The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (film review)
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013) Warner Bros.
2 hrs. 41 mins.
Starring: Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman, Benedict Cumberbatch, Richard Armitage, Evangeline Lilly, Orlando Bloom, Cate Blanchett, Luke Evans, Stephen Fry, Sylvester McCoy, Aidan Turner
Directed by: Peter Jackson
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Genre: Science Fiction/Action & Adventure/Fantasy
Critic’s rating: ** ½ stars (out of 4 stars)
Avid moviegoers are once again reacquainted with the imaginative scope of J.R.R. Tolkien’s festive wonderworld in writer-director Peter Jackson’s frenetic follow-up to The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. In The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, Jackson revisits his style of elaborate escapist cinema—the visual vitality and expansive storytelling methods to convey Tolkien’s visionary landscape of Middle Earth.
As many diehard followers of both Tolkien and filmmaker Jackson are aware is that The Desolation of Smaug is the second entry of The Hobbit trilogy movie series. Clearly, The Desolation of Smaug has more creative flexibility, excitable movement and eye-popping action than its predecessor An Unexpected Journey. In fairness, Jackson’s first installment of his big screen Hobbit venture had to pave the foundation for the introductions of its various characterizations and situational set-ups. So The Desolation of Smaug by default should have the advantage and momentum to capitalize on the otherwise modest expectations of its adventurous original blueprint in An Unexpected Journey.
As enthusiastic and challenged as Jackson is with his skillful eye for Tolkien’s realm of Middle Earth mayhem and mystery, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug at times feels muddled and overwrought therefore stretching this fantasy-based epic into pockets of moviemaking choppiness. This occasionally impedes the focus of the central story at hand. Thankfully the inviting and off-kilter characters, aforementioned visual wonderment, enticing special effects and the overall embracing of a titillating Tolkien-related tale elevates The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug beyond its sluggish lapses.
The audience finds the daring and diminutive Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) as he continues to collaborate with Wizard Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellen) as they set out to accomplish the impossible—reclaim the Lonely Mountain and the Dwarf Kingdom of Erebor. Their mission: to snatch the magical Arkenstone gem—the key to the success in them controlling plans to take back what they insist are their rightful destinations.
However, the main obstacle that stands in the way of Baggins, Gandalf and dwarf leader Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) and his Thirteen Dwarves cohorts is the ominous presence of an orange-eyed, fire-breathing dragon Smaug (as voiced by 12 Years a Slave’s Benedict Cumberbatch). The on-going problem is that the ferocious Smaug is guarding the Arkenstone…something of an obvious concern for the scrappy Baggins and his determined entourage.
Naturally, Jackson seizes the opportunity to incorporate the perilous travels of Baggins and his colorful bunch with the animated inclusion of chaotic confrontations highlighted by swarming giant spiders, Orcs-enforced attacks and other cunning and crafty creatures that pop up to cause considerable havoc. Jackson and his team of fellow writers (Fran Walsh, Guillermo del Toro and Philippa Boyens) do all they can to muster up the massive mischievousness in The Desolation of Smaug. The results are a mixed bag of the movie feeling both cluttered and inspired by the majestic dosages of added dilemma and character-driven conflict.
Some will be rejoiced by the handful of off-beat personalities tossed into the medieval mix to spice up the percolating proceedings (particularly when instrumental Smaug protagonists Bilbo Baggins and Gandalf seem to disappear throughout the meaty stretches of the film). A few Hobbit purists may object to the invented supporting characters that parade about in this lengthy exposition. For instance, pretty and resilient elf archer Tauriel (Evengeline Lilly from TV’s “Lost”) and her handsome prisoner dwarf Kili (Aidan Turner) make for an engaging item as familiar face Legolas (Orlando Bloom representing the echoing effect of The Lords of the Rings reminiscence) is on board to counter this couple’s flirtation with envy.
Other notable names in The Desolation of Smaug universe include the assistance and support of Bard the Bowman (Luke Evans) that caters to the dwarves’ escape from their elves oppressors. Shape-shifter Beorn (Mikael Persbrandt) is an affable ally with Laketown authoritative figurehead Master (Stephen Fry) serves as another agitator. Another wizard, Radagast (Sylvester McCoy), provides companionship and strategy with the resourceful Gandalf. The always elegant and intriguing Cate Blanchett makes a cameo appearance as Galadriel.
The back-and-forth, give-and-take imprisonment and escaping antics of Baggins and the dwarves for the most part services the edgy action sequences until the film’s crucial showdown with the Smaug unfolds as we witness whether or not getting past this demonstrative beast with fare well for our Hobbit heroes to take back Prince Thorin’s entitled home-bound region.
As a signature blockbuster that boasts Jackson’s signature flourishes in excess and wonderment, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug has its compelling moments as a cinematic Tolkien adventure-land entertainment tapping into the sensationalistic senses of its menacing Make Believe World of miscreants and magic.
Smaug should not just be merely serviceable given its creative connections with the whimsical movie mastermind that is Jackson—but hey…hobbling down to see this Hobbit edition still shows positive signs of enthralling movie-related misting.
NOTE: Focus of New York film critic Frank Ochieng is a member of: