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The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug – Review

December 13, 2013

Film + Entertainment | by Francesco Cerniglia


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The second entry in Peter Jackson’s Hobbit Trilogy, The Desolation of Smaug, seems to have the odds stacked against it – it’s the middle one in the series which could usually fall into stalling for time, it’s following a disappointing first film in An Unexpected Journey, and what could possibly propel this film forward for over two and a half hours? Yet, in this rollercoaster ride, the Desolation of Smaug gets right everything that An Unexpected Journey missed. Pulsating and exhilarating, this film will plunge you into Middle Earth and throw adventures at you on a conveyor belt, and trust me, you won’t mind one bit.

The Desolation of Smaug takes us into Middle Earth again, tagging us along for the quest of several dwarves, Martin Freeman’s Bilbo Baggins and Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellen), in their mission to reclaim Erebor, the dwarves’ ancient homeland. As you might guess, being only the second film in a trilogy, their quest doesn’t end here, but once the credits roll it really won’t matter. Pummeled with fierce elves, giant spiders, and ravenous orcs, the two and a half hours skip along with a propulsive drum beat – and that’s without even mentioning the encounter with the title dragon, Smaug. The film starts off right where the last one stopped, and that’s why this is an immediate improvement on the first entry of the trilogy. An Unexpected Journey dragged its feet; exposition after exposition, walk after walk, building for the following films, yet with the starter out of the way, we can now sit down for the main course, just leaving room for dessert when the third entry, There and Back Again hits cinemas next year.

Right from the off, Peter Jackson re-establishes himself as possibly the greatest world-creator working in cinema right now; the minute details of CGI, the textured dialects, and rich landscapes add layer upon layer to this universe. You always felt the first film hit a brick wall when it spent so long in areas we already knew so well, like the Shire, from Jackson’s previous endeavors with Lord of the Rings. But invigorated by the chance to dive into new realms, Jackson and his co-writers take risks. They can’t resist the temptation and give us characters not mentioned in the original text, such as the elves Legolas and Tauriel. Orlando Bloom’s Legolas was an obvious choice, seeing how elves are immortal, and although his only contributions seem to be intense glaring and accurate archery, it will delight across the audiences. Perhaps the bigger risk was introducing Tauriel, played by Evangeline Lilly, yet she comes off as one of the stars of the film. Feisty and spirited, she adds heart and is the closest we come to an out and out action hero in the film. Both of these elves actually work together to bring us one of the greatest action scenes of this year, involving several dwarves in barrels swept along a river in the midst of ongoing orc and elf carnage. The scene alone is worth the ticket price. Although Tauriel falls into the traditional gender traps later in the film with the emergence of a love triangle, her heroics are not to be missed and will surely be a fan favourite.

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As the title suggests, everyone in the audience will be waiting for Smaug, the menacing, cunning dragon guarding the treasures and riches of Erebor’s Lonely Mountain, and the one obstacle standing in the way between dwarves and their dream. Although it’ll take an hour and a half until you meet the Malevolent One, voiced by the outstanding Benedict Cumberbatch (who else?), it will not let down. The dramatic tussle of dialogue between Bilbo and Smaug is akin to verbal boxing match between Gollum and Bilbo from the previous installment. For such a build-up, essentially one and a half films, it’s amazing that it doesn’t disappoint (the lead-up isn’t too bad either, mind) and it’s a fantastic meeting of the minds.

One can nit pick however, as Gandalf’s solo adventures seem to resemble nothing more than a nod to The Lord Of The Rings franchise, and drag their heels in. Yet, with memorable action scenes, great cast acting from Freeman with his subtleties and nuances, and the Dwarves, to Lee Pace as the Elvish King, Cumberbatch as both a dark mist and fearsome dragon, and Stephen Fry in a hugely entertaining part, it’s an improvement in every department. It’s a pleasure to witness a director having so much fun with a story, one in which he is so comfortable with the world he immerses us in, and Jackson’s enthusiasm rubs off on us. Also, what a way to leave it hanging, as Jackson seems to want us to be sitting on the edge of our seats for the next 12 months. I want more, and that’s a pleasant surprise after being with these characters for five hours so far. You have my money for the third film Jackson, but do I really have to wait a year?

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is out in UK cinemas today

Oliver Smith