HOBBIT: THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG
STARRING: Ian McKellen, Martin
Freeman, Richard Armitage, Evangeline Lilly, Stephen Fry
2013, 161 Minutes, Directed by:
disclosure up front: this critic detests the works of J. R. R. Tolkien having
slogged through The Hobbit and
The Lord of the Rings, and found the The Lord of the Rings movies to
be excruciating to watch. The notion of watching the extended versions on DVD
sounds like some sort of torture that should be banned under the Geneva
Conventions. Then last year’s bloated The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
arrived with a thud. It was with this mindset that this reviewer encountered
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug.
And . . . I didn’t hate it.
It’s not converting me to a fan of elves and dwarves and orcs and hobbits, but
considering its running time and that there’s one more film to go, consider it
high praise from a vocal non-fan that I wasn’t bored. I can only imagine what
true believers will make of it. Try not to burn down the theater when you’re
making your sacrifices of gratitude.
Director Peter Jackson (who was
also one of several hands on the script), keeps the action focused this time.
Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) is still after the Arkenstone, a priceless
jewel that will show he is the rightful heir to be king. Jackson does several
things to keep the story moving. The pompous windbag Gandalf the Grey (Ian
McKellen) leaves the dwarves and hobbit Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) early on
in the film. After that, we get just a few scenes with him and he does not show
up to save the day.
"An engaging story that should thrill the hardcore fans and even some
of the non-fans . . ."
Then Jackson handles two major
set pieces with dispatch. The first is a battle in the woods against evil
spiders the size of Buicks that ends with the arrival of the elves, led by
Legolas (Orlando Bloom). For those of you coming in late, dwarves and elves
don’t get along. However among the dwarves is Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly), a
fierce fighter, an extremely attractive elf, and – perhaps most important – a
character who appears nowhere at all in the Tolkien book. Not surprisingly, she
is the most interesting character in the movie.
Meanwhile there’s a second
battle on the rapids, this time against the evil orcs. All this is the build up
to a terrific third act. This includes the always welcome Stephen Fry as the
corrupt Master of Laketown and then the dramatic (if somewhat overlong) battle
with Smaug the Dragon. Voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch, who seems to be
everywhere these days, Smaug is a truly impressive creation on screen. As
fantasy screen battles go, this one is fast-paced and entertaining.
In addition to keeping the
action focused and the story moving along, Jackson also gives us time to let the
actors develop their characters. The dwarves – who were just a short, hairy mob
in the last film – become individuals here, Freeman gets to be a hobbit without
the distraction of Andy Surkis’s Gollum, and Lilly breathes some fresh life into
the story as Tauriel. The result is that The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
is an engaging story that should thrill the hardcore fans and even entertain
some of the holdouts to the supposed charms of Tolkien, such as this reviewer.
In any case, there’s only one
more film, next year’s The Hobbit: There and Back Again. After that
Jackson is off to make a Tintin movie. So that seven film epic based on
Tolkien’s tax returns or laundry lists or whatever they want to try next is
many, many years off. Or so one hopes.
Daniel M. Kimmel is a
veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. He recently
released his first novel, Shh! It’s a Secret: a novel about Aliens, Hollywood
and the Bartender’s Guide. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.
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