The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Posted: January 4, 2014 in Film reviews

Directed by Peter Jackson. Starring Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Richard Armitage.

You know what it’s like, you’re at a party and you meet a girl (or a guy) and they’re great. They’re good looking and smart and witty and you get on like a house on fire. But then, just when you’ve begun to daydream about them being ‘the one’ they ruin everything. You’ve clicked, yet they’re still trying to sell themselves, and rather than letting you tell one of your stories, or sharing a quiet pause, or maybe even a kiss, they instead just keep talking. It’s as if they don’t expect to ever see you again so they’re going to make sure you know everything about them, even if it means they’re going to talk all night.

The Desolation of Smaug is a bit like that.

Be under no illusions, for a time I was sat there in the cinema thinking that this film was amazing, and might well be my film of 2013 (though this review is written in 2014 I saw the film on the 30th!) but then it just went on, and on, and on…

Jackson is a director with true flair, he has a cast, locations and (probably) a budget to die for, but the one thing he seems incapable of doing anymore is editing his work. Because he can put every last bit of The Hobbit on screen he’s going to damn well do so!

On the plus side, despite its length this is an improvement over An Unexpected Journey, its better paced and doesn’t make you wait an hour or so for something to happen. Instead we’re quickly into the action, and once it starts it’s a while before it slows down, and it doesn’t reduce speed for long. No one can accuse this film of being dull, even if it does get a little repetitive, in the way a succession of roller coasters would eventually become a little wearing.

Freeman seems more comfortable with his now more experienced Bilbo (maybe it’s the ring?) and McKellen could probably play Gandalf in his sleep. I’m not suggesting he is, just that he probably could, and he’d probably still be excellent. The real stand out for me is Armitage though, imbuing Thorin with nobility and bravery with a slight edge of selfish cowardice, which isn’t an easy balance.

The rest of the dwarves have finally started to come into their own, and whilst only a couple seemed to register as individuals in An Unexpected Journey, here most, if not all, get something to do besides run with the pack.

Though Legolas is in the Hobbit about as much as Galadriel is (i.e. he’s not) it’s nice of Jackson to remind us that once Orlando Bloom was the coolest badass on the planet, although now he has some competition from Evangeline Lilly as fellow elf Tauriel. Even though her character is original to the story she never feels like she’s been shoehorned in, and Lilly is an unexpected pleasure in the role (see what I did there?) more than holding her own in the fight scenes, and her little romance with Kili is actually rather sweet as well.

The film looks stunning for the most part, although at times the high frame rate still has a tendency to make bits still look like the making of documentary, and whilst for the most part the effects are magnificent, far too often they’re shoddier than you’d expect from a film this high profile—take the barrels/rapids sequence for example.

There are no such issues with the realisation of Smaug himself, now there is a dragon! It’s just a shame we have to wait so long for him to show up. He is a truly menacing creation, huge and destructive, yet with an almost catlike litheness to him.

The Desolation of Smaug is a good film, it’s just a shame that Jackson lacks the discipline to make it a great one. The argument has been rehashed again and again but it won’t go away because it’s so pervasive. Jackson make three epic films out of three epic books, but it doesn’t follow that he should make three epic films out of one slightly less epic book, and too often the story gets side-tracked. Losing much of the Gandalf plot wouldn’t actually harm the overall story too much (apart from explaining why the old Wizard keeps buggering off perhaps) and there are many other occasions where you feel judicious use of scissors might have improved matters.

Brilliant but bloated.

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