The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug Review
Reviewed by James Amos.
“If this is to end in fire, then we should all burn together.”
It’s been a full year since we heard Bilbo proudly declare the words “I do believe the worst is behind us”. With this second film in the trilogy he is proved desperately wrong as we witness our heroes fight against the likes of Orcs, spiders and Smaug the dragon himself. So is this film an improvement over the first?
‘The Desolation of Smaug’ certainly flows much nicer than ‘An Unexpected Journey’ did, now that all the introductions are done with and the basic foundations of the plot are asserted, we as an audience are shoved right into the action. There are also a lot more memorable scenes, and the whole thing has an added layer of excitement that the first film lacked. As a person who prefers the darker tones of a film, this was definitely more my cup of tea. We start off with the immediate threat of the Orcs hot on their tail, this is no less a clichéd ‘chase’ movie than the last one. Not that I mind, with a modern audience it seems necessary to make our heroes not only be against the clock but with a savage Orc pack behind them too. Yet, this is where a problem arises, and that’s with Jackson’s apparent need to make the main Orc’s faces CGI; which unfortunately sticks out like a sore thumb. It didn’t need to be done ten years ago with the ‘Rings’ trilogy, so I struggle to comprehend why Jackson feels it’s appropriate here.
That aside, the film skips along quite briskly. It’s not been too long before the Dwarves make their way inside Mirkwood, a rather fearsome place which Bilbo simply describes as looking “sick”. It’s in this wood that we get our first piece of proper action, and it is genuinely astounding. The spider scene will truly make any spider hater cringe in their seats; as well as make any Legolas fans squeal as he zooms into action. Legolas’ role in the whole film is a welcome addition, but mostly due to his bow action rather than his actual character. With Legolas we also have the kick-ass elf Tauriel, this person is basically shoved in for no real reason other than to kill some Orcs and fall for a Dwarf. I don’t really care for her character, although if Legolas hadn’t been in the ‘Rings’ trilogy I’d probably be saying the same thing for him too.
The main problem with this film is its constant need to play for time, the decision to make this tale a trilogy really has hit hard on the story telling. It feels like we could have got from the first moment of the film to the last moment in the space of 90 minutes, not 160. Although it’s hard to tell having not watched the last film, it feels like there is no real reason as to why this has been made a trilogy other than it being a money grabbing scheme. It hasn’t helped the story, and the bits Jackson is adding in to make the piece longer feel a tad out of place. Quite simply, this didn’t need to be a trilogy, and it is affecting the story in a bad way. By the time Bilbo is actually facing the larger than life dragon, we as an audience are simply thinking: “How has it taken us over 250 minutes to get here?”
Yet this thought is wiped away in a matter of seconds, just as soon as Smaug opens his mouth and says his first line. Benedict Cumberbatch is simply the perfect choice for Smaug; his booming voice shook the seats of everyone in the theatre. Part of me wishes they kept most of the original dialogue from their confrontation in the book, but it was nice to see some of it slipped in here and there. It’s a scene that completely outdoes Gollum and Bilbo’s meeting in ‘An Unexpected Journey’, and that was my favourite sequence of that film. Yet, and I regret to say it, the whole thing goes rather down hill from there.
For the most part of what followed, I was only wondering what the hell was happening, or indeed why it was happening. There is a scene that the whole film could really do without; it’s simply there to be just another obvious attempt to squeeze in some more action. It’s not needed and, for me, wasn’t really that entertaining either. Even the finishing moments of the film feel odd; it’s a cliff-hanger that shouldn’t really be a cliff-hanger. It’s as if you’re being read a story and you’re coming towards the end of a chapter, however the person reading it finishes just two pages before and says “that’s it until tomorrow”, although in this case they’re saying “that’s it until next December”.
All that aside though, it is an enjoyable film. Sure there’s the problem of it being overly fleshed out, but on the most part the stuff we’re being given is entertaining. Especially when it involves Dwarves racing down a river in barrels being attacked by Orcs, a sequence which got the whole audience laughing away at the awesomeness of it all. I was also hesitant about Ed Sheeran’s credits song, yet it works wonderfully at the end of the film. ‘The Desolation of Smaug’ is certainly no ‘Two Towers’, but it definitely is a step up from the first part of this trilogy. The directing is still excellent, although you can expect no less from Peter Jackson. The acting from the whole cast was great, especially from the incredible Martin Freeman, who is quite simply the perfect Bilbo Baggins.
All in all, this film is a nice bit of escapism. Although it does leave me feeling worried about the last instalment in the trilogy, I for one hope Jackson can create a fitting finish. Well, we’ve only got a year to find out…