The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (Review)

Release Date: 12/13/2013
Dir. Peter Jackson
Starring: Martin Freeman (Bilbo Baggins), Ian McKellan (Gandalf), Richard Armitage (Thorin Oakenshield), Orlando Bloom (Legolas), Evangeline Lilly (Tauriel), Lee Pace (Thranduil), Benedict Cumberbatch (Smaug), Luke Evans (Bard)

The second installment of The Hobbit Trilogy, entitled The Desolation of Smaug, brought thrills, but somehow managed to lose a bit of heart the first film had. This doesn’t mean it doesn’t excite and provide a lot of eye gripping content. There are deep intricacies and the foundations laid for not just the Hobbit films, but the entire universe of Middle Earth. It is difficult to delve into the world of Middle Earth without drawing comparisons to the prior films and thus far The Lord of the Rings Trilogy was more gripping. Now, this may sound like a lot of naysaying, but that would not properly reflect my thoughts of the film. It is an above average film, but it isn’t for the every day person walking off the street for an afternoon moviee. This is an epic fantasy on an epic scale and will not please everyone, but it certainly pleased me.

The remainder of this review will be filled with all sorts of spoilery goodness. There’s your SPOILER ALERT! You’ve been warned.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug Promotional Poster

Promotional Poster

Plot Overview
The second installment of the trology picks up right where the last film left off. Bilbo and the dwarves are on the run from the orcs as they make their way to the Lonely Mountain. Already, Bilbo’s confidence has increased as he scouts the area and let’s the group know they are being followed not just by the orcs, but a creature that looks like a bear only larger. The party runs to a home Gandalf leads them to as they run from the beast only to learn that they ran to the beast’s home. The home of Beorn a shape shifter, who after a night of safety, grants them use of his ponies to get them to the Mirkwood forest.

The Mirkwood forest is filled with massive spiders the size of men and ravenous. Driven mad and lost in the forest, alone without the help of Gandalf, the spiders entrap them. Again, Bilbo steps forward and attacks one of the massive spiders and frees the dwarves. The battle continues with Bilbo using the ring to trick his opponents and take down the flurry of spiders. Then the the woodland elves emerge to purge the spiders again from the forest and in the process take the dwarves captive. After Thorin refuses a deal with the Woodland Elf king, Thranduil, Bilbo devises a plan to get all the dwarves out in barrels down the river.

The orcs are hot on their trail and in the process of their escape, Kili is shot with a poisoned arrow. The party is then smuggled into Lake-town with the help of Bard. When the Master of Lake-town pledges his support of the dwarves, they set out on the final leg of the journey. The group splits with Thorin leading Bilbo and most of the dwarves to the lonely mountain as Fili, Bofur, and Oin stay behind with the injured Kili. Once inside Erebor, Bilbo is sent after the Arkenstone. The other dwarves enter the mountain to assist Bilbo and get caught by Smaug. After sufficient taunting and nearly defeating the dragon, Smaug flies off to leave all of Lake-town in ash.
End Plot Overview

Many people associate the story of the Young Adult story of their childhood, but The Desolation of Smaug is not that. Yes, Peter Jackson depicts the story on screen with whimsy. But the film stays very much in the vein of the more serious Lord of the Rings. Jackson created a universe for and to ally too much of a shift would be jarring. This film does add much needed mirth and nods to future relationships, such as Legolas calling Gloin’s son a mutation (though we all know of the bromance that is Legolas and Gimli).

The party of dwarves, and Bilbo, are fractured this time. We didn’t get the time to expand on the dwarves quite like the first film. Instead, the focus remains squarely with Thorin, Balin, and Kili with a few Bofur and Fili moments. In many ways, this a is a great thing. The cast was already huge to begin with and there was no way to spotlight all the characters. It was interesting to see that they put such a spotlight on Kili (not that I’m complaining). In many ways, the audience is expected to have seen the previous movie, if one wishes to know where the characters came from. The opening scene with Gandalf encouraging Thorin to put together the party in Bree was a nice way of showing how the party was conceived, while reminding the audience the importance an why the dwarves were going to the Lonely Mountain.

Bard

Bard and his son

Any Tolkien purist may be horrified by the addition of a character that never existed in the books. I believe that the addition of Tauriel was a wonderful idea. The Hobbit suffers very much from a lack of female characters. It was a reflection of the world Tolkien lived in which is no longer out present. The fact that we could enter a world populated with so many people, it is unbelievable that there would be no females present. Tauriel changes this and isn’t just a mere Elven woman strolling the world of Middle Earth, she is a captain of the king’s guard. She is strong willed and does what she pleases. For that, I find Tauriel’s character a welcome addition. Unfortunately, I’m not too fond of Tauriel’s motivation that justifies her involvement in the film being her affinity toward Kili. Is a strong woman like Tauriel so compelled to follow a man her kind looks down upon. Maybe it was kindness, but it seemed more like puppy love.

That said, the relationship between Tauriel and Kili was touching. Instantly, she is intrigued and captivated by Kili. She sees him not just as a dwarf, but a man that can hold his own. She sees him as strong even if she knows she is stronger. She opens up to him, revealing her interest in the star light. I’ve always been fond of Aidan Turner and he shines as Kili. He brings an enigmatic character from the books to life and then some in the film. It is easy to see why Tauriel would be drawn to him. It was nice that they played the relationship quietly as neither dwarf nor elf would look kindly on such a relationship. I look forward to seeing how they conclude the story between Tauriel and Kili.

The Dwarves in barrels

The dwarves escape in barrels

Peter Jackson is a master when it comes to crafting the fluid action sequences he adds into his film. There were two main instances were we got to see these beautifully crafted scenes. The first as the party hurtles down the river in barrels as they are attacked by a flood of orcs sent by Azog. While the scene was laced with CGI, we still got a sense of the great choreography. When Bombur was propelled out of the water and tumbling across land, being knocked across the screen and taking out orcs it’s hard not to cheer. When Legolas and Tauriel were then added to the fight it became even more of a spectacle. The detail and timing is precise and fascinating. Not many directors are capable of that great sense of movement, without losing track of characters. It never becomes confusing. Later in the film we get to see how everything is timed perfectly as Legolas fights the group of orcs and Bolg alone. Every movement flows into the next.

I was disappointed that I didn’t have a heart gripping moment, like The Lord of the Rings second film, The Two Towers. I didn’t get Ents raging a war. I didn’t get a ride of the Rohirrim. And I didn’t get an epic Battle of Helm’s Deep. Instead, I got smaller sequences that came from a smaller more intimate story. It was a struggle that Jackson had to overcome and while he managed to make the scenes he did present interesting and engaging, we didn’t get the sense of urgency. This was an issue inherent with dealing with a prequel where we know the fate of many of these characters. When Legolas fights with Bolg, we know he won’t die. If he were to die we never never get the great bonding between Legolas and Gimli in the Lord of the Rings. As a result, the tension dampens a bit. We don’t fear for his life, when we should.

Orlando Bloom has had his ups and downs in his acting career, but I believe he is at his best when paired with Peter Jackson. Somehow, Jackson pulls out a strong, but moving performance from Bloom. He doesn’t need to speak much on screen and his actions speak volumes that are glorious to watch. The moments of longing when he looked on to Tauriel, could make one’s heart break. You can tell how much he cares for her. But my favorite moment was during his fight with Bolg in which he was over powered, but not defeated. As Bolg rides off, Legolas touches the trace of blood coming from his nose, both astonished and infuriated at the same time. It was moment with a lot of embedded meaning that spoke volumes of how his character felt.

Smaug

Smaug

There is no way that I could have a review of The Desolation of Smaug without mention of the fearsome beast. The sheer size and scale of the dragon was startling. Thankfully, we weren’t introduced to Smaug only for the film to end. Instead, we were treated to a nice long time with Smaug as he threatened Bilbo, taunting him with Smaug’s intellect. Benedict Cumberbatch brought such life to this character that is entirely fabricated. Smaug manages to feel like a threat not just because he is a massive fire breathing dragon with a bad temper, but he feels capable of outwitting the party. Smaug is a big bad because he is a legitimate opponent on every level.

Final Thoughts

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is for fans of fantasy. It can certainly be fun for a person looking for a good romp, but the film is created in such a way that it expects you to know the story thus far. As for the movement of plot, it continually moves from point to point, never lingering on any thing for longer than it should. There are constantly events to watch, populated by compelling new characters, particularly Tauriel and Bard. However, it didn’t create anxiety or tension which at times made the film feel like it was just meant to hit the major points, rather than evoke the feeling the characters felt in the audience. If you felt that the first film was slow, you’ll be pleasantly surprised with The Desolation of Smaug. I recommend this film if you are a fan of Peter Jackson or the world of Middle Earth as it provides a wonderful new glimpse.

7 thoughts on “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (Review)

  1. Great review! I just saw the movie yesterday, and by the time it was over, I was totally drained. Every minute of that movie is stuffed with juicy content. A truly amazing movie. Peter Jackson is a one-of-a-kind director.

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