Film Review: 'The Hobbit - The Desolation of Smaug'
Opened: 13 December 2013
Cast: Lee Pace, Ian Holm, Cate Blanchett, Andy Serkis, Hugo Weaving, Benedict Cumberbatch, Mikael Persbrandt, Martin Freeman, Orlando Bloom, Luke Evans, Stephen Fry, Ian McKellen, Richard Armitage and Evangaline Lilly
Director: Peter Jackson
Producers: Carolynne Cunningham, Zane Weiner, Fran Walsh and Peter Jackson
Director Peter Jackson’s hulking prequel trilogy continues with The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. Rolling into theatres at an unnecessary 161 minutes it is nonetheless a rich and thoughtful translation of Tolkien’s work, adding light and shade to what was originally a stand alone story of bravery and friendship.
Although The Hobbit was the author’s first book about Middle Earth, The Hobbit movie trilogy is very much presented as a prequel to Jackson’s own epic take on the Lord of the Rings saga. The adventures of Sylvester McCoy’s Rhadaghast in the first movie (An Unexpected Journey) and the appearance of extra characters such as Christoper Lee’s scheming sorcerer Saruman certainly alerted audiences to this change, but these nuisances are extended beyond measure in The Desolation of Smaug. The attention and love that has been poured into this movie is undeniable, leading to some clever changes in character arcs and sub plots. Most strikingly is the inclusion of Orlando Bloom’s Legolas, here a distant icy warrior almost unrecognisable from the warm, wise individual we know he will become. Bloom’s performance is excellent and it is easy to see how audiences fell in love with him first time round.
However, for me and I suspect for many, the film’s most unexpected achievement is the charming interaction between Kili the dwarf (Aidan Turner) and Tauriel the elven captain of the guard (Evangeline Lilly). A complete fabrication for the movie it is a tender and affectionate exchange between two people on different sides of a struggle – a Romeo and Juliet story with more hair and greater height difference, but trust me it works! This relationship between the forces of good (dwarves, elves, men etc) is a key theme throughout the film and clearly building towards their eventual unity in Lord of the Rings. The architect of this unity and the one constant throughout the whole story, Ian Mckellan returns as the iconic wizard Gandalf, putting in a typically charismatic and brooding performance. One of the biggest rewards for die hard fans of the stories will be the on screen battle between Gandalf and the Necromancer (revealed to be Sauron), both because this encounter is not documented in the book and an awesome on screen spectacle.
For me the highlight of the movie was always going to be Bilbo’s encounter with the movie’s main villain, the dragon Smaug, a beautifully realised creature voiced menacingly by the ubiquitous Benedict Cumberbatch. Smaug’s awakening from underneath a sea of gold coins should, alone, see this movie nominated for an Oscar. It is brilliantly choreographed, nail bitingly tense and visually arresting.
Now, about that 161 minutes run time! There is such thing as too much love (it will kill you in the end!) so although all of the elements in the movie are well constructed, they are also often a little too long and on occasion a little bloated. The story telling moves slower than necessary both within scenes and across the movie as a whole; while this does lend profundity to some moments it is just as often overindulgence.
Overall a far superior movie to the first, in part because it covers a more interesting section of the story, but also because it brings much needed depth to the story and its players, particularly with regard to the dwarves and their quest. The politics and prejudices of this fantasy world here play out in the personal dealings of individuals rather than the grand palaces and courts of the Lord of the Rings. This angle makes for very compelling viewing but the length and lingering pace of the film will leave many audience members with hobbit fatigue, which could well affect the box office of the third and final instalment The Hobbit: There and Back due out 19 December 2014.