Review – The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Review – The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

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Carmen Paddock reviews Peter Jackson’s second adaptation of the Hobbit.

Image credit: Metro
Image credit: Metro

The second installment of Peter Jackson’s Middle Earth trilogy clocks in at 161 minutes, slightly shorter than its predecessor (and all three of The Lord of the Rings) but still ample time for thrilling action sequences; high adventure across forests, rivers, towns, and mountains; and one massive dragon.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug will almost certainly delight fans of the franchise with its fast-paced plot, fantastic performances, and excellent art direction and effects.

Once Howard Shore’s haunting music and New Zealand’s stunning scenery are combined, the familiar atmosphere immediately immerses viewers in Middle Earth and the adventures at hand – a testament to Jackson’s and his team’s artistic coherence.

The film begins with a flashback to an introductory scene only heard about in the books.  It then largely picks up where An Unexpected Journey ends, following the dwarves on their continued escape from the band of Orcs led by Azog the Defiler.  Without giving too much away, the ensuing journey takes the party across amazing landscapes, to exciting new places, and into contact with a host of colourful characters – elves, men, shape-shifters, and dragons.

Although Jackson keeps the core storyline intact, those who have read the books, may find a few of the plot changes – some quite egregious – a source of contention and consternation.  The action culminates in terrible suspense; those who have not read the book will have to wait another year to see how that cliffhanger turns out!

Image credit: The Times
Image credit: The Times

The performances are strong throughout the immense cast.  Martin Freeman’s impeccably-timed and precise mannerisms are perfect for Bilbo, and he convincingly portrays the hobbit’s increasing boldness and ingenuity alongside his growing attachment to his new-found ring.

Richard Armitage is once again a compelling, dynamic Thorin; no one aspect of his character – his stubbornness, charisma, power lust, courage, and developing rapport with Bilbo – overpowers another, highlighting both his heroic side and his deep flaws.

The rest of the dwarf company are all fully-developed characters – standouts include Ken Scott as Balin, Graham McTavish as Dwalin, Stephen Hunter as Bombur, and Aidan Turner as Thorin’s impetuous nephew Kili.

Sir Ian McKellen’s Gandalf is a classic, while Orlando Bloom reprises Legolas and is every bit the beloved wood elf of before.  He is joined by Lee Pace as his father, Thranduil, and Evangeline Lilly as Tauriel, a female elf warrior of Peter Jackson’s creation.

Pace creates a nuanced portrayal of a king desperate to defend his people against the growing darkness, while Lilly impresses as a bold, powerful, and utterly competent heroine.  Her addition to the story is quite welcome.

Luke Evans’s Bard and Stephen Fry’s Master of Laketown vary slightly from their book counterparts, especially in their relation to one another, but the two actors flesh out the characters nicely.

Oscar-worthy: Benedict Cumberbatch voices Smaug. Image credit: Total Film
Oscar-worthy: Benedict Cumberbatch voices Smaug.
Image credit: Total Film

And no actor review would be complete without mention of Benedict Cumberbatch, who voices both the dragon Smaug and the Necromancer of Dol Goldur.  Despite two different voice modifications, both are noticeably  Cumberbatch – a refreshing touch of recognition amidst the CGI visual performances.  And what a deep, commanding voice it is!

The cinematography keeps the film’s mis-en-scene almost indistinguishable from earlier installments.  A nice artistic touch is varying the shots by location depending on the quality of each: the filming in Mirkwood is dizzying while the Woodland Realm is dreamlike and Erebor is vast and sweeping.

On the whole, the visual effects are successful, the only downfall being that the computer generated Orcs seem less menacing and more ‘plastic’ than their prosthetic, human-acted counterparts found throughout The Lord of the Rings.

Smaug, however, is a phenomenal creation.  At once recognisably and traditionally dragon-like, yet also entirely unique (his movements had an almost bat-like quality), he is a marvel of computer designs, and possibly worth a visual effects Oscar all on his own.

Despite serious departures from original plot details, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is a solid, enjoyable, and thrilling continuation of a decades-long franchise.

Although the final chapter, out in December 2014, cannot come soon enough, leaving the fantastic Middle Earth of Peter Jackson’s meticulous creation will be a difficult goodbye.

Carmen Paddock

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