“The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” may have blown away my expectations but I was still uncertain about what lied ahead. I was still concerned that “The Hobbit” trilogy would run out of steam, material and creative juices; and resort to a mish mash of eye appealing special effects and action sequences with little story in between. The second entry in Peter Jackson’s epic trilogy would be dubbed “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” (a phrase that actually appears on the map that Tolkien drew for “The Hobbit”). This next adventure once again defines my previous expectations and erases all doubt, “The Hobbit The Desolation of Smaug” is a fantastic entry in the middle earth legend. I may not have quite liked “Smaug” as much as I liked “Journey” but never the less this is a sequel that comes close to matching its predecessor with outstanding special effects, incredible action and excellent character growth and storytelling. The final entry has a lot to live up too.
The Hobbit, Bilbo Baggins, the 13 dwarves (led by Thorin) and the wizard Gandalf continue on their quest to Erebor to reclaim the dwarves homeland and slay the dragon Smaug that now claims the mountain as his home. To achieve this, the group must past through elf territory without being captured as relations between dwarves and elves continue to build tension. While also fending off Azog and his army of Orcs, on his own quest of vengeance, out to kill Thorin at any cost. Elsewhere, Gandalf looks into Ragadast the Brown’s story about the Necromancer, but the truth is worst than he could have imagined.
As with the last “Hobbit” entry I was quite concerned with the amount of material that they would try to make into another almost three hour film. Yet just like “An Unexpected Journey”, “Desolation of Smaug” has many different layers to the story. Writing a synopsis of this film was a little tricky at first simply because I was trying to hit on all of the different subplots along with it’s over arching plot (I didn’t even mention anything about Lake-Town yet). Yet with all of this, Peter Jackson continues to show us why he is one of the best filmmakers at telling large scale epic stories and handling them properly.
Some want to compare George Lucas’s Prequel “Star Wars” trilogy to Jackson’s “Hobbit” trilogy but I think the biggest difference between them is the two directors themselves. Lucas came up with a solid storyline to follow and wasn’t able to execute them properly and manage to juggle multiple plotlines (at least not until “Revenge of the Sith”). Peter Jackson is able to balance everything and give us this massive epic while also never forgetting his characters. Trust me, I’m not a “Star Wars” prequel basher like so many other “Star Wars” fans are but Lucas does commit many storytelling sins in that trilogy; and many times it’s how he handles his characters, Jackson avoids this problem.
This middle chapter continues to develop its main characters. This script is written was a sharp focus on Thorin Oakenshield. The opening scene is a flashback where Thorin and Gandalf first meet and over the course of the movie we get more and more insight into Thorin’s pain and what drives him. His character gets so much attention that it almost seems as though the series has shifted its main character from Bilbo to Thorin. Some may not like this feeling that Bilbo seems to be pushed aside for Thorin but I would argue that Bilbo got his proper development in “An Unexpected Journey” and now Jackson can continue his story while also now moving on to focusing on other characters, like Thorin. Many points in “Lord of the Rings” Aragon felt like the main character even though Frodo’s quest is the main story arc. In many ways this shift towards Thorin feels fitting.
After the Dwarves leave Laketown, (and a great introduction to the character Bard played by Luke Evans) and head to the mountain, there we finally meet Smaug. He was mostly kept hidden in the trailer and eagerly did all us “Hobbit” fans await for the moment when Bilbo and Smaug meet face to face, and it did not disappoint. Smaug could be one of the greatest on screen appearances of a dragon in film history. The motion capture work on Benedict Cumberbatch was nothing short of grounding breaking. While he voice acting work shows off his menace but also manages to showcase his intelligence (I could picture Smaug teaching a English class at Oxford).
There are a few more flaws with this installment than the previous one. The one’s from “An Unexpected Journey” return here (a little too much CGI and the action scenes get a little over the top, even though they are entertaining as hell). “Desolation of Smaug” runs into some pacing problems early on with the forest of Mirkwood scenes dragging on a bit too long and the finale is also a bit stretched out. I believe a good 5-10 minutes of this film could have been shaven off and the romance between Killi (Dwarf) and Tauriel (Elf) was an unnecessary addition. Tauriel I had no quam with, but the romance was poorly handled.
Like my “Unexpected Journey” review I want to touch on the extended edition of the film. Unlike “Journey” the extended edition of “Smaug” adds quite a bit more relevant material. Beorn’s character is expanded upon, Thorin’s lost father is included in a major new addition to the story (that is not present in the theatrical cut). The only issue that this new extended cut has is the extra scenes in the forest of Mirkwood (the sequence was already long enough).
Unlike others I felt that “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” did not quite match “An Unexpected Journey” but it’s not far off from it either. “Smaug” is yet another great addition to the Peter Jackson’s Middle Earth Saga, and features one of the best cliffhangers in recent film history that will leave you begging for the grand finale, “The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies”.