Arts Review, Movies

The Hobbit The Desolation of Smaug

The Hobbit The Desolation of Smaug featured image

Peter Jackson, director & co-script w/Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens & Guillermo del Toro based on the novel by J.R.R. Tolkien

Starring: Ian McKellen (Gandalf), Martin Freeman (Bilbo), Richard Armitage (Thorin), Benedict Cumberbatch (Smaug and Necromancer), Orlando Bloom (Legolas), Evangeline Lilly (Tauriel), Luke Evans (Bard the Bowman), Lee Pace (Thranduli), Stephen Fry (Master of Lake-town), Aidan Turner (Kili), Mikael Persbrandt (Beorn)

The buzz

Resounding! The Lord of the Rings franchise has made billions of dollars. This film is the most eagerly awaited sequel since the release of 2002’s The Two Towers, the second part of the earlier Ring trilogy.

The genres

Epic fantasy; swords and sorcery; mythology; Wagner goes pop

The premise

Thorin, the Dwarf King, is leading a dozen dwarves to Erebor, their ancient kingdom, which was destroyed by the fierce dragon Smaug. Accompanying the dwarves is Gandalf, a mighty wizard and Bilbo Baggins, a hobbit, who has the reputation of being a great thief. Their object is to steal back the white jewel, the Arkenstone, which will give Thorin the legitimacy to make him the true ruler of Erebor.

Thorin’s band is facing a huge task. Nearly everyone is against them: the terrifying Orks, the beautiful Elves (who are indifferent to their fate) and, of course, Smaug, the now sleeping dragon.

Structured as a road trip replete with menace, The Desolation of Smaug depicts the dwarves’ mad dash to Erebor, where the dragon resides, sleeping over an enormous treasure.

Racing from the Orks, Thorin, the dwarves and Bilbo fight endlessly as Gandalf, their guide, takes on the biggest threat, the “one”, the Necromancer, who wants to bring darkness to the world.

On the way, the dwarves fight Orks and giant spiders, are captured and escape from the Elves and, somewhat later, the denizens of Lake-town, and eventually reach Erebor. There, Bilbo awakens Smaug in his quest to find the Arkenstone.

This being the second part of the Hobbit trilogy, nothing is resolved. An angry Smaug (never wake up a dragon!) is on his way to wreak havoc on Lake-town as the film concludes.

The performances

This is Tolkien, not Shaw or Shakespeare. The actors are expected to stay in character as the special f/x and madly careening plot keeps the audiences’ attention worldwide. That said, the veteran actor Ian McKellen conveys his usual gravitas as Gandalf; Stephen Fry is oafishly funny as the Master of Lake-town; Martin Freeman makes a splendid Bilbo; Benedict Cumberbatch’s voice is suitably silky and menacing as Smaug—and terrifying as the Necromancer; and it’s just nice to see a woman in this male dominated universe, so kudos to Evangeline Lilly, a lovely Canuck from Fort Saskatchewan, who plays the elf warrior Tauriel.

Peter Jackson: auteur

When he took on The Hobbit and transformed a slim volume into another epic trilogy, Peter Jackson took a defining step in his career. He had been a director of promise, who had made one significant film—Heavenly Creatures—before he took on The Lord of the Rings trilogy. The overwhelming success of those films placed Jackson in an enviable position: essentially he could do anything. But after the artistic failures of King Kong and The Lovely Bones, he seems to have beaten a retreat back to the land of Tolkien.

I’ve visited New Zealand and it’s clear that he’s a national hero there, having done wonders for the economy and cultural output of the nation through the Rings brand. But what price glory? Will Jackson ever do another successful film after the last part of the Hobbit trilogy?

The skinny

OK. Does Desolation of Smaug work? Will you be entertained?

The answer is “yes.” This time there are no boring scenes of dwarves drinking mead and washing dishes. The plot is suitably frenetic. Rest assured—you won’t be bored.

Is this the best possible Hobbit? Well, no. That would be a lighter fantasy tale that could be told in one film. Maybe some day we’ll see that sort of Hobbit but I doubt it. Peter Jackson has made The Hobbit for the ages, for better or worse.

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