The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug (2013)

The Hobbit The Desolation Of SmaugDurin’s Day approaches, and if Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage), Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellen) and company are to reclaim the kingdom of Erebor from Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch) they are going to have to pick up the pace. They acquire ponies from a sympathetic skin-changer called Beorn (Mikael Persbrandt) and continue west to Lake-town, a settlement of men which sits in the shadow of the Lonely Mountain. Their journey is not without incident, however, and along the way they encounter orcs, giant spiders and the Wood-elves of Mirkwood. They receive a cold welcome from the Elvenking, Thranduil (Pee Pace), and are temporarily incarcerated, but eventually resume their quest with Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly), Chief of the Guards, and Legolas (all cheer for Orlando Bloom), The Elven Prince of Mirkwood, in tow.

Even before you consider the distracting nature of the higher frame rate, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey was a very difficult film to enjoy: the pace was glacial, the tone veered wildly from one extreme to another, and the CGI-heavy action scenes had no weight to them whatsoever. Happily, The Desolation Of Smaug is an entirely different story. The second film in Peter Jackson’s Hobbit trilogy is a real romp, and one that fills its almost three-hour running time with interesting supporting characters, Easter eggs for fans of The Lord Of The Rings series and spectacular special effects where its predecessor had only inter-changeable dwarves and lots and lots of walking.

Following a flashback to Gandalf and Thorin’s first meeting, back in The Prancing Pony, which serves to reintroduce the conflict and stakes with almost alarming narrative economy, the film then picks up where the first left off with Bilbo and co. leaving the Carrock on their way to The Lonely Mountain. With Azog (Manu Bennett) and his orc legion hot on their heels, the group barely slows down as they race from one disaster to another: first, they run into Beorn the skin-changer, then they encounter a swarm of giant spiders, and then they’re imprisoned by elves. In the time it took them just to leave Hobbiton in An Unexpected Journey they’ve this time crossed half of Middle Earth. And there’s still the small issue of a fire-breathing dragon to deal with.

As exciting as the rest of the film is — and it really is exciting: the escape from Mirkwood, in which the dwarves ride the rapids in a series of increasingly battered and arrow-ridden barrels, is one of the most outstanding set pieces of the year — it’s Smaug that will have everyone talking. When an adaptation of The Hobbit was first announced, undoubtedly one of the biggest challenges faced by Jackson and his team was selling a talking dragon to an audience which had previously praised The Lord Of The Rings for its earthy realism. Happily, however, Cumberbatch’s voice-work, coupled with WETA’s astonishing final render, bring the character to life in a way that is as beautiful as it is genuinely frightening. Obviously, it also helps that Martin Freeman finally feels like Bilbo Baggins.

Whereas The Office actor struggled to carry An Unexpected Journey, his gurning performance jarring horribly with the seriousness with which everyone else approached the task at hand, here he feels considerably more ingrained in the action. Perhaps it’s the fact that he finally gets his hands (and face) dirty, and the scene in which he mercilessly stabs a young spider to death for daring to stand between him and his precious is alarming in its intensity. By the time he enter’s Smaug’s lair the characterisation is complete, and the sequence works in a way that his confrontation with Gollum sadly did not. Another explanation might be that he has slightly less to do this time around; newcomers Mikael Persbrandt, Evangeline Lilly and Luke Evans (as Bard the Bowman) help to lessen the load, and the film benefits enormously.

The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug is as good as any of The Lord Of The Rings movies, the stakes feeling more real and immediate and the characters feeling more alive and compelling than they did in the last film. Part of this is due to the return of more familiar faces (and one giant burning eye), but it is also the result of Jackson stepping out from the Rings‘ shadow — straight into Smaug’s.



About popcornaddiction
I am a psychology graduate, a News Writer for HeyUGuys/BestforFilm and, most importantly, a hopeless popcorn addict.

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