- Directed by Peter Jackson
- December 2, 2013 (Los Angeles premiere) / December 12, 2013 (New Zealand) / December 13, 2013 (US)
- Based on the 1937 novel The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien
Bilbo and the dwarves along with Gandalf the Grey continue their quest to reclaim their homeland of the Lonely Mountain from Smaug the dragon.
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is the second part of the trilogy and as with all good midpoint films it is a very a downbeat turn for the narrative. This is also a much more of an epic story that its predecessor was, but it also still touches on a few deeper things such as power that’s fallen into the hands of the wrong people and even how the right people can be corrupted.
The wrong hands are represented by Master of Lake-town (Stephen Fry) who runs the settlement that Bilbo (Martin Freeman) and friends find themselves in for much of the story. He’s a corrupt individual who runs the once prosperous settlement and has made a fortune off of trade with the local elves. A conclusion could be drawn that he is by default funneling money for the town to himself and that is why they are not well off.
It was stated in the last film that the elves failed to help the dwarves after Smaug took over Erebor. Not that it is really dove into but how often do nations look out for their own interests rather than do the right thing? The elves certainly benefitted from being Lake-town’s only trading partner though unlike with the dwarves the benefits were more lopsided. Commentary on international politics and the conflicts that can be involved.
Power being damaging is shown with Thorin (Richard Armitage), leader of the company of dwarves and heir to the throne of Erebor, who is becoming so focused on getting the dwarf kingdom back and reclaiming the Arkenstone that he becomes cold and callous. He has become blinded to others as symbolized by his disregard for the safety of Bilbo. Balin (Ken Stott) is the only one that can get through to him and that is shaky at best.
We finally get a good look at Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch). He is a rather impressive bit of CGI. As a threat he works because he is just unadulterated evil and has the power to back up his attitude. Others are far weaker and he knows it. He speaks and acts with cold contempt.
There is a lot going on in The Desolation of Smaug which is fortunate because there is a very large cast here. A large cast with each character given a little something to a lot of something to do is difficult for most creative minds to achieve but director Peter Jackson pulls it off admirably. Each character contributes to the narrative even in a fashion equal to their presence in the film.
The threat is increasing for not only the cast but the world. Sauron’s power is secretly growing as others are distracted or simply do not care as it does not affect their self-interests. The Orcs lead by Azog the Defiler (Manu Bennett) are pressing hard against the dwarves as they are on the precipice of success. And there is the beginning of an elf and dwarf romance. The situation is serious and you feel it from the start.
The Desolation of Smaug is perhaps the best example of excessive use of CGI in film. There are points that are clearly done on a computer and not in real life and it takes you out of the story such as the river portion of the escape from the Wood-elves. Special effects should aid or clean up other effects as well as help the story. But when they are the go-to thing it reaches a point where they are noticeable, and you just are taken out of whatever fictitious world that is being created no matter how good of a job is being done.
And Peter Jackson and company do a great job here. I actually had emotional reactions to this. I didn’t cry but when they finally got to the mountain, and they were on the verge of getting to the door but couldn’t figure it out I felt that. And when Bilbo saw the way in, I was excited. And it was because this was a well-crafted culmination of everything to this point. You felt the frustration when they got there and couldn’t figure it out. You felt their sadness and disappointment. And then when Bilbo understood that the last light of the day which they needed to see the keyhole did not come from the setting sun but was reflected off the moon you were excited and thrilled.
That bit there hints at a scientific understanding in what appears to be an entirely magical world. Seriously. The moon produces no light of its own. It is all reflected. Are there Hobbit scientists?
As with life, dealing with the threat of Smaug has unforeseen consequences. You need to think through things when you take actions and the attack on Smaug puts Lake-town in danger. This is not something where actions are consequence free. This is another example of epic film making that’s not aimed at being just a spectacle. Rather it’s aimed at making fine and engaging drama and that is despite the heavy use of CGI.
As with the last film stuff is added to expand the narrative of The Desolation of Smaug. After all they had to stretch out a small book into three movies. And as with the last one I think the additional moments are definitely the more humorous stuff. But again, as with the last one, the flow is so seamless between the two that’s kind of hard to tell.
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is a great installment in The Hobbit trilogy as well as the LOTR universe. This will not disappoint!