Rated PG-13 for extended sequences of fantasy action violence and some corpses
Written by Fran Walsh, Peter Jackson, Guillermo del Toro and more
Directed by Peter Jackson
Starring Ian McKellan, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage and more
Peter Jackson tends to take forever to get a trilogy started, and almost as long to wrap the thing up at the end. Both “The Fellowship of the Ring” and “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” were all set up, and if the pattern holds then next year’s “The Hobbit: There and Back Again” will have at least five or six endings.
Which means that all the best action ends up in the second movie.
“The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” is a fast-paced, wonderfully exciting adventure of a movie. It’s far less episodic than “An Unexpected Journey,” with the individual dangers all clearly tied in to the larger quest and the action building to the kind of nerve-wracking climax worthy of any hero’s journey. Though we won’t get that climax until next year - curse you, Jackson! - I was happy to get carried away on journey to get there.
For those who haven’t read the book, “The Hobbit” movies are far darker and more dramatic than Tolkien’s original story. This was done to make the movies more of a true prequel to “The Lord of the Rings” set Р the book was written before the author had plotted out the trilogy Р and a lot of the new material comes from other writings by Tolkien.
In “Desolation,” Thorin and the gang are still on their way to the Lonely Mountain to reclaim the lost dwarven kingdom from a dragon named Smaug. Various people try to warn them away, others try to imprison them, and there’s a great deal of fighting and general heroics all around. Gandalf wanders off early to heavily foreshadow Sauron (a.k.a. The Necromancer), who doesn’t do a lot of damage in these movies but gives the CGI team the chance for some great magical effects.
This time, though, Jackson and co-writer Guillermo del Toro did some of their own tweaking. Legolas is a featured character, despite never appearing in the book, and a lady warrior-elf named Tauriel has been wholly invented.
Luckily, Evangeline Lilly manages to make the character interesting without drawing attention away from the main characters, and she has a few unexpected and lovely moments with one of the dwarves that immediately won me over.
Martin Freeman is a little more low-key as Bilbo than he was in “An Unexpected Journey,” which melded him more effectively with the larger group. Richard Armitage was able to give Thorin some worrying but interesting character shadings, and several other dwarves were given the opportunity to distinguish themselves as individual characters. In the first movie they all kind of blended together for me, so I relished the opportunity to actually get to know them.
The fight scenes are all excellent, though the computer animation there hasn’t leapt quite as far past the “Lord of the Rings” days as I might have liked. The general cinematography is beautiful, with lush CGI blending into real scenes so well that I usually couldn’t tell the difference. Smaug himself, voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch, was an absolute stunner.
The ending was more abrupt than “Two Towers,” since the single source volume meant that there was no natural breaking-off point. When the final movie comes out, though, I know I’ll get more resolution than I probably ever wanted.
Right now, I’m just going to enjoy the adventure.
Want to know what Dan thinks of the movie? Check out his review here!