Director: Peter Jackson
Writers: Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens
Cast: Ian Mckellen, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, Orlando Bloom
The Desolation of Smaug, Peter Jackson’s 2nd instalment of the Hobbit series, takes us back into the ever familiar world of Middle Earth. Chronicling the journey of the dwarves, Gandalf (Ian McKellen) and Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) the film portrays our protagonists making their way to the Lonely Mountain to retrieve the Arkenstone from the fiery dragon Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch).
Slightly shorter than last years’ An Unexpected Journey, this film is a lot more high-octane, foregoing much background story and picking up where the first film left off. We follow our protagonists journeying and making their way past skin-changers, giant spiders and mysterious hallucinogenic forests.
Those familiar with the source material, may be slightly disappointed with seeming excesses and exaggerations, but they seem very forgivable as director Peter Jackson once again looks to create a spell binding universe and takes a few liberties that come with that. The dwarves march on, taking the help of Bard and eventually reach the Lonely Mountain.
Meanwhile, Gandalf is separated from the party and heads to the evil ruined city of Dol Guldur, where he encounters and is warned of rising evil powers, more of which we will see later (or earlier?). Bilbo and the dwarves eventually come face to face with the Smaug (surely an epitome of the possibilities of CGI) the fire breathing dragon.
The good stuff:
The strong points of the movie are the action sequences and stunning visuals.An intense encounter with elves and orcs at Mirkwood is truly one of the highlights of film, featuring some breath-taking choreography during the fight scenes. Made specifically with 3-D and iMax formats, it proves to be a visual delight, as are all of Jackson’s Middle Earth based films. All the locations are luscious and detailed, providing a vivid imagery and backdrop constantly during the course of the party’s journey. Some of the action sequences featuring Legolas (Orlando Bloom) are scintillating, and the rise of the evil Sauron in Dol Guldur is definitely a highlight.
The most enjoyable part of the film was undoubtedly the tense dialogue between Bilbo and Smaug within the Lonely Mountain, with Bilbo attempting to avoid getting eating by praising “his radiance”, Smaug, in a manner reminiscent of the messenger imp intercepted by Bartimaeus in Johnathan Stroud's “The Amulet of Samarkhand”, .while frantically searching for the Arkenstone in a sea of gold.
Peter Jackson brought back his characteristic wide tracking shots of the beautiful Middle Earth. Set in New Zealand, (the same place that gave us the stunning planet Pandora in Avatar) the landscape varies from breathtaking green canopies to the cavernous stone walls of Erebor. Not a single moment passes where the camera stays still as it pans, tracks and races through the scenes allowing for a beautiful perspective of each character. The flying and crashing barrels being thrown around everywhere were reminiscent of Gore Verbinski’s work in the second Pirates of the Caribbean movie. These flamboyant action sequences, while not Peter Jackson’s style, were very welcome although a few of them involved a little unrealistic CGI.
The not so good stuff:
One of the few let-downs of the film was probably the unwanted love triangle between the elves Legolas and Tauriel and the dwarf Kili. It felt out of place and rather forced, not really providing any real purpose or value to the overall narrative.
The most significant shortcoming is the unrivaled winner of retarded character numero uno, Tauriel the elf. Portrayed as a love-stricken, hasty and impulsive warrior, she'd probably fare better in a teenage apocalypse porno than as a daughter of Mirkwood. Of course, our beloved Legolas would disagree, seeking her approval for all the archery skill that they share.
The film was extremely conventional in its approach in comparison to Jackson's original trilogy, giving a lot of focus to action sequences, and less to dialogue and narrative, which is what one would expect from LoTR. Not to say that the adrenaline was a bad thing, but it really compromised the “epic” feel of the film. A lot of unnecessary, contemporary humour did serve to ruin the atmosphere, like the part where the dwarves enter Bard's home through the toilet.
The one thing that really put me off even in the first movie was Kili and how he looks NOTHING like a dwarf as if it were an attempt to make a good looking Dwarf-Elf romance between him and Tauriel.
While some people would concede that a beastly, intimidating dragon shouldn’t possess the ability to talk, Benedict Cumberbatch as Smaug manages to match up to the evil looks and snarls as he once again showcases his abilities as a superlative actor.
Martin Freeman has done a spectacular job in his portrayal of Bilbo Baggins. Although not the prime focus of the film, the ring's influence on him has not been entirely left out. Bilbo can be seen gradually accepting the ring as a means to power, and a solution to tricky situations, using it against spiders in the Mirkwood forest (where he begins to understand their speech which, according to LoTR lore, is a direct effect of using the ring), when escaping from the elves, and when confronting Smaug.
Thorin was portrayed well by Richard Armitage and exudes the majestic Mountain king vibe. Legolas was again very well portrayed by Orlando Bloom and is probably the only non-pussy character he will ever play. The earlier Dwarf-hating character was very different compared to the Legolas-Gimli Bro-mance in the trilogy.
The movie makes for a very entertaining roller coaster ride although it seems like it is aimed at a younger audience, compared to the much more mature LoTR trilogy. I think a good 3.5 on 5 does the sequel justice while we eagerly await the final part to come next christmas.