The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug – Review

Posted: December 16, 2013 in Book Reviews
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The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug directed by Peter Jackson
Genres: Epic Fantasy
Format: Cinema release
Starring: Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, Ian McKellan
Length: 2 hours 49 minutes

The Desolation of Smaug is the second in Peter Jackson’s trilogy based on J.R.R Tolkien’s The Hobbit and stars Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage and Ian McKellen and continues the story of our party of dwarves accompanied by Bilbo the titular hobbit and Gandalf.  It follows them through Mirkwood and their encounter with Thranduil’s woodland elves and finally to the goal of their quest, the Lonely Mountain.  However, they still have a lot of work to do before they can reclaim their homeland and all the gold it contains.  Check back at a theatre near you Christmas 2014 to find out what happens.

There are spoilers here so please check back after the cut

What I liked

Visually stunning movie.  Like the Lord of the Rings trilogy and An Unexpected Journey, Desolation of Smaug is a feast for the eyes.  This is definitely a movie best seen on the large screen.  Jackson’s movies really capture the beauty and grandeur of New Zealand’s scenery and the technical wizardry of Weta Workshop.  These movies are simply breathtaking to watch and Desolation of Smaug is no exception.  Notable scenes are the escape from the woodelves via barrel and Smaug himself.  For those arachnophobes amongst you, a certain section will need to be watched from behind your hands.

Pitch-perfect casting.  Another thing Jackson does incredibly well is casting the right actor for the part.  Freeman continues to capture our hearts as Bilbo, and Armitage and McKellen remain excellent in their roles.  Honorable mentions for Ken Stott as Balin and Aidan Turner as Kili.  For this second movie, the already large cast was joined by Lee Pace as elven king Thranduil, Luke Evans as Bard and Evangeline Lilly providing the female input as elven warrior Tauriel.  Benedict Cumberbatch provides the voice and, I believe, the mo-cap for Smaug.  Orlando Bloom returns as Legolas.  All these new additions do sterling work, notably Pace and Cumberbatch – Smaug is seriously creepy.

Beautiful character moments.  Along with the epic visual scenes, we also see some beautiful character moments.  Most notable for me was Bilbo’s growing realisation of the influence the Ring is starting to have on him.  I adored the budding relationship between Kili and Tauriel and look forward to seeing more of it in the final movie. One particularly moving such moment for me was Ken Stott as Balin’s reaction to re-entering Erebor for the first time since the dragon came.  It was almost enough to make me believe the dwarves’  mission was about regaining their homeland not about getting their hands on all the gold stored there.

What I didn’t like

Epic movie from non-epic source material.  For me, this is the heart of the problem with The Hobbit movie trilogy.  The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings are two very different books, although set in the same world, but Jackson is trying to make exactly the same type of movie from them.  LotR is a large-scale sweeping epic in which the fate of all rests on the success of Frodo’s mission.  Whole nations are called upon to risk all to help him.  At it’s heart The Hobbit is a children’s adventure tale focussed on a small group of dwarves and hangers on looking to reclaim their homeland.  It’s clear that a substantial motivation for their quest is also greed for the gold.  Certainly, we can root for Thorin and company to succeed in their aims, but if they fail, it has little impact on the rest of the world.

The books are on completely different scales, and no matter how much epic backstory Jackson tries to weave in – Morgul blades, Sauron in Dol Guldur the threat of the Arkenstone – that cannot change the nature of the source material.  It should follow logically that movies based on the books have to be on different scales, too.

Lack of emotional investment.  Despite the efforts of the stellar cast, Desolation of Smaug is missing the real emotional impact of the earlier trilogy.  There are fewer scenes to send shivers down your back like watching the Helm’s Deep civilians preparing to fight, or Theoden’s “where is the horse and the rider?” or Aragorn’s “not this day!” speech or even his quiet “for Frodo…”, or Faramir’s suicide mission to the background of Billy Boyd’s singing.  The scale of the Hobbit movies makes me feel there should be the same kind of impact, but the source material just doesn’t support it.

That’s not to say there weren’t some emotional moments in the movie – Bilbo’s final “what have we done?” for example, but they didn’t quite have the same impact.

I feel that Jackson could have made a really, great fun movie with his great cast, incredible technical wizards and the NZ backdrop if he’d stuck to The Hobbit and interpreted it as the adventure story it is, not as the prequel to The Lord of the Rings.  Of course, I will still go and see “There and Back Again” next Christmas, but I no longer believe it will be a Return of the King.


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