The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug Review 
Posted by Terry Lewis on 12.16.2013
After a disappointingly slow start, can Peter Jackson get the Hobbit trilogy back on track with spiders, dragons and elves in the second chapter of Bilbo Baggins' adventures in Middle-Earth? 411's Terry Lewis goes on a quest to find out.
Martin Freeman - Bilbo Baggins Sir Ian McKellen - Gandalf The Grey Richard Armitage - Thorin Oakenshield Benedict Cumberbatch - Smaug / The Necromancer Orlando Bloom - Legolas Evangeline Lilly - Tauriel Luke Evans - Bard The Bowman
Expectation can be a funny old thing. Considering Peter Jackson'sLord Of The Rings umming and arring over a follow up and dragging of the heels until he commited to developing The Hobbit was a bit up in the air, the terrible pace and lack of story ruined the first segment of the adaptation of that book in An Unexpected Journey. It was left quite rightly open to criticism unlike the tight, respected and personally perfect LOTR J.R.R. Tolkein adaptation. Thank the elf gods Jackson has woken up and got his directing mythril armour on then because, whilst not impeccable, the second chapter - Desolation Of Smaug - is a step in the right direction.
Picking up where An Unexpected Journey left off, Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman, BBC's Sherlock) is still on the road with the wizard Gandalf The Grey (Sir Ian McKellen, The Da Vinci Code) and a company of thirteen dwarves, led by the heir to the Dwarf throne, Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage, Captain America). Their quest is still to get to the Lonely Mountain and defeat the great dragon Smaug (voiced and motion captured by Sherlock himself, Benedict Cumberbatch), so Thorin can reclaim the throne. Along the many trials and tribulations, the team gets captured by Elves and Spiders, chased by Orcs and are smuggled close to the Mountain by fish barrel. On top of all this, Gandalf leaves to face off against a rising evil.
Easily the best thing about this second chapter compared to the first Hobbit entry is, well things happen. There's more memorable aspects of the book covered and in fact we cover a fair bit of it. We get the spiders sequence, more interaction with the one ring to rule them all & Bilbo, getting captured and escaping from the Mirkwood elves and all the good stuff in Little-town which sets up the final sequences of the book. And on top of all that, yes Smaug finally comes into it and it is bloody brilliant. Nice stuff and we're delving into the much more interesting parts of the book. We're far and away from the snoozefest of an opening chapter last film round.
That said, it brings me to the biggest critique – if we are adapting The Hobbit then there's not enough for a three film series content wise. Two films top would cover everything very comfortably. To counter this, there's parts of The Silmarillion covered to pump up the running time which doesn't bother me too much. Without any spoilers, the rising of a returning evil will hit you as blunt as a baseball bat even if they throw in some red herring dialogue and I don't have a problem with that either. My beef is with this aspect of the film - it comes across like we're dealing with The LOTR version of the 'new' Star Wars trilogy. Instead of something natural, it makes The Hobbit trilogy come across as a bit forced even if it does cover established material. I can see why New Line and MGM pushed Jackson for that one more film as they like to earn money at the box office but creatively I find the additions too much of a bust.
Don't get me wrong – I WANT to see a great adaptation of The Hobbit just like you but I can't help but feel I'm taken for a ride here. There's so much unnecessary fluff added in on top of the scratching around Tolkein's books for content. The sub plot between Evangeline Lilly's Elven character and one of the dwarves is subpar in any film, but what is it doing here? There's no reason other to can in another 20 minutes of needless plot. I understand you've got 12 more dwarves after Thorin that in the context of film you have to find reason for them to be there, but to add in a horrific unneccesary “will they, won't they” love plot to me is just insulting. I suppose a counterpoint is they stick to the source material so well you could forgive them but then it's not really a true adaptation is it?
Putting all that on a back burner, I have nothing but praise for the rest of Desolation Of Smaug. The highlight is the action setpieces. There's three you will walk out of the cinema thinking how cool they were, ranging from a barrel escape with dwarves in barrel going down a river being chased by orcs and throwing axes etc. to each other to take them out to the set piece of setting up Smaug to be taken out in a dwarf weapons forge. Magnificent. Some of the best you'll see this year and probably the next. Smaug himself is probably the best dragon ever seen in cinema history as well. The technical aspects here really kick this chapter into gear in an imperfect storm. In fact, I only saw it the other day and I want to go back already just to catch it in High Frame Rate 3-D.
Character wise, we get a lot more development. They may have rushed Bilbo's seduction by the ring he's picked up a tad too much as it's unevenly stuck at the front with not much in the middle but Freeman is so good at this type of character it won't bother you so much. I especially liked the sequences where he has some doubt put into his mind that Thorin is a bit of a bastard and will do anything to finish his quest. The dwarves are fleshed out a bit more. There's no way you can pick up their names just from watching this one time unless you're well prepared with a sheetlist but at least they get characteristics like the deaf one, the wise head one, the one whose good with medicine, the one whose weird British sex icon James Nesbitt... Least you can add some idiosyncrasies this time round.
The 411: The 411 – Well a lot more happens here than in the first, so Desolation Of Smaug is a much more solid film. There's still some annoying aspects, particularly the inclusions outside any source material because just 'cause, but The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug is the right sort of film to catch this time of year. A fun piece of escapism which is extremely well made and not insulting at all to the sense. We're stepping away from the snail's pace of the first to a sprint but I do fear the final chapter running into a brick wall. Probably a very pretty one but a brick wall nonetheless. Regardless, part two deserves two thumbs up.