“The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” Movie Review

    



     With Peter Jackson’s “The Hobbit” trilogy being based solely on one book, it seems difficult to judge “The Desolation of Smaug” since it’s the middle part and lacks a true beginning or an end.  After a short prologue that brings to light exactly how and why Gandalf (Ian McKellen) organized the events in “An Unexpected Journey” with Thorin (Richard Armitage), “The Desolation of Smaug” picks up immediately following the ending of the last film and then proceeds to end with a cliffhanger that would make the producers of “24” proud.  It seems likely my review of next year’s “There and Back Again” will judge this trilogy as a whole with a true beginning and end, as the story arc will then be complete.  Even without the normal three act narrative, “The Desolation of Smaug” is a worthy addition to Jackson’s fantastical series of Middle Earth tales.  Essentially, we are again seeing our band of Dwarf warriors walking from one point to another, but like in the real world, there are places you simply shouldn’t go.  The highlights of “The Desolation of Smaug” shine brightest when their path to Erebor, the lost Dwarf Kingdom, is ripe with obstacles created by hoards of nasty beasts and the peril that ensues.

     As an audience, we have developed quite a bit more confidence in Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), as he proved quite capable of coming through when needed most in the last chapter.  It certainly helps he now has the “One Ring” in his possession as it’s mystical power allows Bilbo to become invisible, a key component of being an effective burglar and an attribute he most definitely will need for the task at hand.  As the prologue in “An Unexpected Journey” documented, the fallen Dwarf Kingdom Erebor and all it’s riches is guarded by the sleeping dragon Smaug.  By way of a secret entrance, the group looks to send Bilbo in and find the Arkenstone, a powerful gem Thorin believes will help him take back his rightful throne.  This has to be done; however, without waking Smaug as the group would be unable to kill the dragon alone.

  Jackson again creates a striking vision of Middle Earth and continues to let the audience experience it in great detail with his signature aerial swoops and fly overs.  These views allow the audeince to see both the sheer size and scope of what’s ahead and also the daunting terrain our heroes must overcome in order to arrive at their destination.  Along the way, Bilbo and the dwarves battle giant spiders and continue to be hunted by Azog and the Orcs.  Sensing that evil is coming, Gandolf departs from the group to investigate, leaving the dwarves alone as they make their way through the Mirkwood forest, and finds himself in a situation which is somewhat of a prelude to the future.

     There are several crossover characters within this film that will be recognized from Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, with one being Legolas (Orlando Bloom), the son of the Elven King Thranduil.  As the dwarves tangle with the nefarious Orcs, Jackson creates a spectacular tour de force action sequence, featuring a chase down a white water river as Legolas and his partner, Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly), are defending the dwarves with acrobatic leaps and flips from land to water and back combined with pin point accurate archery skills.  The sequence stands as one of the best action scenes of the year and the best of this series so far.  Because Jackson and his team of effects wizards have executed at this level before, it’s easy to take for granted the undeniable skill and craftsmanship displayed from scene to scene which brings to life the world these characters occupy.  Never once during “Desolation of Smaug” do you not have the feeling you are watching something truly epic, which leads me to believe the technical categories at this years Oscars have a clear winner here.  Expect nods for Cinematography, Visual Effects, Make Up, Sound, and Sound Editing with possible wins in each.

     The film’s framework may remind you of this past summer’s “World War Z” in that Jackson presents us with a seemingly never ending thrill ride, only to slow down to a much more methodical approach for the film’s final act.  As voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch, Smaug is a glorious photo realistic CGI creation.  It doesn’t seem that long ago when we were in awe of the first CGI dragon seen in the 1996 film “DragonHeart”, but the filmmakers here have brought Smaug to a whole other level entirely.  As you may guess, Bilbo’s skills as a burglar are quite limited as there really is no way to walk on mountains of gold coins without making any noise.  Even with the aid of the “One Ring”, Bilbo struggles to avoid Smaug’s keen senses and ultimately is caught.  The voice talent of Cumberbatch combined with solid screenwriting allows for Smaug to function as a worthy and quite capable villain who poses a seemingly unstoppable threat.

     Adding to the effectiveness of the story is a crucial human element led by Bard (Luke Evans), a bowman who smuggles the dwarves to Lake-town, which sits floating on a body of water just short of Lonely Mountain and in direct harms way of Smaug.  When a fantasy film is populated by everything from Hobbits to Orcs and Elves, sometimes it’s difficult for an audience to latch on to these characters emotionally since we know they are not real.  The presence of a number of compelling human characters ratchets up those emotional connections, giving the audience more to lose should Bilbo and the dwarves fail and awaken Smaug.  Even if I were to tell you exactly where this chapter stops, it wouldn’t matter.  Nothing will be resolved until next December.  GRADE: A