The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug
Director: Peter Jackson.
Screenplay: Peter Jackson, Guillermo del Toro, Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens.
Starring: Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, Benedict Cumberbatch, Ian McKellan, Evangeline Lilly, Orlando Bloom, Luke Evans, Lee Pace, Ken Stott, Graham McTavish, Aidan Turner, James Nesbitt, William Kircher, Stephen Hunter, Dean O’Gorman, John Callen, Peter Hambleton, Jed Brophy, Mark Hadlow, Adam Brown, Sylvester McCoy, Mikael Persbrandt, Stephen Fry, Ryan Gage, Cate Blanchett.
“Truly songs and tales fall utterly short of your enormity, O Smaug the Stupendous…”
Now a year down the line, the residing question of whether Peter Jackson’s decision to adapt “The Hobbit” into a trilogy was a wise choice or not, has become a little easier to answer. I’d have to say, that he can probably feel somewhat vindicated as his vision seems to be working. That being said, there’s still an abundance of padding and repetition going on in this second instalment – just as there was in the first – but Jackson has definitely improved here by ironing out the creases a little more.
Now fully on their journey to Erabor and the Kingdom under the mountain, Bilbo (Martin Freeman) and the dwarves must find their way through a dark, arachnid filled forest before escaping the clutches of Elfin King Thranduil (Lee Pace) and a horde of rampaging Orcs. All this before they’ve even faced their biggest adversary yet… “the serpent of the north”.
With all the character building already established in “The Unexpected Journey” and the omission of the drawn out and, frankly, tedious songs, Jackson finds his feet on more solid ground here. These aforementioned hang-up’s are what hindered the pace of the first instalment but with them now put to the side, we are allowed to enter the fray from the outset which benefits the film immeasurably. Once again, Jackson shows his highly creative abilities in staging an action set-piece and that’s where most of the enjoyment comes from. He introduces some new (and old) characters that really kick things up a gear, especially the inclusion (or invention) of Evangeline Lilly’s elfin warrior Tauriel, who adds a much needed strong female character to the proceedings and Orlando Bloom’s Legolas makes a welcome return. It’s both of these characters who contribute greatly to a high speed river chase that’s one of the film’s most impressive and exciting action sequences. Speaking of which, there are many moments that are marvellously and thrillingly handled; the giant spiders in the forest to Gandalf’s confrontation with the Necromancer and the showdown with Smaug as Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) storms the mountain to reclaim his throne. Although exceptionally handled they do have a tendency to feel relentless and leave very little room for actual storytelling or characterisation.
Martin Freeman is still perfectly suited for Bilbo but there’s so much going on around him that he seems like a side character in his own story. Much of the focus is on the dwarves and even then, very few of them actually get to really bring their characters forth, with the exception of Armitage’s Thorin and the fragility of his strong facade. The absence of Andy Serkis’ Gollum is also a major drawback but Jackson does have an ace up his sleeve with the astounding motion capture of Benedict Cumberbatch as the fearsome dragon, Smaug.
It’s through exploring the darker territory of Smaug or the Necromancer that Jackson’s willingness to gain momentum is apparent. The laborious nature of the first is tightened up and there’s no denying this one’s energy or it’s ability to entertain. Despite being overlong, things are kept very exciting and Jackson maintains your interest right up until the final moment where we close on a blank screen… frustratingly, awaiting part three. But then, this is what we have come to expect with the, sometimes awkward, middle section of a trilogy.
Despite some of the criticisms I heard (and shared) about “The Unexpected Journey“, I still thoroughly enjoyed the film and, ultimately, that’s the whole point. It’s escapism of the highest kind. With this being an improvement on that, it still boasts well for the trilogy to go out with a bang, in the way “The Lord of the Rings” done so brilliantly.
Trivia: Martin Freeman and Benedict Cumberbatch filmed their roles while on hiatus from their television series Sherlock (2010). Stephen Fry played Sherlock’s brother Mycroft in Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (2011), while Christopher Lee (Sauron) played Sherlock in two other films as well as playing Mycroft in The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes (1970), which also featured Robert Stephens (Aragorn on BBC Radio) as Holmes.