As traditional as Christmas trees, December brings with it the Winter blockbusters. Ten years on from the release of multiple award-winning “Return of the King” and a year after the first Hobbit film “An unexpected journey” kicked off the second of Peter Jackson’s enormous J R R Tolkien trilogies, we get part 2.
I really need to read “The Hobbit” again (I imagine if I read my review of the first part, I’ll have probably said the same thing and got no closer since). It’s not a huge book, and yet it has been made into a trilogy. That in itself isn’t a big deal to me, I wonder how much of this was covered in any great detail in the book. The lazy and dismissive criticism is that it’s just a book about a long walk, but if the first film felt like that, I think “The Desolation of Smaug” didn’t quite feel the same.
There were plenty of spectacular locations of course; the creepy Mirkwood crawling with giant spiders, the kingdom of the Wood Elves, the struggling lake town of Esgaroth, the vast chambers of the Lonely Mountain, and the bleak ruins of Dol Guldur. The 2 1/2 hour runtime rarely dragged with this variety, as well as the multiple story strands.
My main criticism would be that it’s a textbook case of “second film syndrome”. It’s painfully attached to the films before and after, and as a result struggles to stand alone as a film. It happens, but particular the ending to this one felt a little like a “To be continued” message should have flashed up.
I suppose now I think about it, it would have been hard to stop the action at any point without a cliffhanger ending. But it did feel a little like the title was somewhat misleading. Sure we got plenty of Smaug, but the film ends with the dragon flying off to do some desolating. It’s an imposing title but it doesn’t fit.
The film – as we’ve come to expect – looked amazing, the realm of Middle Earth has such a strong identity, it’s difficult to imagine anyone else trying to provide an alternative in years to come. Perhaps at times it overreaches itself with the CGI sequences and extended fight scenes – some of the barrel scenes and the orcs vs elves skirmishes at times felt like a frantic video game, with bonus points for notable finishing moves to keep people interested.
The cast felt a little more fleshed out – with the need to rely on the dwarf company for the whole film like the first part did, some key players were identified, but the spotlight was shared a lot. Even A-list characters like Bilbo and Gandalf seemed to get relative little screentime – McKellen reacted by turning it up to MAXIMUM ACTING, with Gandalf practically chewing the scenery with his wry eyebrow raises and foreboding one-liners.
Smaug, unbelievably voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch (wouldn’t have guessed that in a million years) stole the show as the main attraction. A creeping terror with a mind as sharp as knives, he probably couldn’t compete by the sheer circus of the deranged Gollum, but Smaug was visualised as a terrible threat really well.
I liked Freeman better as Bilbo this time around, and the scenes where he’s clearly getting dangerously attached to the ring are well envisioned. Love is in the air with Lost’s Evangeline Lilly falling in love over many lens-blurred shots with sexy dwarf Aiden Turner. Poor Legolas is left to scowl and fight, perhaps his contact lenses don’t let him blink. I could name cast members for ages, but I think they all did a super job.
Anyway I’m going to doze off soon, so I will summarise in saying that I think the trilogy will be something special once finished, even if it must live in the shadow of Lord of the Rings. However “The Desolation of Smaug” – while very entertaining – just needed some help to define it as its own film in the way “The Two Towers” managed easily.