So here we are again, the end of the year and another journey, this time not so unexpected, to Middle Earth and the trials and tribulations of Bilbo Baggins and Thorin Oakenshield’s band of dwarves on their campaign towards the Kingdom of Erebor to confront menacing dragon Smaug. I would go in to further detail on the ins and outs of the goings on in The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug, but quite frankly, I have never read the book and have seen the the first cinematic instalment only once along with similar single viewings of each of the Lord Of The Rings trilogy. In short, I am not the person to come to for an in depth analysis and comparison to the source text or for clarification of the minutia of the on going plot. Instead, I treat these films as a pure exercise in cinematic laziness. I enter the theatre, I sit down, and I spend the next three hours mostly enjoying scenes from a world that I have grown up with yet do not completely, or even remotely, understand. Here are my unqualified thoughts.
For a film entitled The Hobbit, there is surprisingly little of Martin Freeman at the forefront of the picture. This is a shame as he is undoubtedly the most endearing and likeable screen presence, the inevitable effect of having to produce a large amount of filler activity for a film trilogy inspired by a very short novel. The sentiment has been bandied about from here to kingdom come, but Freeman really was born to play Bilbo Baggins. His ability to portray such a vast range of emotion simply by raising a finger and an eyebrow is unparalleled and his mixture of sincerity, loyalty and courage is everything we have come to associate with the Hobbit race. The extended scenes involving Bilbo are certainly the most enjoyable in the film, including a gloriously high octane escape using barrels in theme park rapid fashion and the climactic confrontational set piece with Smaug. Where the film begins to lose its heart, though, is in its choice to give more focus to Thorin and his perspective on the journey. Of course, as rightful heir he is an important character within the narrative, but ultimately the problem is that I have no particular investment in the projected end of the series. To me, Thorin is a rather unlikeable character at this point, and I find myself lacking enthusiasm about whether or not he gets his Kingdom back, a problem, may I add, that I never experienced whilst watching Viggo Mortensen’s Aragorn in The Lord Of The Rings.
Let us take a look at the positives. The overwhelming feeling I have gotten whilst watching both The Desolation Of Smaug and An Unexpected Journey is one of great fun. Compared the Peter Jackson’s previous trilogy, these films provide us with a much less sinister representation of Middle Earth, one filled with numerous comedy set pieces and more frivolity than poor Frodo experiences in three entire films. The previously mentioned ‘barrel scene’ resulted in ten of the most enjoyable minutes I have had in a cinema all year, and the comic timing of Martin Freeman along with a number of dwarves (there are so, so many) help to provide a much lighter experience than that of The Two Towers or The Return Of The King. Another aspect to be praised is the pacing of the picture, which at 161 minutes running time felt surprisingly and refreshingly speedy, a much needed adjustment from An Unexpected Journey in which those first forty minutes in the Shire felt like an eternity.
There were more than a few elements of the film, however, that I did not enjoy. One aspect I was particularly disappointed with at times throughout the picture was the seemingly terrible looking CGI. No spoilers, but certain scenes involving molten gold left me literally laughing at how cheap and video game like they appeared, something I never thought I would be complaining about for a film with a budget of $225 million. Also, massive suspension of disbelief is needed to be able to watch The Desolation Of Smaug without getting bogged down in detail, for instance, does Legolas’ quiver ever run out if arrows or do they magically regenerate every time he removes one? Would a gigantic defensive dragon really choose to waste time conversing with a Hobbit, therefore giving him time to formulate a plan, instead of simply burning him to a crisp with the slightest yawn? I know, I know, the genre is, after all, fantasy, but I do prefer my fantastical elements not to bring me out of the film by questioning their integrity.
Overall, The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug is a worthy addition to the Tolkien based catalogue that Peter Jackson has been amassing for the past thirteen years. Nobody in their right minds would align these recent Hobbit films in with the original Lord Of the Rings trilogy in terms of quality, but I do not know of anyone who is actively opposed to being transported back to Middle Earth by the man who brought it so vividly to life for us all the years ago. It is an improvement on An Unexpected Journey, and I am a still on board and waiting for There And Back Again, so the film, no doubt, has achieved its goals.