…written by Fan Walsh, Phillipa Boyens, Peter Jackson, and Guillermo Del Toro; directed by Peter Jackson; starring Ian McKellan, Martin Freeman, and Richard Armitage.
Hobbit Day is big in Beemsville. It’s family movie day. Looking forward to the next chapter since last year, excited from the previews and the kids’ shared experience reading the book – anticipation? Yes. We’re big fans of the Peter Jackson versions of the Tolkien world, and The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is no exception.
The core cast from last year’s first chapter returns, along with similar strengths and weaknesses. You get your next dose of Middle Earth-Jackson-style, which also means you get Jackson-style pacing and excess. The decision to draw three separate films out of Tolkien’s book (and notes from other books) will again rouse complaints. It makes for uneven bursts of cinematic storytelling and, well Peter Jackson’s penchant for excessive scenes.
What do we mean by excessive? It’s a handful of action sequences and fight scenes that go on too long. It’s another chase and escape by the dwarves that while fun, becomes a little ridiculous. It’s the absolute mountain of treasure in the Lonely Mountain that beggars the description from the book and leaves you thinking about deflation and the Middle Earth economic system. This adds up to a two-hour-and-forty minute movie that could have comfortably arrived at just over two hours.
Don’t get me wrong – we thoroughly enjoyed the movie. It’s great entertainment and a level or two above the mean for big budget movies. In fact the Peter Jackson excess serves to draw more light to the small scenes, the thoughtful scenes, that have made these movies so grand. These include a scene at the end of the battle with the spiders, when Bilbo loses the ring for a split second; a brief exchange in which Bilbo almost tells Gandalf about the ring and how he escaped from the goblin tunnels; the healing scene in which Tauriel rescues Kili.
And nearly all the expanded plot lines from the movie work well also. We follow Gandalf as he investigates the origins of the Necromancer and find his worst fears confirmed. The film introduces the elf huntress Tauriel, along with Legolas, and gives them some good storylines. This version also expands Bard of Laketown as a character, giving him more depth and an unexpected (but wholly believable) approach to Thorin and company. The sub-plots provide more depth to key characters and the overall Lord of the Rings story.
The only one I questioned was the expanded duel between Smaug and the dwarves – a fairly large divergence from the book. It seemed to lessen Bilbo’s battle of wits with the dragon, but perhaps this reaction was more to the (again) excessive climax, driving Smaug from the mountain.
Martin Freeman is once again very, very good in the title role. His understated bravery and everyman responses to some of the unbelievable situations are reminiscent of Elijah Wood and Sean Astin from the LotR movies. Ian McKellan is Gandalf, and the rest of the cast fill their roles admirably.
This movie is also a little scarier than An Unexpected Journey – mostly because of the Spiders, the Necromancer, and yes, Smaug. And note to parents: be ready to wince and or distract during the PG13 previews accompanying this film. The kids were not impressed with the manner in which they ended the movie, but this is an inevitability of the second chapter in a three-part sequence.
If you’ve enjoyed the other Peter Jackson Middle Earth films, you will surely like The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. If you’re not a fan, it’s probably a long time in the theater. I’m looking forward to next year’s conclusion, mostly to see what other expanded plot points Jackson and company bring into the story. There are really only two big movements from the book remaining, so the filmmakers must have some other tricks up their sleeves.