The second film in Peter Jackson’s franchise should be called The Hobbit 2: The Dwarves.
2013 | 2 hours 41 minutes | Dir. Peter Jackson | New Line Cinema
The characters in movies adapted from J.R.R. Tolkien’s books tend to do three main things: They run. They battle. And sometimes they hike.
The running, battling and hiking in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug aims to accomplish a goal. If you missed last year’s The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, never fear, for the song remains the same: dethroned dwarf king Thorin Oakenshield leads a band of 13 dwarves in a quest to obtain the Arkenstone, a glowing rock that will unite the dwarf tribes under whoever carries it. The catch? The Arkenstone lies buried in the Lonely Mountain beneath piles of gold, hoarded by a fire- breathing dragon. With the help of the wizard Gandalf, the dwarves recruit Bilbo Baggins, a stay- at- home hobbit, to burgle the gem.
That might be enough plot for a normal movie, and it’s enough plot for the book. For extra added fun, writer/ director Peter Jackson throws in a pack of nasty orcs who hunt the dwarves, a mysterious necromancer who summons evil forth from the shadows, a couple of attractive elves and a bargeman who seeks to restore honor to his family and prosperity to his homeland.
Running, hiking, and battle ensue.
The Desolation of Smaug features some shifts from An Unexpected Journey. Bilbo (Martin Freeman) is reduced to a plot device and Thorin (Richard Armitage) becomes the story’s main focus. In the fist movie, Bilbo made a witty and affable hero whom the audience cheered through his personal journey. Thorin makes a less compelling lead. The Skinchanger Beorn best sums it up best:
I don’t like dwarves. They’re greedy and blind, blind to the lives of those they deem less than their own.
Bilbo pretty much only sticks around to steal keys and burgle gems. The audience is instead supposed to care about this unforgiving dwarf king. It seems unfitting to make a movie called The Hobbit about the plight of a grumpy dwarf.
But if Smaug proves anything, it’s that this is no longer J.R.R Tolkien’s The Hobbit. This is Peter Jackson’s Hobbit. With Desolation of Smaug, Jackson proves his loyalties lie more with Hollywood than with literature. Jackson lost the incorruptible spirit of Tolkien that made him such a perfect match for The Lord of the Rings. He contorts Tolkien’s 300 page children’s book into a nine- hour blockbuster prequel to Lord of the Rings. By infusing The Hobbit with “technically accurate” details from The Silmarillion, essentially a textbook of Middle Earth, Jackson can divert critics who accuse him of taking too many liberties with the source material.
But who can blame him? Early adaptations of The Hobbit yielded nothing more than laughable low- budget features. Jackson put The Hobbit on steroids to turn it into a successful movie.
Besides beefing up the plot, Jackson brings back Legolas (Orlando Bloom), the elf archer with catlike reflexes that drew flocks of teenage girls to the cinema ten years ago. Bloom’s Legolas might not have the heartthrob appeal he used to, but he still has the elegance of a ballet dancer on the battlefield. Say what you will about Legolas. It’s fun to watch him fight.
Ironically, Jackson’s only pure artistic liberty works the best. He created the lady elf Tauriel (Evangeline Lily) to bring some girl power to the male- centric story. Don’t be fooled by synopses that call her Legolas’ love interest. Tauriel’s here to make googly eyes at Kili (Aidan Turner), the “hot dwarf”.
For The Hobbit, Jackson wholeheartedly embraces CGI. The change strips some of the fantasy creatures of their believability. The orcs created with prosthetics and makeup for Lord of the Rings look way scarier (and more real) than the CGI orcs employed for The Hobbit. The film still looks amazing, but it’s kind of like watching Star Wars with a CGI Yoda instead of a puppet: it just feels less cool.
One thing’s for sure, Jackson nailed the dragon. Flawlessly animated and chillingly voiced by the epic bass of Benedict Cumberbatch, Tolkien himself couldn’t imagine a better Smaug. The last thirty minutes of the film feature the dragon wrecking havoc on the Lonely Mountain. Most deliciously, this fire- breather feels like an actual character, instead of just some creature that exists to cause the dwarves trouble.
And that’s how Jackson should treat all his characters. Tolkien named The Hobbit after Bilbo for a reason, and the movies wouldn’t suffer from a bit of refocusing. But from The Lord of the Rings and even The Unexpected Journey, we’ve come to expect a ridiculously high quality of work from Peter Jackson. Despite its few shortcomings, The Desolation of Smaug- especially Smaug- kicks butt.
Also, if your butt can withstand the extra 5 minutes, stick around for Ed Sheeran’s “I See Fire” at the end credits. It’s worth it.