The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
What It Is
More walking. While The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug offers a flurry of new, more expansive action set-pieces, it also features much of what you’ve seen before, in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, that is, more searching for the dwarves’ treasure and stolen kingdom, more debating amongst the dwarves, more conflicts between elves and dwarves, more cryptic wisdom dispensed by Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellen), and more bouts of One-Ring-Longing by Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman).
This time, the journey takes Thorin (Richard Armitage), his brethren, Bilbo and Gandalf into the fearsome Mirkwood Forest, where they’re again beset by the terminally angry orcs, as well as wide swaths of murky darkness, monstrous spiders, and on occasion, those elves holding grudges over past battles and lost lives. As they draw nearer and nearer to the Lonely Mountain where Smaug the dragon (Benedict Cumberbatch) sleeps over the dwarves’ treasure, the travelers’ episodic adventures include an encounter with the ominous “skin-changer” Beorn (Mikael Persbrandt), who first appears as a huge bear-like monster, and a fleeting, vengeful incarceration by Legolas (Orlando Bloom) and his mostly unnamed squad of warrior elves. The exception is Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly, in a part invented for the film), who — for all her skills — develops an instant and rather predictably blinding crush on the tallish, conventionally humanly handsome dwarf Kíli (Aidan Turner).
Their romance takes but a few moments to be suggested (mainly by Tauriel’s paean to elvish mythology and Kíli’s visible appreciation, from inside his prison cell), and then becomes the motivation for Tauriel’s coincidental appearances during moments when Kíli needs rescuing. A key one of these occurs in the home of Bard the Bowman (Luke Evans), who resides in Lake-Town, just at the base of the Lonely Mountain. Here his young daughters and community appear mainly in worried close-ups, watchful as Bard and his newfound friends take on orcs, hoping against hope they won’t be waking the dragon with all the ruckus they’re making.
Eventually, over two hours into the movie, Smaug does wake up, of course, and if he’s not precisely “desolate” or even very unhappy, he is annoyed to be roused and then, suddenly and for extended minutes, exceedingly chatty, explaining to Bilbo and then the dwarves too what he expects to do to them and how terrified they should be. Smaug is a magnificent CGI-ed confection, even if he does take an awfully long time to show up and then act. In this way, Smaug is quite like the rest of the movie named for him.
Why It’s Fun
Compared to the first installment of this trilogy, the stunts and chases and encounters are generally speedier, to the point that even the walking is sometimes stepped up to trotting or running across plains and vigorous climbing up rocky mountainsides.
The dragon is in fact lots of fun, his sliding and clambering over piles and piles of gold coins and jewels and ornaments delightfully rendered. Cumberbatch provides Smaug with a perfectly intimidating and sometimes seductive voice: when he cautions Bilbo that he’s being “used,” you can see why the hobbit, even apart from his infatuation with the One Ring, might pause to believe him, however briefly.
Who’s Going To Love It
Fans of Peter Jackson’s ongoing evocations and reimaginings of adventures in Middle-Earth will likely be happy with the latest, which speeds up the pace (compared to The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, anyway), cranks up the CGI special effects, and offers as an option the much-maligned 48-frames-a-second (viewers can choose to see the conventional 24-frames rate, as well as 3D).
Fans of J.R.R. Tolkien’s source books will have to accept some invention and editing here, and sort out for themselves whether the changes help to bring a gigantic fantasy to vivid on-screen life, change the sources’ spirit, add new exciting elements or leave out beloved bits.
Fans of Gollum (Andy Serkis) will miss him.
What To Be Aware Of
The film features frequent and fast-cut images of violence of a signature Hobbity sort, which is to say, framed to omit visuals of actual injury, but using plenty of mobile cameras so as to create intermittent thrills and a consistent sense of menace. Dark shadows and scary music help to develop these effects.
A couple of individuals are decapitated, including Thorin’s father in a flashback, the bloody neck and head displayed for a few moments. Some are impaled or otherwise rather horribly dispatched.
The principal villains, those creatures inflicting or threatening violence upon the dwarves, elves, Gandalf, and Bilbo, include snarling, over-muscled, heavily scarred orcs, giant spiders, and of course the dragon Smaug, guarding the treasure beneath Lonely Mountain.
The dwarves and also the Master of Lake-Town (Stephen Fry) like to drink and get drunk, demonstrated in a couple of scenes.
Bilbo spends some time gazing upon and fondling the One Ring, which helps him at times (making him invisible before the dragon, for instance) and also drives him to greedy distraction. It also warps and disorients his vision, or perhaps just our vision of him.
7 out of 10
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
Director: Peter Jackson
Cast: Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, Benedict Cumberbatch, Evangeline Lilly, Lee Pace, Luke Evans, Stephen Fry, Ken Stott, James Nesbitt, Orlando Bloom, Mikael Persbrandt, Sylvester McCoy, Aidan Turner
Studio: Warner Bros.
US General Release: December 13, 2013
UK General Release: December 13, 2013