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Review: ‘The Desolation of Smaug’ breathes fire back into ‘Hobbit Trilogy’

Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) faces even greater challenges in the second installment of The Hobbit trilogy.
Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) faces even greater challenges in the second installment of The Hobbit trilogy.

When it was announced Peter Jackson would adapt the timeless Tolkein fantasy book ‘The Hobbit,’ over the course of another 3 movies, expectations were sky-high. The first of the new trilogy, ‘An Unexpected Journey’ was one of the more hotly debated movies of last year, with critics and fans arguing over its quality, and weather it was the start of something beautiful or disastrous.

While you can’t please everyone, the second integration of the trilogy, ‘The Desolation of Smaug’ is definitely an improvement to the first. The movie isn’t flawless still, and those who simply didn’t enjoy the style or tone of ‘An Unexpected Journey’ probably won’t like the sequel either, even though it is somewhat darker and grimmer. It’s still not ‘Lord of the Rings’, if that’s what you’re looking for, but if you’re looking for a fun, exciting, adventure movie set in Tolkein’s stunning universe, then look no further.

The story picks up almost exactly where the last ‘Hobbit’ movie left off. Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) the still-confused and ever-humorous hobbit continues on his adventure with the persistent dwarf king Thorin (Richard Armitage) and his band of 12 other dwarves. With the Lonely Mountain in sight, it might seem like an easy walk to the dwarves’ rightful home of Erebor and all its riches. But, as it happens, one does not simply walk into Erebor. Between them and the Lonely Mountain lies a a dangerous forest, suspicious humans, antagonistic elves, evil orcs, and the giant, fire breathing dragon, Smaug (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch).

Unlike the first film, ‘The Desolation of Smaug’ dives right into the action. The pacing feels faster and more focused, especially in the beginning. It wastes no time bringing you back into the adventure. Until about halfway into the movie, its one moment of excitement after another. This actually works well, because this is a fast paced segment of the book. However, when the movie does slow down, it doesn’t drag on or lull about.

The movie has some outstanding action and excitement. The boosted roles of the orcs and elves provides for some great fight sequences. A barrel riding scene in the book that serves simply as a clever getaway trick gets flushed out into a full-blown chase sequence, with the dwarves, elves, and orcs all rushing down the river in a crazy, memorable scene. Even more memorable are the scenes between Bilbo and Smaug.

Equally impressive are the visuals. The Lonely Mountain, Mirkwood Forest, and the rest of their path is stunning. There are few moments where it really seems fake to a fault. Some may lament the huge emphasis on computer generated special effects in ‘The Hobbit’, but they do look gorgeous. I watched it in regular 24 FPS, non-3D, and the imagery was still beautiful. Any issues with the High Frame Rate 48 FPS that Jackson tried to revolutionize the industry with last film will probably still be noticeable, so opting out of it this time around may be wise, because you’re really not missing anything.

Because its the second movie in a trilogy mainly about a book that was decently short, there are some added things to the movie. Some of these additions feel useless at the moment, while some definitely add the the experience. For example, a budding romance between one of the dwarves and an original elf character feels forced and unnecessary, while diving into the importance of Laketown actually serves as good exposition and character development. Gandalf (Sir Ian McKellen) continues on a separate story, but once again it feels like it goes nowhere for now, despite seeming important.

Once again, Freeman nails Bilbo. Every scene where he’s the main focus is good. It’s especially entertaining to watch him in ‘The Desolation of Smaug’, because he finally gets to use his sword and join in on the fighting. However, Freeman actually doesn’t steal the show this time. He shares the spotlight with a voice. Although we never see his face, Cumberbatch’s reputable voice breaths fire into the massive dragon Smaug. The buildup and teasing of the last movie payed off, because Smaug truly is an experience on his own. Watching him rise from his mountains of gold and finally reveal himself is breathtaking. The scene shared between Bilbo and Smaug, and the subsequent series of events with the dragon, is a perfect climax for the movie.

The film also has a double dosage of Stephen cameos. English comedian and actor Stephen Fry plays an amusing part as the Master of Laketown. Comedian and Tolkein-enthusiast Stephen Colbert is hidden in the film somewhere as well, listed as “laketown spy” in the credits, but there’s no confirmation as to where he is exactly. Jackson also reprises his role as “drunken man eating a carrot in Bree” from the first ‘Lord of the Rings’ movie.

The only big issues with the film come from it still trying to fit gracefully into a trilogy. It’s clearly working for the most part, but there are awkward side effects, namely the uninteresting or underdeveloped side stories that are inserted in. Perhaps they’ll play a bigger role next movie, but it’s hard to say even now. It also drops the audience off at an obnoxiously teasing cliffhanger. Great incentive to go to the next one, but a bit of a punch to the gut for the movie on its own.

Overall, ‘The Desolation of Smaug’ keeps the new Middle Earth trilogy going strong. It manages to add a darker flare to the series, but keeps true to the adventurous, fun feeling of the story. It may be one of the most fun movies I’ve seen in recent memory, and it promises the same for the next.

‘The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug’

2 hours, 41 minutes

Rated: PG-13 for extended sequences of intense fantasy action violence, and frightening images.

Directed by Peter Jackson

Starring: Martin Freeman, Sir Ian McKellen, Richard Armitage, Benedict Cumberbatch,

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Gavin Libbey, Author

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