Synopsis: The second in a trilogy of films adapting the enduringly popular masterpiece “The Hobbit,” by J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug continues the adventure of the title character Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) as he journeys with the Wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellan) and thirteen Dwarves, led by Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) on an epic quest to reclaim the lost Dwarf Kingdom of Erebor.
Release Date: December 13, 2013 MPAA Rating: PG-13
Genre(s): Drama, Fantasy
The first scene in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (“The Desolation of Smaug“), the second film in the planned trilogy, features Gandalf (Ian McKellen) meeting with the legendary Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) to discuss plans to retake Erebor from the dragon Smaug. Gandalf talks in platitudes that suggest the task will be a heady one, with stakes viewers of the first film, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, are well aware of, and Thorin starts to build his wherewithal, which, again, we already know he has. But most importantly, this scene is where director Peter Jackson gives viewers a chance to reflect on the events of the An Unexpected Journey, before this much-improved middle chapter takes off at a breakneck pace.
While the first Hobbit film was filled with plenty of exposition, ramblings, and detours, The Desolation of Smaug is a focused affair. Our merry band of 13 dwarves, one hobbit named Bilbo (Martin Freeman), and Gandalf, spend little time doing anything but pushing the story forward. This is a film constructed with one single purpose, building momentum, and it does so through excellent action set pieces and no filler…well, there’s a little filler.
Story-wise, The Desolation of Smaug catches up with the troupe as they near the mountain of Erebor, the new home of Smaug the dragon (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch). Before reaching that all-important destination, however, they spend some time with the elves, a great excuse to reintroduce the character of Legolas (Orlando Bloom) and give him his own side story and purpose; battle a few nasty, dwarf-sized spiders; and do a little politicking in Lake Town. Meanwhile, Gandalf is investigating a larger threat, the resurgence of Sauron – a plot point that has little bearing on The Desolation of Smaug‘s story, but is a decent Lord of the Rings set-up.
Some of these moments are ripped straight from the pages of Tolkien’s book, and others are original Peter Jackson creations, but nearly every one feels closer to those exciting, fantastical scenes that made The Lord of the Rings trilogy so great, and less like the first film’s dreck. Sure, the scope of the action and the stakes are a little less-than, and there’s a decided lack of character work, but it’s hard to deny The Desolation of Smaug‘s entertainment value, of which there is plenty. You go to these films to be transported – to see something new and to bask in the imagination of a true visionary – and, in most respects, The Desolation of Smaug succeeds in that regard.
With nearly a decades worth of visual effects experience now under his belt, Peter Jackson has mastered the art of spectacle. Each of the film’s action sequences are inventive, well composed, and almost entirely original. One sequence in particular, in which the dwarves are traveling down river in barrels, is easily one of the best action scenes of the year. But most of the VFX trickery pales in comparison to the inevitable encounter with Smaug. After almost three hours worth of explanatory teases and whatnot, the eventual reveal of Smaug and the scenes that follow are nothing short of spectacular, in every sense of the word. This is a fire-breathing dragon that’s as cunning as he is vile, and the design combined with Cumberbatch’s portrayal is perfect. The dwarves’ first battle with Smaug, on the other hand, is a little silly and confusing. But you can’t win ’em all in a movie this big.
After the unnecessary lesson in tedium that was An Unexpected Journey, The Desolation of Smaug proves that The Lord of the Rings wasn’t merely a fluke. Granted, Peter Jackson takes his fair share of artistic license once again, but he does so in service of fleshing out a story that’s very thin. Unfortunately, since “The Hobbit” novel is fairly straightforward, and light on depth, The Desolation of Smaug spends little time fleshing out most of the dwarf characters. For that matter, the film takes a lot of the focus away from Bilbo, and only gets back on track towards its climax. Nobody in the film truly gets his or her due, aside from a brief love story between the dwarf Kili (Aidan Turner) and Tauriel the elf (Evangeline Lilly), but that B-plot is not in the Tolkien book, and feels wholly unnecessary to the plot.
Despite a lack of overall character development, The Desolation of Smaug still packs all the requisite action fans of Tolkien’s work expect, and bolsters it with some truly impressive effects work. The film does end in the most abrupt way possible, teasing the trilogy’s sure-to-be-epic conclusion, but the fact that audiences will be left clamoring for more says a lot about the film’s improvements.
Moviegoers looking for fantastic action this holiday season should look no further than The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. The story might be thin, but the action is anything but. What’s more, the action in this film is appropriately fantastical in nature, never taking itself too seriously, but focusing on what’s most important: entertainment; and on that front it delivers.
Jackson makes great work of the source material, but also expands it to fit sequences that impress on nearly every level. The choreography, the visual effects, and the tiny splashes of humor all add up to something that feels uniquely Tolkien, or at least “Jacksonian.” Even the inclusion of Legolas, which comes across as more a calculated marketing ploy than anything else, works in the context of creating a more entertaining movie. He’s there to wow, and boy does he. From top to bottom, the action in The Desolation of Smaug is pure spectacle, and makes the film well worth recommending.
Cast and Crew
- Director(s): Peter Jackson
- Screenwriter(s): Fran WalshPhilippa BoyensPeter Jackson
- Story: Guillermo del Toro
- Cast: Ian McKellen (Gandalf)Martin Freeman (Bilbo) Richard Armitage (Thorin)Ken Stott (Balin)Orlando Bloom (Legolas)Evangeline Lilly (Tauriel)Lee Pace (Thranduil)Cate Blanchett (Galadriel)Benedict Cumberbatch (Smaug/Necromancer)
- Cinematographer: Andrew Lesnie
- Production Designer(s): Dan Hennah
- Costume Designer:
- Casting Director(s):
- Music Score:
- Music Performed By: Howard Shore
- Country Of Origin: USA