Friday, September 19, 2014

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Directed by Peter Jackson.
2013. Rated PG-13, 161 minutes.
Martin Freeman
Ian McKellen
Evangeline Lilly
Richard Armitage
Luke Evans
Benedict Cumberbatch
Lee Pace
Stephen Fry
Orlando Bloom
Graham McTavish
Ken Stott

Like most of our trips to Middle Earth, The Desolation of Smaug begins in media res. Bilbo Baggins (Freeman) is still tagging along with a band of dwarves on their quest to reclaim land and treasure from the slumbering dragon Smaug (Cumberbatch). He's also still hiding the one ring to rule them all in his pocket and using it whenever the need arises. Along the way, our heroes encounter many setbacks and roadblocks. Our favorite wizard, Gandalf (McKellen) wanders off to tend to some business pertaining to the quest, but separate from it. Peter Jackson doing Tolkien stuff ensues.

The bulk of the movie is essentially the same as its predecessor, An Unexpected Journey. There are some key differences, of course. The first, and most obvious one is that there is no setup. Like Jackson's most famous set of films, The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit is shaping up to be a trilogy in raw form, meant to be viewed as one long continuous film. It is assumed, and rightfully so, that almost no one would watch this without having seen the prior installation. Another difference is the addition of a few new characters whose motivations are of significance. The main one is Bard the Bowman (Evans) who lives in the village that the dwarves hope to reclaim. He's the one guy who doesn't think waking up Smaug is a good idea. Early on, before he really understands what's going on, he helps the dwarves in inventive ways.

Where The Hobbit differs from The Lord of the Rings as a series is that the protagonist is really a day-saving sidekick. There are some asides developing Bilbo's relationship with the magical ring. However, this is really about the quest of the dwarves. Bilbo is just along for the ride. What happens is the dwarves trek, trek, trek until they get into a precarious situation which they invariably can't get themselves out of. During all of this, Bilbo has gotten separated from the pack and returns to save his travel-mates. Rinse. Repeat.

My implication that this is a movie that plays on a loop for two and a half hours might sound like damning criticism. Quite to the contrary, it works, marvelously in this case. Peter Jackson keeps his episodes concise, therefore getting us to the action scenes much quicker than in An Unexpected Journey. The run-time is also shorter. If you're not familiar with Jackson, two and a half hours is downright brief. It actually feels a bit shorter than that because things are actually happening. Part of this is because he has to find ways to stretch a fairly short book into three movies. Pumping up the action was a nice choice. The endless exposition of the first movie made three hours feel like four. the situation wasn't helped by the fact that it was also repetitive. For this chapter, that problem has been largely eradicated.

Other standards for our journeys into and through Middle Earth are upheld nicely. Though most of the characters are one note, they are all played very well. Evangeline Lilly as Tauriel, the one "she-elf" of note, stands out and not just because of her gender. Sir Ian McKellen continues to fully inhabit the wizard Gandalf while a number of the dwarves get their moment in the sun. Benedict Cumberbatch is also fun as our dragon. Speaking of Smaug, he is representative of the other major asset of Jackson's movies - the visuals. Once again, the director has given us a splendid looking piece of cinema. the world he depicts is expansive and diverse. Combine the sheer physical beauty of the film with a story that moves with purpose and we get a very enjoyable experience that easily outdoes its predecessor.


  1. Well I wish I liked it this much. This part bored me so bad I'm gonna need a lot of talking me into seeing the last one to spend 3 more hours on this outrageously extended story. Though it's not the story that is extended, just the runintime to have enough to make trilogy out of a single book.

    1. It's funny, but that's exactly how I felt about the first one. This one just had more life, at least I thought so.

  2. I liked this one better than the first movie, though I wasn't a fan of the animation of the dragon. I thought it would have been really majestic.

    1. I'm curious to see how he'll look in the next movie with more scenes out in the open as opposed to being cramped up in inside a mountain.

  3. The Hobbit movies aren't nearly as good as LOTR but once I have accepted that, I still manage to enjoy the movies. I think the pacing of this second one is a bit better, I guess I love the universe of Middle Earth so much that I don't mind the long running time. Looking fwd to the final movie!

    1. The pacing on this one is much better than in the first. As a result the first is just okay, but I really like this one. Either way, I agree that neither is as good as any of the LOTR movies.

  4. Good review, though I doubt I would like it as much as you. Are you hopeful for the third one?

    1. Much more hopeful for the third now that I've seen this one. Still not expecting it to change the world or anything, but hopefully it'll be fun.