Film Pop: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Year: 2013
Director:  Peter Jackson
Stars:  Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, Benedict Cumberbatch (voice) et al.
IMDb

Yesterday for my birthday I was treated to a trip to the cinema to see The Desolation of Smaug, the second part of the big budget Hobbit trilogy.  Having only managed to catch 2012’s An Unexpected Journey a little over a month ago, I was well prepared for this two-and-a-half-hour journey into epicdom.

Following a Bree-based flashback, the film opens with Gandalf (Ian McKellen), Bilbo (Freeman), Thorin and the dwarves (Armitage et al.) fleeing from the goblin hordes before sheltering in the house of dwarf-hating shape-shifting smaugposterbear-man Beorn (Mikael Persbrandt).  Fortunately Beorn’s hate of dwarves is surpassed by his hate of orcs, so he protects the party and advises them that the only route they can take on their quest is through Mirkwood, the forest of the dwarf-hating elves (I’m sensing a pattern here).  Before entering Gandalf heads off on one of his characteristic mysterious quests, promising to meet up afterwards (pull the other one, wizard).  In the forest the elves, captained by the ever-popular Legolas (Orlando Bloom), help rescue the troupe from giant spiders but soon lock up the dwarves in their forest fortress.  Bilbo, by virtue of being able to turn invisible (some sort of magic, I suspect), evades capture as always and cunningly engineers everyone’s escape by floating them downriver in empty barrels, despite the combined efforts of elf and orc.  This is in fact the best sequence of the film, as we get to see the bloodbath everyone loves mixed with some beautifully choreographed scenes only made possible by dwarves in barrels.  They float to the mouth of a lake, and are smuggled into conveniently-named Laketown by the unpopular Bard (Luke Evans).  After winning over the  town, the dwarves make the journey to the Lonely Mountain minus the wounded Kili (Aidan Turner), caught in a love triangle between Legolas and she-Elf Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly), his loyal brother Fili (Dean O’Gormann) and Bofur (James Nesbitt), who drank too much and overslept.  Thorin, driven by Boromir-esque greed, brings the others into the mountain to reclaim the Arkenstone from the great dragon Smaug (Cumberbatch), while Laketown is ambushed by orcs and Gandalf confronts the Necromancer (also Cumberbatch) in a duel he can never win and ends up trapped (sound familiar?).  The picture ends with Smaug heading off to wreak havoc on Laketown, just like Bard warned.

Of course as the middle film of a trilogy there are no real conclusions of any sort, but there’s enough action to stand the movie mostly on its own and the character development, notably absent in the first film, is admirable in the second.  Perhaps this is a vote in favour of stretching the novel into three movies, as it would be nowhere near enough time to devote to more than a couple of characters were this not the case.  This is seen particularly in the case of young dwarf Kili, and, unlike for example Frodo and Galadriel, Legolas’s reappearance is actually worthwhile.  The introduction of Lilly (another TV actress) as Tauriel, a character not really seen in the book, surprisingly adds a welcome softer element to a film that might otherwise have been too action packed (i.e. the previous film).  It still retains the moments of humour, mostly provided by Stephen Hunter’s Bombur and Stephen Fry’s Master of Laketown.

smaugfry
This Guy.

Overall it’s fair to say that it’s pretty pointless watching this film if you haven’t seen An Unexpected Journey and don’t plan to see next year’s conclusion, There and Back Again.  In fact, it’s a bit pointless reviewing the film at all because if you’re interested in the series you’re obligated to watch it and if you’re not then it’s a waste of (quite a lot of) your time.  But I think it’s a promising improvement on the first film, and I think the average Tolkien-lover will find The Desolation of Smaug very enjoyable, which I can definitely say I did.

My Rating:  8/10

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Film Pop: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Year: 2012
Director: Peter Jackson
Stars: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Richard Armitage
IMDb

One word: Epic

Of course this film deserves more than a single word in summary, but if I had to give one word, it would be Epic.  Epic, however, should not necessarily be taken as positively as it suggests.

I should start by saying that although the book is one I read a number of times as a child and certainly enjoyed, it’s been a number of years since my eyes graced its pages (or should that be the other way round?).  I slip therefore between analysing the film on its faithfulness to the book, about which I may well be mistaken, the inevitable comparisons with the LOTR film trilogy, and on its own merit.  It’s hard as such to come at this film objectively, but I’ll try.

To begin with, I’m not sure I’ll ever be convinced of the necessity of three films (beginning with 2 ½ hours in the cinematic edition alone!) when the original trilogy (I feel like I’m talking about Star Wars now) was far longer in the books and gets essentially the same treatment movie-wise.  I feel like at least half an hour could have been portioned over to the extended edition without losing much in the way of plot (did I really have to see a mountain have a boxing match with itself for five minutes?).  And yet Bilbo’s stalling of the trolls, one of the more intelligent and funny scenes in the book is chopped down to almost nothing to squeeze in an unnecessarily long troll/dwarf skirmish.  Some of the homages to the first three films are at best overt and at worst ludicrous.  A scene in which Thorin and the Dwarves engage the Goblin army under Azog on the verges of Moria is basically the Last Alliance scene from Fellowship recast, right down to the pivotal Isildur/Sauron confrontation.

Some of the casting and characterisation of the film made me feel uneasy in a way that I can’t explain.  When Martin Freeman was cast as Bilbo I thought he sounded perfect.  And yet he, along with a number of the Dwarves, don’t make the transition from British sitcom actor to Hollywood blockbuster star all too smoothly.  Not that they don’t play their roles well.  It just seems a little amateurish at times.  A number of the original cast (Ian Holm, Ian McKellen, Christopher (freaking) Lee) weren’t young ten years ago, and I can’t put my finger on it but there’s definitely something wrong with Gandalf.  And nobody likes Frodo.

But don’t let this criticism disguise my enjoyment of the film.  I was smiling much of the way through the film, laughing often, and in awe most of the time.  However, I got the overwhelming impression that the filmmakers made the film into more of an action-packed blockbuster to reel in those caught by the hook of the LOTR trilogy, where the book (at least in my memory) is far more subtle and intelligent.  So although it wasn’t entirely what I wanted (but should have expected) from the film, I stand by my one word summary:

Epic.

My Rating: 7.5/10