Dear Peter Jackson – two simple words from me. Thank you!
With An Unexpected Journey (a film that I loved), people doubted you. Why is it in 48fps? Why is it so long? Why is a short book now three films? We’ve heard all the arguments and the criticisms etc. After watching The Desolation of Smaug, to all the doubters, I hope their faith was restored because for me, The Desolation of Smaug was amazing. Not only does The Desolation of Smaug set up the third film nicely, The Hobbit is now becoming the perfect bookend to The Lord of the Rings trilogy.
As mentioned in my trailer reaction, Peter Jackson overcame the hardest part of the book. An Unexpected Journey would probably feel to some people a 3hr long tease. But in The Desolation of Smaug, your patience is rewarded.
The film picks up where the last film left off – Bilbo, the dwarves and Gandalf continue making their way to the Lonely Mountain. But along the way they face many obstacles such as Beorn, the spiders of Mirkwood, the wood-elves, the Necromancer and of course, Smaug himself.
I think it is a little unfair for people to compare The Hobbit films to the LOTR trilogy. Tonally they are different (but within the same universe). But already, Jackson is making sure that both trilogies are linking up and at the same time, has made a few changes that differ or are additional to the Middle Earth universe. Just like in the book, Gandalf leaves the company behind to investigate the evil that surrounds Dol Gondur. While Gandalf takes a back seat, we are beginning to see the rise of the evil and the eventual hint/excited promise of the battle of the five armies. For the first time, we see Bilbo experience the effects from the prolong exposure to the One Ring. For me (since I’ve read the book) this was welcomed. Bilbo (in the book) relies on the ring to conduct his burglar activities but the book never truly mentions the true power it holds. He just uses it freely while the dwarves praise him for his ingenuity, even though they are clueless as to how he does it. In the film Bilbo temporarily loses the ring after battling the spiders in Mirkwood, and when he notices a baby (although still big) spider going after the ring, he kills it. He may not understand it but in the moment of rage, he realises the change in his behaviour and is horrified by it. It was perfect for me and I’m glad Jackson and co. took the opportunity to insert that and hopefully we will see more of it.
“It is our fight!” – Tauriel
Another big change from the book and the film adaptation is the inclusion of Tauriel (Evangeline Lily) and her caring relationship towards Kili (Aidan Turner). It’s an interesting dynamic and brings purpose to the story.
In many ways, The Desolation of Smaug comes off more like a political film. I’m not talking about false, hypocritical politicians. I’m talking about Thorin’s quest to regain his homeland has a corruptible greed aspect about it, especially towards others interested in his quest. They want favourable gains and the lines of morality and doing what is necessarily right, is blurred. Thranduil (Lee Pace) is a willing helper for Thorin’s quest, but not without treasure for himself. While Thorin (Richard Armitage) gives the equivalent of Dwarfish FU when he rejects his offer, Thranduil is no fool, as he has also suffered the effects of dragon fire but is ultimately looking after his own kingdom. The Master of Laketown (Stephen Fry), a drunkard and gout-suffering mayor, is blinded by potential wealth and much needed authority in his rule. There is even question and doubt over Thorin himself – is his quest noble or will he also succumb to the greed beset by his grandfather? It’s Tauriel (and Bard to a certain extent) who can see the bigger picture. Evil is growing and if they do nothing, the world would be lost. Those feelings of conviction and compassion convince a dutiful and obedient Legolas (a change from what we are use to with his character) that there is more to than just keeping the enemy at bay. It gives Tauriel and Kili’s relationship the opportunity to break down the barriers of past history and divide and gives the dwarves a greater sense of responsibility, sympathy and much needed personality. And it shows, there’s more warmth to them that you can easily engage with.
I mentioned that Bard (Luke Evans) can also see the bigger picture and that is true. From his own family history, he knows what Smaug can do and his weakness and he is the only one who sees that. He’s not blind like the others and because of his beliefs, he is chased by the equivalent of the “secret police” under the orders of the Master of Laketown who feels Bard is trying to undermine him and his authority. No doubt, we’ll be seeing more of Bard in the third film and the significant role he will play.
Already The Desolation of Smaug is a massive improvement over An Unexpected Journey and the sole reason is because there is more in this chapter of the story. Coincide with Gandalf’s quest as he battles the Necromancer, the stakes have been raised to a climatic showdown with Smaug and the upcoming third film, There and Back Again. The film is action-packed making every part of the experience worthwhile. The visual effects are excellent – you can’t fault it. You could almost accuse Peter Jackson of saving everything for this film! But alas, there is more to come.
But no film is without its flaws. Beorn, for example is such an awesome character in the book so it’s a shame that on screen he was only there for a few moments at the beginning. While The dwarf story takes a centre stage in the film, Bilbo’s heroics are kinda mixed but I accept the changes. One of my favourite passages from the book is the spiders of Mirkwood. After his encounter with Gollum, Bilbo shows courage and bravery and outwits the spiders. What you see on screen is a cut down version (probably due to length and making it work for film) with Bilbo showing aspects of his bolder courage. I’m not saying the scene was terrible, I guess I wanted to see more of Bilbo becoming more fearless than the reluctant hobbit we saw in the last movie. The whole scene was over before it started. Hopefully in the extended version we might see more of Bilbo’s courage against the spiders and more of Beorn, Beorn especially as it is not the last we will see of him. The run time might be a little excessive for some but was ok for me because there were enough elements in story to keep me invested.
“Truly songs and tales fall utterly short of your enormity, O Smaug the Stupendous…” – Bilbo
But I have saved the best thing about The Desolation of Smaug for last and that’s Smaug himself. If people loved “Riddles in the Dark” then Smaug is a creature scene-stealer! I think my love of Benedict Cumberbatch has reached epic levels lol. His voice is just perfect for Smaug and the perfect juxtapose against others in Middle Earth. Smaug knows that greed attracted him to the Lonely Mountain but also senses it within others. Smaug senses it within Bilbo when he questions him about why he was there. He also hints at Thorin’s fate whilst offering up his opinion on Thorin’s true ambition at Bilbo’s purpose to the quest. He is also a character that is not deceived by flattery as Bilbo uses every adjective to describe him. That’s what great about the final climax of the film – it’s the way Smaug interacts with Watson Bilbo. It’s menacing, sinister and unforgiving and like I said, Cumberbatch with his voice brings out the depth that this dragon has. In fact when you see Smaug in all his glory, he is the embodiment of greed and selfishness, surrounded by treasure – possessive traits that could infect Thorin, The Master of Laketown and Thranduil if they are not careful. Smaug’s battle with Bilbo and the Dwarves in the mountain is everything you want from an adventure film and I love that battle was extended because it was too short in the book. Whilst I won’t spoil the ending, the way it ended makes you wish that There and Back Again was released tomorrow and not next year. Seriously I thought something went wrong with the projector! I groaned.
The Desolation of Smaug is a strong film and much better than An Unexpected Journey. I loved it and it’s easily one of the best films of the year. The whimsical and light-hearted approach has gone, replaced by a tonally darker film. Whether you are a fan (like me) or not, the stakes are now raised and the ending alone will leave you wanting more. So much more.
Can’t wait for next year.