The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
(M) Warner DVD/BD & Digital Download
Much has been written about Peter Jackson’s decision to expand Tolkien’s The Hobbit into a trilogy of films, with more than a few considering it a cynical, opportunist move. After the first instalment, An Unexpected Journey, confirmed the fears of many, underwhelming and feeling unnecessarily drawn out, The Desolation of Smaug faced a tougher task. It is two-and-a-half hours of act two, with no beginning and no end.
The film picks up where An Unexpected Journey left off, with our band of brothers continuing their journey towards the Lonely Mountain. On their way they will be pursued by Orcs, trapped by giant spiders, taken prisoner by the woodland elves of Mirkwood and gain allies in the people of Lake-town, all before finally reaching their destination and coming face to face with the terrible dragon, Smaug.
The good news is that The Desolation of Smaug is a vastly superior film to its prequel. While it is still long, clocking in at 161 minutes, it doesn’t feel stretched, the pacing is much better and the film has more momentum. A movie of sequences and set pieces, The Desolation of Smaug has two specific highpoints: an exhilarating rapid river chase sequence which sees the dwarves being pursued by orcs and elves, who battle each other on the river banks; and the introduction of the title character, the terrible dragon Smaug, an amazing visual effects achievement.
Expanding a book that is significantly shorter than The Lord of the Rings into a trilogy of films that is every bit as long requires some additions. While An Unexpected Journey was largely true to the source material, in The Desolation of Smaug this new material starts to come into play. Some of the additions come from unpublished Tolkien manuscripts like “The Quest of Erebor” while others are original ideas from the screenwriters. The most notable of these original ideas is the introduction of a new character, the female head of the Mirkwood Elven guard Tauriel, whose presence allows for a love triangle with Orlando Bloom’s returning Legolas and one of the dwarves, Kili, as well as bringing a feminine presence to a film which is otherwise very male dominated.
While its only being the middle of the story robs the climactic scenes of some of their power – we have to cut away from Smaug, Bilbo and the dwarves in the halls of Erebor in order to keep tabs on what is going on with other characters – The Desolation of Smaug is a step in the right direction for Jackson’s franchise. Retaining the sense of adventure which differentiates this series from the darker The Lord of the Rings trilogy, this second instalment finds the sense of momentum that was missing from its prequel.