The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug

Director: Peter Jackson

Starring: Ian McKellan, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, Ken Stott, Benedict Cumberbatch, Orlando Bloom, Evangeline Lilly, Luke Evans, Stephen Fry

Written by: Peter Jackson, Philippa Boyens, Fran Walsh, Guillermo del Toro and (based on the novel The Hobbit) J.R.R Tolkien

Running Time: 161 mins

Cert: 12A

Release date: 13th December 2013

Can you believe that its been a year since Bilbo Baggins got chosen by Gandalf to go on a great adventure? Well as promised, we are back in Middle Earth for the second installment of Peter Jackson’s vision of J.R.R. Tolkien’s creation. The question is, does it match up or better part one? I can say that this is a slight improvement on number 1 but it still is problematic.

The gang of dwarfs continue their epic journey to reclaim their homeland, Erebor. First they must reach Lonely Mountain, where the terrifying dragon, Smaug, lives. In his possession is a large stone that will free their people and only Hobbit and expert thief, Bilbo Baggins, can steal it. First they must get there, facing the dangers of Milkwood Forest and the hostility of Laketown. Bilbo, however, is finding out the truth of the mysterious ring he has found.

After the success of The Lord Of The Rings trilogy and the last Hobbit film, these have almost become critic proof.No matter what people say about it, they will still make huge amounts of money, fans of the books will be divided as to the faithfulness to the source materials and the fanboys will be queuing for every screening possible and seeing it in every format (and it does come in loads: IMAX 3D, HRD, 2D etc).

I’m not a fanboy, having given up quite early on the Lord Of The Rings books due to the 15 page description of a Hobbit’s foot. So I’m just seeing it as a film fan and a critic. I liked Jackson’s first series of films but not to the point of thinking they are the greatest thing since slice bread. I also enjoyed the first Hobbit film but found it far too long and, if I am honest, didn’t have a clue who half the characters are.

So how does this one match up to the first? Well we get thrown right into the action with a very short explanation scene at the beginning. We don’t have an hour of things getting going this time; no singing and eating and more singing this time. In fact, no singing at all. We are in the forest and the band are facing giant spiders, elves, barrel riding down rapids, angry Orcs. In fact, everything this time is thrown at the screen and for 2 hours and 40 mins, we are on a roller-coaster ride. Quite literally.

Jackson never once lets the camera linger so we are flying in and out of computer generated settings like some demented PS3 game. It moves around so much that half the time we can’t actually see what is going on, so fight sequences are muddled by this moving camerawork that you don’t know whose fighting who. What does surprise is that considering how good Jackson’s WETA company are with effects, there are some very dodgy moments, where the actors genuinely look like computer game characters. Considering how much money is thrown at these films, you would have thought they should have got it right.

The running time is also a problem. At least 30 minutes could have been shaved off this. It does move along at a cracking pace but it just feels too much. So we get epic set piece, a little plot, another set piece, more plot and so on. As impressive as some of the set pieces are, it does feel like we aren’t getting to the point and as we know that there is a third part, the level of peril is minimal.

It’s also very loud. The stirring score, which is good, is sometimes so loud that it drains out the Shakespearean delivery of some of the lines and as I am not completely knowledgeable of all things Middle Earth, I missed some of the points due to the  heavy-handedness of the music. As a friend of mine use to say when the music was too loud when played live: “Soft pedal, please!”

This makes it sound like I am a hater of the film. I’m not. I enjoyed it for what it is, an adventure with plenty of action and some beautiful scenery. I was particularly impressed by some of the performances. Ian McKellan, as Gandalf, has almost turned into the wizard that it’s not like watching an actor playing a role. Nice to see Orlando Bloom returning to the fold as elf, Legalos and the dwarfs, while I still cannot name them, are fun. Evangeline Lilly, as She-Elf, Tauriel, is especially impressive, making her stand out among the male-heavy cast.

The film, though, belongs to Martin Freeman. He has really grown into the role of Bilbo, taking him from the clumsy, awkward Hobbit in the first film to a man who is starting to find his courage and his strength while battling his own demons with the ring. Jackson refused to start filming these films till he was available. It was a perfect decision and I would find it hard to name an actor who could play the part now.

As for Smaug, the dragon is one of the film’s biggest high points. Voiced, in a Shere Khan/George Saunders style by the brilliant Benedict Cumberbatch, it’s well worth the wait when he finally appears, although as the final 40 minutes are devoted to him chasing Bilbo around a sea of coins and treasures, this is one of the scenes that could have been trimmed.

It is a vast improvement to the first film but still miles off from the Lord Of The Rings trilogy, I still think that Jackson could have delivered this as two films and it wouldn’t have lost any of its fun or excitement. Flawed, yes but for those who love these films, that isn’t going to make a world of difference.



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