The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug review
Although it’s certainly fair to say that ‘An Unexpected Journey’ started our adventure into <a href="The Hobbit series with plenty of rustic charm, for me, it felt somewhat inconsequential as a film based on the ever mind-blowing events of Middle-earth. To many people, the first installation into The Hobbit trilogy was little more than an albeit enjoyable build up to the real action that could only start after we got all the obligatory backstory, character building and small talk out of the way. The Desolation of Smaug, on the other hand, seemed to hit the screens with something of a different atmosphere, dispensing of the early events quickly, so that we could get down to business before an hour of movie had already passed. Don’t get me wrong – I enjoyed ‘An Unexpected Journey’ – bought the bluray and would be quite happy to sit down and watch it again, but I think one of the problems that the first movie had is that it tried to stick too close to the famous footsteps of its predecessors. As though Jackson and co were desperately trying to instil fans with the idea that they were back watching the same movies they had loved before. The awe that Bilbo feels as he makes his first steps into the beautiful otherworldly environment of Rivendell is muted by the fact that we had already visited the place ourselves for the first time eleven years prior. Although the scenes and settings were undoubtedly beautiful – there was a sense that we were being re-introduced to places we already knew from a different angle – being prepared for what was next, rather than simply jumping in head first.
In The Desolation of Smaug, Peter Jackson has an entirely new set of worlds to introduce us to, including the amazing forest domain of the Silvan elves, where we meet fan-favourite Legolas (Orlando Bloom), his father Tharanduil (Lee Pace) and the auburn-haired love interest Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly) who was created for the film itself (sending some Tolkien fans into fits of rage). The forest domain is a stunning fantasy area that you can’t help but imagine as being the perfect home for a group of otherworldly elven beauties, however it also manages to hold onto an edge of menace, reminding us of the danger that can lurk behind all that elegance – something that has become a common theme with Tolkien’s elves. Of course, aside from that we find ourselves in Lake-town and Erebor, both representing contrasting but visually stunning showcases of design. Lake-town is a fog-shrouded Venice-like town floating on water and stinking of ‘fish oil and tar’ that seems to have been picked straight out of an earthier, less divine area of middle-earth – showing us a sharp contrast between the elven wonders and the more down-and-dirty towns of men. Unlike Lake-town, which was largely built in the real world and brims with authentic detail, Erebor, the kingdom under the mountain, is an insane, largely computer-made creation centred around a stash of wealth so huge it’s almost enough to make your eyes start flashing dollar signs (adjust currency as required).
As Martin Freeman, still playing a fantastic Bilbo and his band of dwarves draw ever closer to their intended destination, the movie grows in action, splicing action shots between Gandalf (Ian McKellen) who is searching the ruins of Dol Guldur for proof of something sinister, and Thorin (Richard Armitage) trying to break back into his home. The storyline of Gandalf did seem to be in need of a longer exploration before it could really catch fire, but what we did see of the rising orc armies and lurking evil was enough to get my spine tingling with excitement for the movie ahead. Gandalf remained amazing as ever, and of course Legolas prancing around from scene to scene also provided a great deal of fun with a familiar face, especially in the barrel chase sequence where elves battle orcs battling hobbits and dwarves battling elves and orcs. In a very donky-kong style, barrels are bobbing weaving and hitting the camera from all angles as Legolas runs over the heads of protagonists and brings down foe after foe with fantastic grace.
Although there are many new faces and places to introduce within ‘The Desolation of Smaug’, with Stephen Fry and Ryan Gage stepping in for a brief introduction as Lake-town’s venal Master and his aide, and Luke Evans as Bard The Bowman, the stand out new character of the movie was, of course, the mighty beast himself. Smaug is the great dragon voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch who had over-thrown the lonely mountain and dwarf kingdom of Erebor, nestling neatly within the giant piles of gold within. It may have been my affinity with Disney movies, but watching Smaug in all of his glory reminded me a little of Shere Kahn in the Jungle book. A fiery-eyed, vicious beast with an unmistakably charming voice that makes quite the formidable foe. Of course, we’ve all seen dragons on screen before, but I’m not sure I’ve ever come across anything with quite the same level of personality. Smaug shifts and moves between indolence, rage and arrogance as he draws Bilbo carefully out of hiding, actively throwing the entire movie into a full-throttle action-packed last half-hour finale that threatens to destroy Lake-town, the dwarves, our beloved Bilbo and of course the mountain itself. For me, this was an exciting and wonderful second part to the three-piece series and I can only wait with bated breath to see what Jackson has in store for number three.