‘I’ ON CULTURE
The new Hobbit film, The Desolation of Smaug, is a nice adventure ride, with no pretensions to being a great film. Unlike the first film in the trilogy, this movie spends very little time setting up characters. The action begins only a few minutes in and seldom stops. As befits the middle part of a trilogy, the ending is a real cliffhanger. The audience in the theater was left wanting more. I was one of them; the picture ends just a bit before the expected climax. And the simple fact that we all wanted more after close to three hours speaks volumes about how much the movie held our attention.
In the movie, Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) is preparing to lead his group of dwarves, along with “burglar” hobbit Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) to Erebor, their ancient home, destroyed generations ago by the dragon Smaug. After a wild chase by the evil orcs, they come to a small fortress protected by a “skin changer,” Beorn (Mikael Persbrandt), who sometimes appears as an enormous wild bear. Soon after, they come to an enchanted forest ruled by the elves where Gandalf (Ian McKellen) leaves them on a mission of his own. The forest is not a nice place, with air sodden with moisture and a race of giant spiders. Bilbo does fairly well against the spiders, rescuing the dwarves, when they are finally taken by elves, led by Legolas (Orlando Bloom, playing the same part he did in The Lord of The Rings trilogy). Possibly upsetting Tolkien purists, there is now also a female elf warrior, Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly), who is attracted to Kili (Aidan Turner), one of the dwarves, despite being the subject of Legolas’ affection. His father, Thranduil (Lee Pace), the elf king, wants nothing to do with the dwarves and imprisons them, although Bilbo, wearing the “magic ring” that makes him invisible, frees them.
The elf home is attacked by orcs (and the elves all seem to be great warriors, they go through orcs at a very fast rate), while the dwarves escape by riding barrels down a wild river. This is a fantastic action scene. No explosions, but some great action, including the elves using arrows and daggers to kill huge numbers of orcs with the dwarves pitching in. They wind up at the shores of a great lake, and bribe Bard (Luke Evans), a smuggler with an interesting ancestry, and get smuggled into Laketown, a city near the castle. After a few amusing adventures, they go on to the great castle, where they must face Smaug (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch) in another wild battle scene.
The action almost never stops. One set piece leads into another, and when there is a brief break, it is usually to bring a few new elements in. My personal favorite was watching the political machinations of the humans in Lakeland.
The cast is uniformly good. Freeman remains excellent as Bilbo, although he does have somewhat less to do in this movie. McKellen’s Gandalf is, as expected, excellent, although he seldom interacts with the dwarves or Bilbo after the first 40 minutes. Armitage is excellent as the dwarf king, as are the other actors in those parts, although I particularly like Ken Stott and Aidan Turner. Evangeline Lilly was marvelous in her part, probably the most complex character. She was both fierce and loving. Stephen Fry is wonderfully humorous as Laketown’s master.
Tolkien, as always, presents a dichotomy: There are the good people, and there are the greedy ones. The desire for riches is the trap that ruins so many people (not to mention dwarves, hobbits and dragons).
This is a great, very long adventure ride. At times, it moves slowly, as director Peter
Jackson shows off fancy sets, but although there are many of these, he seldom lingers long. The good actors move things along, and the constant action prevents anyone from noticing the plot holes. There are delicious touches of humor throughout even the wildest battles, of which there are many. And it serves as a springboard for making people want to see the end of the trilogy. For those who haven’t read the book, they probably are anxious to see what will happen.
Having read the book, I do know how it ends, but I will see the next in the series — probably on the first day.
This is a good trilogy, not up to The Lord of the Rings, but fun nevertheless.