The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

  • Title:  The Hobbit:  The Desolation of Smaug
  • Director:  Peter Jackson
  • Date:  2013
  • Studio:  New Line, MGM
  • Genre:  Action, Fantasy
  • Cast:  Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Richard Armitage, James Nesbitt, Dean O’Gorman, Ken Stott, Aidan Turner, Orlando Bloom, Evangeline Lilly, Benedict Cumberbatch, Sylvester McCoy, Luke Evans and Stephen Fry.
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC

“You’ve changed, Bilbo Baggins, you’re not the same Hobbit that left the Shire.” – Gandalf

“I started this!  I cannot forsake them.  They are in grave danger.”  — Gandalf
“If what you say is true, the World is in grave danger.” – Radagast

“What have we done?” – Bilbo

There is an innate problem with any trilogy, especially a trilogy of films – and that is, the film often has no beginning and no ending.  The beginning, background, and set-up is all in the first film.  The resolution will be in the final film.  And sometimes, the middle film is very hard to judge without seeing the final film.  This seems to be especially true with Peter Jackson’s trilogies based on JRR Tolkien’s works, because Jackson takes the approach they are three long chapters of a single work.  An approach that, in the end, especially when the extended editions are included, worked for Lord of the Rings.

However, for The Desolation of Smaug, I find it very difficult to review the film on it’s own.  I suspect that the extended edition (to be released on Blu-ray next Tuesday 11/4/2014), may affect how I view the film, and the third film, The Hobbit:  The Battle of Five Armies, which is due in theaters in December 2014, will change my opinion further.  But I will say this – I didn’t hate it.  Overall, I felt the theater-version of The Hobbit:  The Desolation of Smaug was “ok” to “good”, but not terrible.

Whereas, The Hobbit:  An Unexpected Journey emphasized that the Dwarves Quest was to return to their home, which made the film more universal and made it easier to emphasize with the characters and the whole point of the exercise; The Desolation of Smaug, rather like the book, emphasizes both adventure and a Quest for gold.  Often, the Tolkien’s works, Dwarves are seen as overly concerned with money:  gold, jewels, and treasures of the Earth.  This is certainly the case in The Desolation of Smaug, where Thorin seems to be not only motivated by returning to his ancestoral kingdom but by claiming the dragon’s horde of treasure to be found there.

The Desolation of Smaug is very episodic as a film; and each section often involves a lot of action, fighting, and special effects.  However, there seems to be little characterization amonst all the action, which is a pity.  In terms of characters, new ones are introduced:  Tauriel, a female Elf, who is a good fighter and who has a passion for hunting down Orcs (and possibly a crush on Legolas); Bard, a bargeman who’s raising three children on his own, and lives in Laketown (Esgaroth); The Master (played with relish by Stephen Fry) – the tyrannical dictator of Laketown.

The character of Tauriel, though completely non-canonical, I actually liked, especially the second time I watched the film, and on DVD.  She brings a freshness to the film, and I hope we see more of her in the third film.

Bard seems much more distrustful of the Dwarves and even seems to dislike them, once he figures out who they are.  However, he’s also interested in genuinely helping the people of Laketown, and seems to be the one in charge of attempting to rid the town of their rich and tyrannical Master.

Additions of new characters such as Tauriel, and the expansion of short sequences in the book into full-blown action scenes in the film, almost, at times, makes Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit seem like Fan Fiction.  I don’t mean that in a negative way.  But Tolkien created a very rich, and detailed world, and even, it’s said, felt it was OK for others to “play in his sandbox” as it were.  But regardless as to whether or not the author would have approved of the films – they really do feel like an expansion of Tolkien’s story and world.  This is especially true in the introduction of completely original characters, such as Tauriel, or the expansion of the roles of other characters, such as Legolas (who, as the son of King Thranduil might have been mentioned in The Hobbit novel, but he doesn’t have a major role.)  I love Tolkien’s books, especially The Lord of the Rings, so I don’t really have a problem with Peter Jackson’s additions.  I sometimes wonder what would have happened if Jackson had made The Hobbit first, and as a single film, prior to making Lord of the Rings, and how that might have gone, but we will never know.

The other aspect of The Hobbit:  The Desolation of Smaug, that I found especially interesting – and I picked up on this more watching the DVD, than I had seeing the film in the theater a year ago, was the amount of foreshadowing of events in Lord of the Rings. Gandalf’s mission with Radagast to discover what is going on, and who the Necromancer is, leads directly into The Lord of the Rings, as does the marching of the Orcs.  When Bilbo briefly drops The Ring in Mirkwood and fights off a spider to get it back, then says “Mine,” as he grabs it – it is frightening because we know where that leads.  And even Bilbo, as he realizes what he’s does, seems startled by his own actions.  The spiders, also reference the confrontation between Sam and Frodo and Shelob (which is in The Two Towers novel, but in the film of The Return of the King).

Overall, the film was good – I did buy the DVD, after all – and I intend on buying the Extended Edition Blu-Ray (or possibly DVD if there is one).  And I certainly want to see the final film.  But I felt the first film of Jackson’s The Hobbit  trilogy was better.

Recommendation:  See It (for the spectacle at least).
Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars
Next Film: The Prestige

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