like a cross between a dragon and demonic looking cat), all fall utterly short in comparison to Peter Jackson’s depiction of Smaug who is being hailed as one of the greatest cinematic dragons ever to be featured in a motion picture.
The major gripe with Desolation, which isn’t just confine to this film, but rather the entire Hobbit trilogy. With the Hobbit book being a more simplistic story compared to its grandiose Lord of the Rings counterpart, I personally still believe that it should’ve been only two films to tell Bilbo’s tale rather than exhausting the story into three bloated movies. Unexpected Journey suffered greatly from this with scenes that were too drawn out and/or irrelevant to the overall story (Which would’ve been better saved for the extended edition of the film). Desolation, which runs roughly shy of three hours in length, doesn’t quite do that as much, but still gets bog down in scenes that like barrel sequences, which was cool to see, but was way too long or even some scenes towards the film’s third act that become a distraction from the main story thread and could’ve been shortened, cut completely, or simply saved for later for the feature’s extended edition. Then, of course, there is the film’s cliffhanger ending, which is both good and bad. Much like how The Hunger Games: Catching Fire did with their cliffhanger, Desolation keeps building more and more momentum with its titanic third act, keeping viewers on the edge of their seat, and then it just comes to a screeching halt as the credits begin to roll. You feel both cheated and anxious at the same time, which can be very frustrating for many and can be cited as a negative for the movie, which I sort of did, but only a minor one.
Frodo, Thorin, and the whole company continue on their quest in the movie The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. Peter Jackson’s second installment his Hobbit trilogy proves to be a thrilling high fantasy cinematic adventure. While it may stumble in its overstretched length (some might not like some of the new inclusion in The Hobbit narrative), the feature still retains all the fundamentals of Jackson’s previous installments (action, comedy, heart, characters, etc.) with a joyous epic storyline and impressive visuals. Personally, I loved this movie, but I usually say that about all of Jackson’s Middle-Earth movies. Yet, Desolation was extremely entertaining and I would definitely recommend it anyone LOTR fans, Tolkien fans, or fans of all things fantasy. Whether your on-board with Jackson’s decision second Middle-Earth trilogy, Desolation of Smaug is a tantalizing and visual continuation to Bilbo’s tale; one that takes the story in several new directions, yet ultimately delivers an overall improvement and more engaging successor to its 2012’s predecessor, leaving viewers awe-struck, breathless and anxiously awaiting the inevitable final chapter in Bilbo Baggins’s great adventure.
4.5 Out of 5 (Highly Recommended)
Released On: December 13th, 2013
Reviewed On: August 4th, 2016
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is rated PG-13 for extended sequences of intense fantasy action violence, and frightening images