So I watched The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug…
You really have to appreciate what Peter Jackson has done with this series and, before that, The Lord of the Rings Trilogy. Bringing these stories to life without comprimising on the length or scale of the source material is really quite admirable. And, as with the first movie, I really regret not seeing this in theatres because there are so many grand moments in this movie that were crying out for the size and magnificence of the big screen.
Okay, basic plot: We once again join our company of intrepid heroes as they journey on towards The Lonely Mountain to face Smaug and reclaim the kingdom he stole from The Dwarves. The journey which has already been dangerous enough now comes with new threats such as giant spiders, Wood Elves and the corrupt and cunning people of a nearby village called Lake-Town. All of this will pale in comparison to the danger that lies within the mountain – the horrible fire-breathing dragon, Smaug!
I definitely enjoyed this movie more than the first one. There’s more action and a greater sense of payoff of the things we were promised in the first movie. For one, we finally get to see Smaug and he is terrifying! Benedict Cumberbatch was perfectly cast and the quality of his voice acting is superb. The terror and the menace he brings forth with nothing but his voice is entrancing. He also has this trace of charm in his character so you not only fear him but you also like him. I think the best of villains always have this element of charm to their characters. You fear them, you want them to lose but you also secretly want them to win so you can see more of them. The work put in to the look and feel of Smaug is also sensational. He looks incredibly real and the way he moves and interacts with his environment shows the care and attention to detail put into his creation by the filmmakers.
Now look, this is a Peter Jackson movie about Middle Earth so, yes, it’s going to be long. This movie is just under three hours but I feel things moved about more swiftly in this movie than they did in the first. There are very few scenes that seemed dragged out or pointless. Things are constantly moving, quite literally in many parts as there’s more action, fighting and running from the threats that the heroes’ journey brings. The majority of these action sequences are, visually, very well-shot and constructed and there are some great set pieces on display. My favourite of these was, right near the end, when Bilbo and The Dwarves fight Smaug, there’s some great camera work and heart-racing moments aplenty.
There are also more than a few new characters added to the story. We meet the Wood Elves, in particular, Legolas (Orlando Bloom) and Tauriel (Evangeline Lily). Tauriel is probably my favourite character from this movie and I enjoyed Lily’s portrayal of her. She isn’t as one-note as the other characters and is quite complicated which I liked. Apparently her love story with one of The Dwarves – Kili – strays away from the source material but I rather liked it and think it added something to the overall story. It helped us connect with Tauriel and gave us something to differentiate Kili from the rest. I honestly sometimes can’t tell The Dwarves apart and there often really isn’t a need to. I kind of see them as a faceless mob (with the exception of Thorin) and they aren’t developed well enough as characters for there to really be a need for distinction. Speaking of which, a lot of characters in this movie aren’t well-developed. At times there’s just so much happening in the movie that there isn’t enough time to properly flush out the characters.
But one character that is quite well-developed is Bilbo Baggins. Martin Freeman once again does a great job bringing him to life. I’m also enjoying the transformation occurring in Bilbo’s character. As he faces and survives more challenges, he becomes bolder and more daring but, more than that, the effect of the ring on him is clearly visible. There are moments when you see how much the ring has already corrupted him and how far he’s willing to go to protect it. I also like how involved in the plot Bilbo is, he’s literally this movie’s main hero and an invaluable part of Thorin Oakenshield’s company.
There are still moments in this movie, however, when everything just feels like a set-up for a later movie rather than a self-contained adventure. Gandalf leaves the group pretty early on to pursue some side quest which is just a set-up for The Lord of the Rings. Yes, maybe that’s how it happened in the book but it just didn’t feel like an organic part of the story or even truly necessary. Luckily this side mission doesn’t form large chunks of the movie; with the majority of the story focused on Bilbo, Thorin and the other dwarves.
Oh, before I forget, another problem I had with this movie was that sometimes its action feels a little Pirates of the Carribean-y. The action, at times, feels a bit whimsical and completely devoid of actual danger. If a character falls thirty feet, he’ll get caught on a branch that will springboard him up and he’ll land on his feet without any consequence. It just feels too cartoonish and sucks the tension out of the fight scenes at times. Another problem was the hyper-choreographed fight scenes involving Tauriel and Legolas. I get that Elves are these mystical creatures that cannot be matched but the choreography in the fight scenes felt too rigid and lacking the instinctual movements of an actual fight. Fight scenes are akin to dances in that every character moves in pre-determined ways but, in the fight scenes in these movies, the actors move before time and the fight scenes look staged instead of authentic.
Overall, this movie is an improvement on the first. The story feels like it’s coming to a head and, although there are still moments where the movie sets up upcoming events, it feels more self-contained. I’d recommend seeing it 7/10