Review: The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug

The-Hobbit-2

The Oxford Dictionary definition of the word desolation is: Desolation; noun [mass noun] 1. a state of complete emptiness or destruction: the stony desolation of the desert. 2. great unhappiness or loneliness: in choked desolation, she watched him leave. Remember this, it will become important later.

So, the plot picks up with the band of dwarves, Gandalf and Bilbo evading the Orcs that had attacked them in the last film, and so they run, then they hide, then the run, then they hide and then they run and the run some more. And this, like all these Peter Jackson films is how they continue.

There is nothing new this film does that any of his Tolkien-based films have done for the last 12 years, except there’s more of it. For example; the dwarves and Bilbo must go through an evil forest, that Gandalf tells them is about 600 miles in diameter. He also explains it is very dangerous and will try to get inside their heads. Then he promptly ups and leaves them as he always does to go off on his own adventure. In this wood the evil in the air does confuse the group and there are a few clever Escherian camera/CGI tricks that work quite well to convey this (in fact the design of most of the sets are a mix of M.C. Escher and H.R. Giger, possibly a hangover from the art direction started by Guillermo del Toro before he dropped out of the project as director.) Lots of big spiders attack the dwarves and carry them all away to be eaten later which is reminiscent of the Shelob scene in Lord of the Rings, except there are more… and they are easier to kill off, it seems. Although, they are helped out quite heavily by Elves, including Legolas, who appears to have put on a few pounds, has a lower voice and a scary photoshopped looking face, even though he’s supposed to be almost half a century younger.

The dwarves are then imprisoned by the Elves after some faux-Shakespearean dialogue has been exchanged that, due to all the place names and lineages that all but the most avid Tolkienophile could surely follow and understand; “I am Thorin, son of Thrain, son of Thrir, son of Thrinddly Thran from under the mountain of Biddly Bong…” You get the picture (apologies for ripping off Mark Kermode here). But Bilbo manages to evade capture and set them free because he wears the ring that makes him invisible so he steals the keys to the cells while the Elves are all passed out from celebrating some festival and they escape down a river in a load of empty barrels.

This section is supposed to be quite exhilarating and action packed but just came off as stupid looking (I know Elves are supposed to be light-footed, but try telling me that Orlando Bloom standing with one foot each on the head of two Dwarves doesn’t look ludicrous!) and devoid of any sense that these characters were in any danger of being slain by the Orcs chasing them as, even though the fat Dwarf leaves the river and smashes his barrel to pieces he still manages to fight off three or four Orcs before jumping back into an extra barrel that just so happens to be there. Perhaps it was just the heavy dialogue that didn’t seem to be moving the plot forward that lessened the excitement of this bit, or perhaps it was just because Jackson’s films have done these big set-pieces too many times for it to feel exciting anymore, I’m not sure.

The point of the matter is this; we’ve seen derivations of everything in this film four times already which means just repeating dialogue or having Orlando Bloom surf on a few Orcs while firing arrows or giant spiders wrapping up Dwarves is fine, but it’s been done with greater pomp, flair terror and originality before. Also, the characters aren’t developed enough, who knows all the Dwarves’ names,? Old characters are brought back in needlessly and new characters are introduced without the explanation you got in the LOTR films and this is a problem. The only way you know whether the characters are trustworthy or not is whether they are handsome or ugly, even Stephen Fry’s cameo as the Mayor of Laketown is a damp squib thanks to not enough time being allowed to build a back story for him, even though he has more than most. This is because, by two hours into a film you’re bored by the sheer weight of new people to try to remember the names of. The most interesting new character was Evangeline Lily’s Elf who falls in love with one of the Dwarves (Kili, I think), but I’m damned if I can remember her name!

The draw of this film is the titular dragon, Smaug, who gets about 30 minutes of screen time, which is impressive bearing in mind the scale of him and the amount of extraneous detail that has been squeezed in to the rest of the film. The last 45 minutes of the film where Bilbo tries to flatter his way away from Smaug is the first time you feel properly engaged. It’s just two characters having a conversation, trying to figure each other out and neither trusting the other, no action, no flowery language, just tension. Brilliant acting by Martin Freeman as Bilbo and Benedict Cumberbatch as the enormous reptile help greatly too, Freeman’s performance throughout the film is top-notch. This is followed by the best action scenes in the film where the Dwarves storm in to take back the mountain Smaug lives in by force (apart from the crappy, cartoony looking molten gold).

It’s a shame that The Hobbit films aren’t actually just based on the single book, otherwise they would be tighter and, more importantly, over by now. They suffer from Peter Jackson’s obsession with packing in all the detail from Middle Earth’s history as he can, which I understand – he’ll never be able to do another Middle Earth film from assorted appendices. But wouldn’t it have been better being released as a director’s cut later on for the die-hard Tolkien completests? What we have is two hours of drawn out and often seemingly needless scenes that don’t engage and 45 minutes of a riveting mixture of narrative and action.

But, returning to my dictionary definition of the word ‘desolation’, Smaug is not lonely, empty or unhappy, he seemed quite content asleep among his vast riches, but neither does he cause any desolation, unless you count knocking over a few pillars and a gate, nor is desolation brought upon him. So the title is a misnomer in the first place. Oh, and I still think it should be pronounced ‘Smorg’ not ‘Smaowg’, you don’t pronounce ‘exhausted’ ‘exhaowsted’ do you? But that’s exactly what this film (and most of Jackson’s films in the last 12 years), this review and this reviewer are. Stop, please.

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