Anthony's Film Review
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013)
Part two of the Hobbit film trilogy continues the exciting adventure and Peter Jackson's directorial genius...
When a fantastic film series manages to go on for at least three films, it's always natural to wonder if the magic could continue. As much as I absolutely love Peter Jackson's vision for the Lord of the Rings trilogy, plus The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, I still had to ask myself whether his skill as a director can still burn bright, just because burnout can affect even the most creative geniuses. But after seeing the second film in the Hobbit trilogy, The Desolation of Smaug, I'm happy to say that Peter Jackson still has the touch. He truly is one of the best film directors we have around.
This is true even as each film of the Hobbit series thus far incorporates material from one-third of the single Hobbit novel by J.R.R. Tolkien and, from what I understand, various other fantasy novels by the same author also set in Middle-earth. The events in this cinematic story, regardless of their literary origin, fit together nicely in a smooth narrative. (Note: I've never read any Tolkien novel other than The Hobbit and the three Lord of the Rings books, but the film is still marvelous in my opinion.) Together with the excellent production design and cast that you'd expect from a Tolkien adaptation by Peter Jackson, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is no doubt worth seeing if you love epic fantasy adventures.
So the story in this movie is, in a way, divided into three acts involving six locations: a dark forest before a tranquil Elven village, a river before a human-occupied lakeside town, and the outside of the Lonely Mountain before the abandoned Dwarven kingdom within. This is the path followed by Bilbo Baggins the Hobbit (Martin Freeman) and the company of Dwarves led by Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage). Ian McKellen as the wizard Gandalf also returns in this film, but he immediately embarks on a different yet equally important quest, in a subplot that ultimately illustrates the connection between The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogies. Additionally, reprising his role from LotR is Orlando Bloom as Legolas the Elf, who doesn't actually form an alliance with the Dwarves because there is some tension between the two races, but his actions nevertheless aid the Dwarves when he doesn't expect to.
Speaking of Elves, this film introduces Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly), a female Elf whom, as sources indicate, Tolkien himself never created. Personally, I have no problem with such an original creation if that character fits in nicely with the world and characters the author did create, which is the case here. And as Tolkien heavily favored male characters in his fiction, I wouldn't mind seeing another prominent female character in addition to the few seen thus far. Still, I have one complaint with Tauriel, though it's fairly minor: the fact that she's a love interest for both Legolas and one of the Dwarves, which is done a little too much to the point where it's a distracting formulaic Hollywood cliche.
Other than that, this movie is as breathtaking as you'd expect. The locales are a visual wonder, whether they are bright and beautiful or dark and foreboding. With a running time of about 2 hours and 40 minutes, it does not rush through any scene, instead taking its time to present each moment of the plot carefully so that we're simultaneously taking in the story while feeling it move along. The same goes for the action sequences, which deliver great thrills and are neither too long nor too short. One of my favorite scenes involves a battle sequence where Bilbo and the Dwarves are sailing down a rapid river while Orcs are trying to attack them from the banks, because it's a mix of suspense, excitement, and even a bit of humor.
But if I have to pick my favorite scene overall, it would no doubt be the first one featuring the character mention in the film's subtitle: Smaug the dragon. We first see him buried under a hill of gold in the Lonely Mountain, before his awakening sends streams of gold coins rolling down and the full sight of him stuns us. Thanks to the wonders of computer-generated imagery, Smaug is one of the most ferocious, if not the most ferocious, dragon I have ever seen in a movie. It's not just his massive size and incredibly frightening face. It's also the evil voice, provided memorably by Benedict Cumberbatch, that gives this creature a malicious personality.
In fact, consider what happens next. There is a tense dialogue between Bilbo, who is searching for a certain Dwarven jewel, and Smaug, who is awakened by the Hobbit. Bilbo is trying his best to dupe Smaug into not destroying him, in what is essentially a psychological game of wits that harkens back to Bilbo's encounter with Gollum in the previous Hobbit movie. The only difference is that Smaug can easily kill Bilbo, with its claws, its teeth, or its fiery breath that can unleash an inferno in a matter of seconds.
There is a great climax in this movie, but because this is the middle of a trilogy, it also ends on a cliffhanger. Still, it leaves us at the right moment so that we know what to look forward to in The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, the final part of the trilogy to be released in 2014. At this point, unless something really surprises me, I have little doubt that the third Hobbit movie will be just as epic. (Hey, I may be a film reviewer, but don't forget that I'm also a regular movie fan.) Until then, I am giving Peter Jackson my fifth 10-out-of-10 rating for a cinematic adaptation of a J.R.R. Tolkien story, a grand achievement given that his three Lord of the Rings and two Hobbit films thus far have all been masterpieces.
For more information about The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, visit the Internet Movie Database.
In addition, check out my reviews of the following:
The Lord of the Rings Trilogy
The Hobbit Trilogy