The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug

The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug

 

The Hobbit is a surprisingly slim children’s novella that is supposed to be gentle introduction to Tolkien’s expansive legendarium. Adapting this into three full-length feature films was inevitably going to involve a lot of embellishment and borrowing from lesser-known works such as The Silmarillion, Tolkien’s all-encompassing ultra-serious guide to his universe. In an age when Hollywood is nothing more than tentpole franchises, studio executives are always looking to cash in with expanded adaptations. But did the purists envision a time when a completely made up female elf named Tauriel would flirt with the handsome Kili, one of Thorin’s company of merry dwarves?

 

STARRING:
Martin Freeman
Ian McKellen
Richard Armitage
Benedict Cumberbatch
Evangeline Lilly
Lee Pace
Orlando Bloom

 

DIRECTOR:
Peter Jackson

 

DATE OF RELEASE:
13th December, 2013

 

RUNNING TIME:
161 minutes

 

“Sacrilege!”, the purists might scream as they churn in their graves, but I have little problem with a new female character to introduce some variety into what had become a hopelessly male-dominated story by this point. The problem is that the budding romance feels a bit too contrived, with the uncomfortable overtones of too much meddling by studio executives who subscribe to an archaic paternalistic action flick school of thought, where a woman can be nothing more than the protagonist’s – er, woman.

 

Much like The Two Towers, The Desolation Of Smaug wastes little time in lengthy introductions or scene-setting, and gets to the action quickly, albeit with a prologue that is probably unnecessary: I doubt the story of how Gandalf convinced Thorin to add Bilbo to his heist team is essential. This level of unnecessary exposition, while a trademark of Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings series, is tempered this time by the tension in the scene, and by tying the narrative more closely to the events that describe their sojourn to the Lonely Mountain, at least in the beginning.

 

So despite its considerable running time (although at 160 minutes Jackson displays new levels of self-control) and the continuing promotion of his pet “High Frame Rate” technology (if you’re smart you’ll go for 3D instead), the Kiwi director deserves credit for much faster pacing than the first installment, and a screenplay that is much closer in spirit to an adventure tale than a fantasy epic with occasionally over-the-top moral overtones. It makes sense then, to beef up characterization in the flimsy storyline by depicting Bilbo’s realization of the ring’s corrupting influence and his struggle to contain it – something that doesn’t happen until much later in the Rings trilogy. In fact, the back story of the One Ring was developed by Tolkien much later; for all intents and purposes, Bilbo’s stolen artifact was little more than a magic ring of invisibility in the original novella.

 

By far the biggest improvement is in the narrative structure, though Bilbo’s Martin Freeman could have done with a little more screen time. It’s neatly divided into three acts: the dwarves’ imprisonment and escape from the Mirkwood elves, being smuggling into Laketown and winning favor of the townsfolk, and finally accessing Erebor and confronting the dragon Smaug. It may be three parts desolation and one part Smaug, but it sure is propulsive and entertaining.

 

Gandalf, for his part, engages in a much more self-contained role instead of shepherding Thorin’s company through Middle-Earth, rescuing them from seemingly impossible situations from time to time as in An Unexpected Journey or basically all of the Rings trilogy. Here, his adventure culminates rather nastily when he discovers the truth about the pesky Necromancer.

 

The rushed pacing is not without cost, however. To maintain immediacy, you need a constant threat that forces the dwarves to make hasty decisions and avoid lingering in exotic locales. This is provided by the band of orcs chasing our heroes, in a series of sequences which feels disappointingly similar to the first movie, except that their chief nemesis this time is the nondescript Bolg instead of the impressive-sounding Azog the Defiler.

 

The back-and-forth between Bilbo and the dragon Smaug, later joined by the dwarves, is another matter entirely. Smaug – voiced by the chameleonic Benedict Cumberbatch in what must amount to a stroke of casting genius – is genuinely frightening and awe-inspiring, a testament to how far Jackson’s CG rep has come since the days of cartoonish Gollum in The Fellowship of The Ring. Smaug versus the dwarves is one of the most innovative fantasy climaxes ever put on the big screen, and the result is a spectacle in every sense of the word.

 

While it may be uneven in places, all of the hallmarks of Jackson’s Tolkien adaptations: panoramic shots, epic music, and the weird/gross makeup, should induce a sense of relaxed familiarity. And while the humorous moments are quite childish in comparison, certain moments do make you laugh out loud. To top things off, Jackson opts for a cliffhanger ending that really takes you by surprise, a surefire way of getting audiences stoked for the final installment.

 

 

 

 

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