Director: Peter Jackson
Writers: J.R.R. Tolkien, Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, and Guillermo del Toro
Rated: PG-13 for extended sequences of intense fantasy action violence, and frightening images
Genre: Second installment of a fantasy epic
Runtime: 161 Minutes
Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, Evangeline Lilly, Orlando Bloom, Benedict Cumberbatch.
By this point in time I think we’ve come to understand being the middle child kind of sucks (just ask Jan Brady) and, while vastly more entertaining than the first installment of The Hobbit trilogy, Desolation of Smaug suffers plenty of problems associated with being the second film in a three part saga. The thin story seems to meander near aimlessly – although chock full of impressive CGI and action sequences – sort of spinning its wheels as it ramps up for the 2015 finale. If viewers were disappointed with the non-source material filler incorporated in the first hobbit film, they’ll surely be stewing this time around.
When we last left of band of intrepid adventurers, Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellan) was leading the heir to the dwarven throne (Thorin Oakenshield, portrayed by Richard Armitage), a dozen fairly nondescript and interchangeable dwarf companions, as well as their hobbit burglar, Bilbo Baggins (quite ably played by Martin Freeman) on a quest to reclaim the dwarven homeland under the Lonely Mountain. As in the first film our sturdy heroes will be hounded by orcs and wargs (large wolf-like creatures the orcs use as mounts) but now thrown in for good measure are giant spiders, a shape shifter, and a terrifying dragon to boot. It makes one wonder if the dwarves continuing to live a nomadic lifestyle might not be a better, and safer, choice. But then we wouldn’t have a film. Or I should say three films…
As with all my reviews I tend to stay spoiler free so I won’t ruin any of the surprises one will find within The Desolation of Smaug. Suffice to say there’s plenty of action, which more than makes up the much slower pace of the first film, but many of the sequences feel as they serve no real purpose other than to pad the near two and a half hour running time or add to the long list of Peter Jackson’s impressive CGI achievements. While watching The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug I couldn’t shake the feeling I was watching a slew of sidequests from a digital roleplaying game unfold on the screen; fun little nuggets to nibble upon, which have little to no relationship to the overall scope and payout of the endeavor.
Plus, for a film entitled The Hobbit it’s pretty surprising how little meaningful screen time our central character receives. Martin Freeman has done a wonderful job at capturing what many readers construe as a the essence of hobbits: not ones to seek adventure these hardy wee folk can be counted on in a pinch to be resolute and steadfast under the most dire circumstances. That’s why it’s a shame Jackson seems to focus too much attention on other characters, especially the less than kingly Thorin Oakenshield and a bizarre possible elf-dwarf-elf love triangle. The title is The Hobbit not All This Other Stuff and, By the Way, There’s Also a Hobbit.
Tolkien purists will obviously bristle at the innumerable liberties taken with the source material as well as the inclusions of characters and situations never conceived by that author’s pen. While I’ve read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings multiple times, I can’t claim to be anywhere in the realm of a Tolkien expert so these changes and additions don’t bother me outside the fact some of them seem to exist for the sole purpose of padding the movie and nothing more. Where I do have a bit of an issue is in the tone and mood of the trilogy. The Desolation of Smaug is far darker than anything you’ll find on the printed page of The Hobbit – the novel was published seventeen years prior to The Fellowship of the Ring and for all intents and purposes is a fantasy story for children – and there’s plenty in the first two films which is sure to give the tale’s originally intended audience, kids, nightmares. It’s as if Peter Jackson and the money men at New Line knew the audience wanted more The Lord of the Rings as opposed to a straight retelling of The Hobbit. Honestly, I’m sure they’re right as I don’t think a lighter, fluffier Hobbit story would be pulling in a billion dollars across the globe.
Personally, I enjoyed The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug as an action thrill ride as opposed to a by the book retelling of the children’s tale. The audience is treated to the most ferocious and awe inspiring dragon to ever menace a movie screen (impressively voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch) as well as a truckload of spills and chills designed to put you on the edge of your seat. While the middle installment spins its wheels narratively, still requires a score card to tell who’s who, and ends on a mostly unsatisfactory cliffhanger the film is a good deal brisker and more entertaining than the initial offering. Sure, it’s not The Hobbit as Tolkien intended, but as a blockbuster film event The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug gets more right than wrong and will surely please the fantasy action junkies and those who would rather take a peek into the world of Middle Earth rather than live there.