Much like the second instalment of the ‘Lord of the Rings’ trilogy ‘The Two Towers’ , ‘The Desolation of Smaug’ is quite easily the hardest segment of this colossal fantasy epic to bring forward to the big screen – advancing upon the first film whilst setting up the final chapter. Luckily Peter Jackson knows his vision of middle earth- the realm in which this film takes place – to such a degree that the production of this follow on prequel never does anything less than progress the already impressive first movie whilst wetting the appetite most definitely for ‘There and Back Again’ – the finale of this filmic journey. Larger, bolder and yet still easily seen as a Middle Earth movie, ‘The Desolation of Smaug’ does a hell of a lot right, thus cementing itself as one of the grandest sequels to hit cinema screens. Through a rollicking beginning, progressive middle and exciting finale this middle piece easily transports its audience to the centre of the action, therefore making the film feel engrossing throughout and fast paced. Peter Jackson, and his team, have done wonders with the source material – stretching the small classic novel over three movies without making the plot feel prolonged unnecessarily, by incorporating added depth found in the authors other notes.
Beginning on top of the Carrock – the jut of land that our company was last seen in ‘The Unexpected Journey’ after being dropped off by the giant eagles – the film manages to bring in the second movie organically with an ingenious flashback sequence, that not only sets up two key characters backstories – before this plot – but also add heightened tension to the overall quest, upon which the audience is asked to become attached too. From there the film does not let up, introducing multiple new characters – portrayed onscreen by some of the industries biggest names – and returning fan favourites. Creating many set pieces and setting up the world correctly for the future trilogy – by outlining the core factors that influence the plot of the aforementioned follow up feature collection, this film serves its purpose well.
Having made the decision to split the two original productions – which ‘The Hobbit’ novel was first planned to release as – into a further expansion obviously brought about doubts into whether the source material had enough content to fill the extra three hours of screen time. Come the close of this film however and these doubts cease to be raised, with the extra content not only feeling needed but also organically added to proceedings. This integration into the cinematic journey is so smooth, that it is little wonder to why the decision was made in the first place. Adding the extra depth to the film has enhanced the overall feel of this production and come the close of the final instalment the journey will surely feel somewhat more thorough. It is not surprising to find therefore that this is perhaps the most important decision to have been made during the making of this film by the Director and Production crew, with the extension of the overall filmic goal being a notable and extremely well developed part of the filmmaking process.
Following on from the first film, ‘The Desolation of Smaug’ once again follows the exploits of Bilbo Baggins, and his company of thirteen dwarves. With the characters having already been established within the filmic universe, the second instalment can not only progress via adding depth and tension to the storyline. This means that overall the film brings across a more mature feeling, and thus a heightened engrossment. However, to achieve this the film has to also progress the subject off its plot.
With more characters, more action and more set ups, ‘The Desolation of Smaug’ does enlarge the already big first film in practically every way. This does bring the content of the film to another level of excitement when compared to the first – however some aspects of the storyline does seem to feel rushed still. Characters that appear prominent within the source material are not given enough screen time, with the focus more directed at the climatic showdown with the trilogies chief villains – of which there is two. This means that for all its grandeur, ‘The Desolation of Smaug’ will not convert Tolkien fanatics into liking the cinematic experience if the previous films were not to their idealistic depictions of the source material.
Having found his courage within the Goblin caves of the first films finale, Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman in a more assured performance )has finally settled into quest life. Liked by his companions, and counted as a member of the party finally he seems to have found his place. However, the closer that he gets to the end goal the higher the risk that he must face. Getting caught within the clutches of wood elves – a race far more mysterious than their high elf brethren – ensnared by giant spiders in a psychedelic woodland location and facing the ultimate fire breathing behemoth in regards to Smaug the Merciless, Bilbo must once again delve into his own self confidence, in hope of accomplishing what he originally set out to do. With the future of Middle earth on the brink of becoming exacerbated by something more sinister, Gandalf (Ian McKellen) is forced to part ways with the company and take on the growing evil developing within the ruins of a destroyed fort. By seeking out this danger, the wise wizard comes face to face with one of the most horrific creatures from within the worlds timescale, in stark reference to what is still to come – and what we as viewers have already witnessed.
Using the same systems and mechanics that created Gollum in the first film, ‘The Desolation of Smaug’ enhances motion capture with two creations depicted within this film – both portrayed by English thespian Benedict Cumberbatch. Becoming the character as well as the voice, this motion capture technique allows the creation to be fully realistic on screen. This advances the sequences in which these two villains appear, and through an excellent mix of modern technology, superior craftsmanship from the filmmaking crew and outstanding visual performance from the top form British actor has made the most utilised special effects in filmmaking history. A game changer within the industry, Smaug will go down as one of the best visual extension to a film. Long removed from the movie dragons of the past, Smaug is fully realised and believable in every frame that he appears.
With moving the story on, the film brings in more actors into a multitude of different roles, each with a different presence on screen. The most prominent of these characters is the made for film role Tauriel- brought to life by ‘Lost’ alumni Evangeline Lilly. To try and counter balance the over prominence of male characters within this film – the original novel not housing any female roles at all- Tauriel fits into proceedings well. Confident and loyal, the character is much more than a repeat of the original trilogies Arwen – another elf character that played prominence more so than the original source material gave her due to the lack of female characters. By mixing in a possible love triangle, and using her role as a catalyst to factors regarding the plot, the role progresses with more depth to all proceedings on film.
Stephen Fry, as the master of lake town does much the same within this film as the Goblin King did within the first instalment. Messed up and corrupted by greed, the characters hold parallels to each other. This gives a set theme throughout the two pictures, in which audience members can find similarities. Luke Evans – in the more Aragorn role – as Bard the Bowmen is an easily likeable and intriguing character that sparks fresh life into the films plot, perhaps due to the fact that he first appears during the slightly slower middle segment. The common sense driven unlikely hero, his character is the most down to earth of all the new additions, thus meaning an easy engrossment is gained to his part of the story. Also it is to be noted that Evans has perhaps given his best acting performance with regards this role, and never does he disappoint or seem miscast in doing so. This extra refined portrayal allows the less known actor to really stand out, thus meaning once again Jackson and his producing team have done well with finding the perfect actors for the roles that they need filling.
Returning from previous films, Orlando Bloom and Lee Pace do excellent work in regards to fulfilling the other major elf roles within this film. Being the bridge character between the trilogies, alot rests on the shoulders of the Kent born actor. However, as a fan favourite from his previous performances, Bloom delivers a great recount of what made his original depiction so great. Balancing the new with the old, his Legolas is given enough screen time to fully feel a part of the venture, and not something simply tacked on to bring a connection to the already released films.
With the new characters put into the plot, ‘The Hobbit : The Desolation of Smaug’ features an exciting and huge cast of big name celebrities. These – when placed into the storyline that they do – really bring the level of this film to such a feeling that is much larger in scale than similar movies or recent releases.
The 3D use within this film really does add extra depth to the story. Unlike the first instalment – where certain sequences failed to match the overall consistency expected by audience members – the overall effect of the added depth is utilised much stronger throughout. Witnessing the climatic sequences with this added depth, engrosses the audience somewhat more with the content that is shown on screen. Eventually though, the 3D use becomes organic to the eye, and as such just completes an already well established film. Often criticised for the use of higher frame rate with regards the first film, the effect is still different come the second release. Bringing the audience further into the filmic universe, this median will not cater to all viewers – but with those who liked the first films style will find enough here to crave the higher processed frame-rate.
Flaws of this film include the following; not enough time is given over to key characters from the book, and one major set piece is rushed to move the storyline on quicker. Certain characters are not given true identity or are rushed in through a near non existent introduction, this means in a film featuring lots of roles that blend into each other – in some cases – these characters do not feel worthy of their screen time – or confusing to what place they have in filling the films smaller roles. Some cliches are given at certain points and the film does end on a cliffhanger that will annoy some of those who wanted a true finish, however overall though these issues are small niggles that detract near on nothing from the overall finished production.
To conclude, ‘The Hobbit : The Desolation of Smaug’ is another triumphant return to a filmic universe in which such acclaim has already been placed, and through this resurgence, interest has bloomed. Peter Jackson once again showcases the fact that come Middle Earth based film productions, he has no equal. A perfect companion to the other already released films, the second part of the second trilogy is a sheer masterclass in what a fantasy epic can become. Once again the film rests on the shoulders of its lead actors, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage and Ian McKellen and once again they succeed in doing the film justice. Much like Serkis in the previous film, Cumberbatch is a scene stealer that is completely villainous within his roles. Balancing the two villains whilst making each seem different, he once again showcases the immense talent that he holds. A key factor to a key cinematic brilliance, ‘The Hobbit : The Desolation of Smaug’ is a fast paced, epically interesting film that will leave you breathless.
Plot – 4
Acting – 5
Direction – 4
Special Effects – 5
Retrospect – 4
Overall – A