THE HOBBIT: THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG - Review by Steve Oatney
This review is written in three sections: Section one contains no spoilers whatsoever. Section two contains mild not-so spoiling info. Section three contains more spoilers, so beware. Though many of you probably already know some of them.
SECTION 1 - NO SPOILERS:
LOVED IT, LOVED IT, LOVED IT!!! I highly recommend it! This is one of the best “sequels” I’ve ever seen, which I enjoyed even more than the first installment. Peter Jackson’s big screen adaptations of the 1937 fantasy novel are improving, thus far, from film to film. The pacing and flow of the first film, An Unexpected Journey, just does not compare to that of The Desolation of Smaug. From character-development to story arc, and from motivations to action-scenes, this sequel outperforms the first film in the series. True, much of the setup was established in Journey, but in this relay-race of filmmaking, this “second runner” has taken the baton and circled the track with precision, gusto, and breakneck speed! We can only hope that installment three can keep up the pace!
SECTION 2 - MINOR SPOILERS:
My main worries, for this sequel, were that:
A) The 3D would be unworthy, as it usually has been in so many other 3D films I’ve seen.
B) The story would change greatly from the middle-ish part of the legendary J.R.R. Tolkien novel that has entertained multiple generations.
C) Being a sequel, I feared that it just plain wouldn’t live up to the first one (or to the previously released Lord of the Rings trilogy). The majority of sequel films, in my experience, failed to be as enjoyable as the original, with only a few exceptions.
I am oh so happy to say that all three of my concerns were fully put to rest! Actually, I appreciated the 3D in parts, which surprised me. There were a few cliché uses of 3D, but those only momentarily removed me from the story in the smallest way. As for the story changes, diverting from book-to-film, I’ll start by saying that I loved them all, without much reservation.
SECTION 3 - SPOILERS!!!:
Stop reading now, if you don’t want anything spoiled, whatsoever.
Let’s talk about characters, new and old, shall we? As we all know, writers and directors often make changes to originally written characters. Sometimes small changes, sometimes enormous, and the creators of the Hobbit films are no exception. Let’s start with Legolas (Orlando Bloom), who did not appear Tolkien’s novel, nor did Tauriel, the newly added female wood elf played by Lost's Evangeline Lily. Azog the Orc Chieftain (Manu Bennett), I believe, was mentioned in the book, but in these first two films, he plays a much more major role. Plus, Galadriel (Cate Blanchett), Radaghast the Brown (Sylvester McCoy), and Sauron (Benedict Cumberbatch) do not make appearances in the novel, but do in the film.
All of the above characters have now made appearances, and some have even become starring roles! Appalling to some die-hard Tolkien purists, perhaps, but not to this long-time fan of the book and films! I, personally, have read The Hobbit multiple times, and can honestly say that I am not offended by the additions, subtractions, nor the changes made from paper to screen.
Tauriel is probably my new favorite character in the Tolkien universe, surpassing even Bilbo (Martin Freeman), with whom I’ve always identified with most. This elf warrior is not only easy on the eyes, but she is probably the best fighting character that director Peter Jackson has ever put on-screen! She’s tougher than Gimli (LOTR), more agile than Strider (LOTR), and faster than Legolas! They even gave her a love interest, and I’ll only spoil that by saying that he is not an elf. None of this was in the novel, but it cannot be argued that the cast of the novel is overloaded with males and sorely needed an infusion of female characters. It is, of course, only natural that one of the boys might fancy her, don’t you think? Sidenote: Because of Evangeline’s portrayal of this role, I now believe more than ever that actress Gal Gadot might be able to pull off WONDER WOMAN! Sorry for that tangent.
Back to Legolas. I was somewhat dreading to see him wedged into this story, figuring that it would feel forced. It, happily, did not. Whew! He was integral to the story, and a perfect addition to the wood elves! As for others, Galadriel, Radghast, Thranduil (Lee pace), and Sauron make smaller appearances in this installment, so they do not greatly alter the story one way, or another. Thranduil does get a bit of depth and screen-time, which shows us a different side of an elf that some of us may not have assumed for his character. Sauron’s cameo is certainly powerful and well done as he engaged Gandalf in some toe-to-toe for a scene in Dol Guldur.
Smaug… what is that you ask? Is Smaug the dragon a small, or large, part in this 2-of-3 movie? I have to say his role is much larger than I thought it would be, and a bit larger than was in the book at this point in the story. Quite fun, and very well done, voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch, and animated with fantastic realistic precision, chasing Bilbo and the dwarves around the city under the mountain, Erebor.
Backing up a bit, to the barrel-riding scene that the book describes so well. Like myself, many of you know, and love, that scene… it does change in the film, but it does great justice to that suspense-filled part of the story. Also, Beorn the “skin-changer” (werebear) and Mirkwood Forest were significantly shorter scenes than in the book, but both well treated and thoroughly enjoyable. The wonderful scene at the dangerous river in Mirkwood, if you remember it from the book, has been sadly deleted, though it does not really affect the flow of the story.
Realizing now that my review is mostly a direct comparison against the book, I apologize, as we all know that comparing films to books is a bit like apples to oranges. With that, I’ll say that wholeheartedly I recommend The Desolation of Smaug, and I wait on bated breath for the final installment in the trilogy! We can only hope that 3 is as much fun as 2.