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The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug – Movie Review

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The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug – Movie Review

Rating: A- (Great)

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Peter Jackson’s journey in bringing J.R.R. Tolkien’s massive Middle Earth saga to the screen is incredibly admirable and with every film, he showcases his skills at both filmmaking and adapting this epic source material. While the decision to make a 300-page book into three very long motion pictures seems like an odd idea, it is proof of Jackson’s passion for this world and its characters. While The Hobbit is a smaller-in-scale story than The Lord of the Rings, Jackson continually ups the ante and that also creates some fascinating and well-developed personalities worth following. I have an immense respect for writers who create entire worlds with full mythologies from scratch and Tolkien’s Middle Earth is definitely one of the most imaginative and well-thought out ideas to hit the page. Peter Jackson has certainly done a marvelous job of transferring it to film with these delightful movies.

Despite its large ensemble of characters, Bilbo Baggins the Hobbit remains at the centre of it and his growth through the story is one of the elements that drives a lot of the excitement. At the start of An Unexpected Journey, it’s obvious that Bilbo has little aspiration for going on dangerous trips. The Desolation of Smaug does a wonderful job at showing his evolution into a more brave individual, certainly affected by his little skirmish with Gollum. In an early scene, Gandalf asks Bilbo what he found in the goblin caves and Bilbo replies with “My courage.” From a story standpoint, it’s to cover up him finding a curious, little ring. However, that is not a lie as all of his scenes in this second chapter are an excellent showcase of his abilities and personal triumph against the potentially deadly obstacles that await him. All of the best scenes in The Desolation of Smaug feature Bilbo at the forefront, as we root for him in this quest. Jackson manages the impressive task of actually making more intimidating spiders than the one Frodo faced in The Return of the King. The way they creep and crawl over Bilbo’s head, it actually provides a very scary moment, thus creating a more exiting battle when he launches into attack mode. Martin Freeman pulls off Bilbo’s multiple emotions brilliantly as well as his slow possession under the One Ring’s power.

The much-anticipated meeting between Bilbo and Smaug is as exciting as one would expect. The design team at WETA have done a fantastic job of putting that ferocious dragon on-screen in all of his terrifying and imposing glory. With his smarmy smile and knowing glare, Jackson’s version of Smaug is sure to scare any children that might wonder into the screening and that’s a compliment of the highest order. Benedict Cumberbatch adds a lot to the dragon’s power, presenting his perfectly low-pitched vocal chords and he obviously had a lot of fun providing the motion capture performance. The scale between our little hobbit hero and this gold-loving creature is very impressive and the back-and-forth between the two is delightful, showing that smartly written dialogue can still be found in special effects-filled fantasy adventures. Like the spider scene, the climax with Smaug is yet another major example of Bilbo’s character development throughout this series. It would have been unbelievable for him to step into the Lonely Mountain by himself at the beginning of this story, but that’s not the case anymore after all he has ventured into.

Peter Jackson’s impressive ability at directing strong action continues in The Desolation of Smaug with a knock-out sequence of the dwarves riding in barrels. Andrew Lesnie’s cinematography gives it the feel of a theme park ride that has hopefully been put into development at Disneyland. In addition to Bilbo, each of the dwarves are given something special to do and the scene seamlessly alternates between tense and humourous moments. The planning and choreography that obviously went into this scene is quite magnificent and what’s also pleasing is it’s not merely meant to be a fun, little sequence. It actually develops a number of characters and nicely sets up the growing conflict happening in Middle Earth between the races. While smaller in scale than the action sequences in The Lord of the Rings, the barrel ride deserves to be ranked alongside the Battle at Helms Deep as a stand-out moment in the series.

When following up such an exciting scene, the film does slow down in the middle act. Lake-town is quite a sharp contrast from the sunny landscape of the Shire, thus creating an interesting locale that one certainly wouldn’t want to spend more than five seconds in. However, with the knowledge that Smaug is right around the corner, it does drag in spots, not helped by the semi-heroic Bard being a bit of a dull personality. Despite his pained past, Bard is barely given much dimension and Jackson tends to focus more attention towards the dwarves. Considering the dwarf leader Thorin and new character Tauriel the She-Elf are more attention-grabbing and well-developed, Bard tends to fall into the background most of the time. Thorin, in particular, is fascinating to watch as he becomes even more obsessed with getting one specific piece of treasure from Smaug’s collection. Tauriel, who is entirely from the imagination of Peter Jackson, is a welcome addition to a male-heavy franchise and Evangeline Lilly makes her a likeable presence with some great archery skills to boot. Tauriel and Kili the Dwarf also have a nice chemistry together, even when it threatens to enter into cheesy romance territory.

The magnitude of these movies is no easy feat for Peter Jackson and he continues to impress with his directing and handling of all of the characters and scenarios. Every single piece of production is done with the most careful attention to detail and while one may gripe about length, Middle Earth is a world certainly worth revisiting and staying in. Jackson’s passion appear on screen in all of its glory and The Hobbit does not merely serve as a companion to The Lord of the Rings. It is its own, spectacular journey where seeing the earlier films is not necessarily a requirement for enjoying the story (though that trilogy certainly is highly recommended, as they are magnificent films). Through all of the troubles that had to be surpassed to get this project off the ground, it’s great to see The Hobbit come alive and the ending certainly gets one excited for the final chapter.

Review By: Stefan Ellison

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