"The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug" (2013)

The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug (2013)
Directed by: Peter Jackson
Running time: 161 minutes

You know what’s stupid about the Christmas/New Year’s period? The fact that it is referred to as the “Holiday Season”. Everyone looks forward to this time of year as it means that they get some time off from work or school and can spend time with their families, eat lots and get showered with gifts. And now I say “everyone” but really what I’m saying is “everyone except those who work in retail”. Ironically, the Holiday Season is the one time of year that retail staff cannot take any holidays and they work longer hours and do more shifts so as to supply all the aforementioned food and gifts to everyone else. I am one of those retail staff members, and do you know what Christmas Day is to myself and others like me? Just a day off inbetween going mad serving last minute shoppers on Christmas Eve and becoming exhausted from people who feel they didn’t get enough presents and need to buy more things on Boxing Day!

Anyway, I won’t go on ranting as I could be here all night; suffice to say that reviews have been lacking somewhat on Now Showing over December due to the mania of working in the Holiday Season. My apologies to you all, but I thought I would ring in the New Year of 2014 with the biggest film to be screening at the moment in cinemas: the next installment of The Hobbit trilogy! On with the show!

Now Showing this week is The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug, again directed by Peter Jackson. Having escaped the Goblin hoards (and secretly collecting the One Ring from Gollum), Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), Gandalf (Ian McKellan) and their company of Dwarves have almost reached their destination: the Lonely Mountain. Within it’s cavernous walls is the ancient Dwarven kingdom of Erebor, and is currently occupied by a single dragon named Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch). It is now time for Bilbo to honour his part of the contract he signed in the first film, that is to sneak into Smaug’s lair and steal a precious jewel called the Arkenstone. For only with it in his possession can King Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) unite the other Dwarven clans to go to war against Smaug himself and finally reclaim their home.

I’m going to come right out and say that Desolation of Smaug is a quite an improvement on last year’s An Unexpected Journey. The pacing was much better, with slower moments being less frequent and there always being a sense of purpose to each stage of the quest. Opening with a bang encountering the horrors of Mirkwood Forest, and building to the confrontation with Smaug himself, the movie is quite enthralling for the two hours and forty minutes duration. This is an excellent change, as while An Unexpected Journey was clearly an introductory film for the larger story at hand, it did tend to drag due to its lack of character (aside from a few of the leads) and less sense of urgency. Desolation of Smaug on the other hand is much more pressing, with the prophecy of the secret door to the mountain only being available until the final light of Durin’s Day which is fast approaching. It really kicked all the characters into gear when it came to lingering in certain areas and being confronted by obstacles, something the film sorely needed.

What this film (and the previous one) didn’t need, however, is more of this “connecting the story to Lord of the Rings” stuff. Seriously, we get that this film contains stuff relevant to Lord of the Rings and we don’t need extra scenes telling us more of what we already know. We know that Sauron is gaining strength and coming back to attack Middle Earth. We know this because we’ve seen Lord of the Rings! We don’t need to see Gandalf having a sudden of “What? Sauron is returning?!” because I’m pretty sure he had that realisation in Fellowship of the Ring. We also don’t need to see him learning that the nine Ring Wraiths have escaped their prision cells for the same damn reason. All we need to see in terms of Lord of the Rings connections are what is included in the Dwarves’ story: that Bilbo found the One Ring and Gollum in the cave, that’s it! All this other stuff is clearly just padding, and it is just needless and boring.

On a more positive note,  the film did at least make an effort to improve on the blandness of the first film on the character front. Bilbo, Gandalf and Thorin still hold the most attention as major players, and some of the Dwarves still haven’t even spoken lines yet (in nearly six hours of film?! WHY ARE THEY EVEN THERE?!); but a few of the Dwarves were given a bit of time to establish themselves as having personalities, particularly the brothers Kili and Fili. You had to look them up didn’t you? Don’t be ashamed, I don’t blame you. The newly introduced Bard the Bowman from Laketown was also a great character addition as he had a great back story and a touching emotional tie to the quest of the Dwarves. In fact, Bard’s take on this quest was actually my favourite addition to this second installment,  as it was the first time we have seen a different side to the justification of Thorin’s desire to reclaim Erebor. Bard believes that disturbing Smaug will only bring hellfire and ruin to the Dwarves and the population of his town nearby the mountain. Thorin’s endeavour is suggested to perhaps be too selfish, and this potentially villainous side to him made for some great conflict in the film.

But the true star of this film is Smaug the dragon. Seriously, I cannot overstate the grandure of him as a character, I loved every second he was on screen. His size was breath taking, and his sleek yet ferocious movements gave him such presence on screen. But it was a combination of this visual flare and his voice that gave Smaug such a terrifying aura. Cumberbatch has proven yet again that he has an amazing voice for villains, his low register allowing him to growel out evil phrases that send shivers through your blood. I was constantly on edge during his intial encounter with Bilbo, seeing his intelligence on display and knowing full well that he could incinerate the little Hobbit whenever he wanted to. Even with its shortcomings, Desolation of Smaug is worth seeing just for the dragon, especially in HFR 3D. I normally hate 3D, but since the scenes didn’t involve too much quick panning and the movements were slower, Smaug looked amazingly detailed and real in 3D and with the high frame rate. I don’t know what more I can say, Smaug was well worth the wait!

So there you have it, Desolation of Smaug was pretty good. Sure it still suffers from needless filler (a little more obviously so now, actually) and some of the Dwarves are still such nothing characters, but the core adventure has really picked up steam and now features a compelling villian and some moral corruption. Well done Peter Jackson, you’re strangely super extended prequel trilogy is improving. But with where you chose to end part two (no spoilers!), what the heck is going to happen in part three? There ain’t much of The Hobbit  left to tell…

See you next time!


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