Monday 30 December 2013

Film Review: The Hobbit - The Desolation of Smaug

Director: Peter Jackson
Starring: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellan, Richard Armitage, Orlando Bloom, Benedict Cumberbatch, Lee Pace, Evangeline Lily and Luke Evans.

Runtime: 161 minutes

Peter Jackson's Hobbit trilogy returns to our screens with the second chapter in the story, The Desolation of Smaug. Starring Martin Freeman as the titular Hobbit, Bilbo Baggins, The Desolation of Smaug is a step-up from the divisive first instalment, An Unexpected Journey, providing the most entertaining foray into Middle-Earth for a decade, if not ever. 

"Stand still Bilbo, I'll shoot the arrow off your head.
No worries"
In this second instalment, the Company of Dwarves continue their journey across Middle-Earth, encountering the Elves of Mirkwood, the Men of Lake-Town and finally, reaching the dragon-inhabited Lonely Mountain.

First off, let's assess the cast. Martin Freeman is once again absolutely flawless in the lead role of Bilbo. When he walks onto the screen, you don't see him as John Watson, Arthur Dent or even Tim from the Office. He is Bilbo Baggins, unequivocally and absolutely.

Something I must note is that Bilbo has increasingly less to do as the series progresses; as the cast grows and the narrative widens, Freeman is sharing the limelight with Gandalf (Ian McKellan), Thorin (Richard Armitage), Bard the Bowman (Luke Evans) the Elves (Legolas, Tauriel) and the Company of Dwarves. This can only be considered a positive aspect of the series however. That Peter Jackson has taken a simplistic narrative that revolves predominantly around one character and crafted it into a more complex and layered story with multiple strands is wonderful.

Don't fear however; Bilbo is still the star of the show. Whether it is fighting off hordes of spiders, freeing the dwarves from the Elven King's prison or hiding from Smaug, Jackson doesn't forget that the central character of this saga is the little hairy-footed fellow from Bag End. I liked that his relationship with the One Ring was developed further, mirroring Frodo's from the first trilogy. Except, with less whining. God, Frodo was whiney. Bilbo - 1, Frodo - 0.

No-one had the guts to tell Thorin he had something
in his hair.
Richard Armitage is great as gruff Dwarf leader Thorin Oakenshield; he gets a bit more to do in this other than look glum and brood over being really short. Or not being king, either one. Anyway, Armitage does a great job filling the big Aragorn-sized hole the Hobbit trilogy has. The same can be said of Luke Evans' new addition Bard the Bowman. A character with great significance in the novel, Bard is a noble and heroic counterpoint to the dark and vengeful Thorin. He is fleshed out a lot more than he was in the novel, which I thought was great.

Evangeline Lily and Orlando Bloom were wonderful additions as Tauriel and Legolas. Despite not being in the original novel, their inclusion doesn't feel forced. Tauriel especially was afforded a lot more characterisation and depth than I had been expecting. Not only that, but she kicks ass! Orlando Bloom still rocks it as Legolas also; there are a couple of insider gags about his hatred of dwarves and his future friendship with Gimli that were kind of unnecessary though.

Ian McKellan is Gandalf, in this his fifth performance as the humble wizard. What else is there to say other than he's brilliant. Like Bilbo, McKellan embodies to role of Gandalf to the point where you can't imagine anyone else playing him. The casting is impeccable.

Speaking of impeccable casting, now is a good point to mention the star of the show, the angel on the top of the tree, Benedict Cumberbatch as Smaug the Dragon.

Smaug the Dragon
The whole movie just cranks up a whole gear one Smaug is introduced; like any memorable villain, his actions have a real emotional impact upon the heroes. You can just see the sheer terror on Bilbo's face from the moment the dragon wakes. Not only that, but he is delightfully cunning and malicious; the way in which Smaug taunts Bilbo about Thorin's intent is great.

From here, the final half-an-hour of the film is bordering on perfect. With the dragon now awoken from its slumber, Jackson pounces on the opportunity to show off his enormity with an action-packed chase through the tunnels and foundries of Erebor. Whereas the finale of the first film can be categorised as a little anti-climactic, the final act of The Desolation of Smaug is amazing. Jackson builds up the action till it peaks with a rip-roaring cliffhanger...that won't be resolved for another 12 months.

One of the films biggest plus-points is the helter-skelter action; things really kick into gear with an absolutely bonkers barrel chase through white water rapids. The dwarves, having escaped the clutches of Thranduil (Lee Pace), are chased down river by a horde of orcs and elven guards in one of the most entertaining and thrilling action set-pieces you'll see this year, or any year for that matter. The sequence is essentially worth paying full-price for this movie one its own, such is the sheer excitement and hilarity that it provides.

There were some moments where I found the CGI could have been touched up but for sheer thrills, the sequence gets full marks. In fact, there are more than a couple of times where the CGI could have been a little cleaner in this instalment; for example, the swathes of gold in Smaug's lair and the Necromancer were a little rough around the edges or flat to be truly spellbinding. Maybe I'm just nitpicking, but they stood out for me.

Tolkien fanatics may be a little divided over the narrative choices Jackson chose to make in the films second half. Whilst the first film followed the novel fairly literally, things deviate a lot further here. Some things are obvious (the inclusion of Tauriel, Legolas and Radagast) whilst others are smaller details that aid in streamlining the adventure. Personally, there were no deviations that negatively stood out for me.

In my personal opinion, The Hobbit deserves to be held in as high regard as Jackson's original Lord of the Rings trilogy. The two are both technically brilliant and fantastically directed, produced, edited and acted. And whilst The Lord of the Rings will be remembered as having done it first, The Hobbit is equally as impressive and immersive with each and every entry. 

The Verdict: 9/10

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug benefits greatly from having had all the stuffy introduction material swiftly cast behind it. Launching straight into it, this second instalment in the trilogy hits the ground running, with action and adventure being delivered by the barrel-full. The characters are interesting, the story isn't treading water and the ending is magical. Peter Jackson has once again delivered us the most amazing Christmas present.


  1. Great review here. You're certainly right about this film benefiting from not having to bother with all of the introductions and whatnot, and that it was so action packed from the very beginning is one of the things I loved most about it. Perhaps not the best foray into Middle Earth on a technical level, but definitely the most entertaining, without question. :)

    1. Thanks Chris :) I can't wait for the final instalment! I like that Jackson has had the balls to deviate significantly from the book - who knows what details may change. Characters may or may not die and so on...

  2. Your review makes me want to see it even more now....

    1. Thanks for commenting :) It's a brilliant film.



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