Directed by Peter Jackson
Written by Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson & Guillermo del Toro
While I appreciate the Tolkien world greatly, I cannot call myself a fanboy of his books, or of the 4 previous films from director Peter Jackson that are set in the world of Middle Earth. With the second installment of The Hobbit trilogy I had no expectation, which was probably a good thing, but may also account for the fact that I managed to enjoy myself this time around, as opposed to dreading the first film enough to settle on bloated, overdone, pretty, beautiful mess. But Jackson has managed to craft a fairly fun sequel, which does what any good second entry into a trilogy does; it progresses the story and provides loads and loads of action and adventure along the way.
We join up once again with Bilbo (Martin Freeman) and Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage), leader of the dwarfs, on their way to reclaim their homeland, Erebor, which is a city built under a mountain, currently being held captive by a massive dragon named Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch is you can believe it), who sits upon a the lost riches of the dwarfs elders. Along the way their wizard friend, Gandalf (Ian McKellen) encounters the orcs on their tail while Bilbo and the dwarfs must escape from concerned elves (Orlando Bloom, Evangeline Lilly) and utilize the help of a human (Luke Evans) to find their way to Erebor where they do battle with Smaug.
I found Peter Jackson’s second Hobbit effort to be an improvement over the first. In The Desolation of Smaug, Jackson’s sense of adventure meets its full potential in what seems to be a combination of video game, amusement park, and science fiction fantasy comedy. At roughly a half of each, we still get a fair bit more than we bargained for, which means the film remains bloated and overly long.. Oh, and so let this be your annual reminder that yes, they’ve taken a 200+ page book and split it into three 2+ hour films. This, however is great news for the Tolkien fans of the world, as this means more time spent in Middle Earth and more time spent with these characters.
The special effects are truly marvelous, but they are overdone in some spots, leaving it to feel much like a video game, where we get exhilarating gameplay intercut with cheesy, story-progressing dialogue staged between characters. Video games have very much so become their own art form, but I would rather like to keep it and the art of cinema separate all the same. What were some really fun sequences too often became overwrought with shoddy effects to the point that they became distracting. I feel this is a case of the team trying to do too much and not quite succeeding. It only seemed that the action effects are what were lacking, as the rest of the film was truly marvelous to look at.
I will say that Peter Jackson has essentially mastered the world of Middle Earth so far as I can tell. The unfortunate circumstance of these lengthy run times, however, are those, like myself, who are not Tolkien fanatics. For us, what results is too much time spent on the periphery of any form of narrative or development of character or story progression. This leaves me with a mere appreciation of the technical craft of the film rather than any joy, happiness, or involvement in the actual story line of the feature. It’s a mixed bag when I can’t truly say I was involved and enjoyed myself, but that I found it an improvement over the first of overflowing with exciting action and fun set pieces throughout. Perhaps with the third film in the trilogy Jackson will bring everything together and make a memorable conclusion. For now the action adventure of The Desolation of Smaug keeps it afloat.
**1/2 – Average