Cancel your plans for the weekend and get ready to travel to Middle Earth. HBO is airing The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, the second movie in Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit Trilogy on both Saturday and Sunday evenings. The Desolation of Smaug, Jackson’s follow up to The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, is fast moving and packed with action, both of which many fans seem to feel was an improvement on the series opener. Part two takes us along with Bilbo, Gandalf and the Dwarves, as they travel to the Lonely Mountain. We get treated to many gorgeous new locations throughout Middle Earth and spend time with Elves, Skin-Changers, Giant Spiders and of course, Smaug, the dragon, himself.
The film is set up with a quick flashback to Thorin Oakenshield and Gandalf meeting over pints in the Prancing Pony, the dark and smoky pub in the village of Bree. This meeting is the birth of the Quest of Erebor, setting the course that brings Bilbo Baggins out of the Shire and leads to his possession of the One Ring. Fast forward a year and we find the company of Dwarves, along with Bilbo and Gandalf, with Azog and a gang of Orcs in hot pursuit. Gandalf guides them to the home of Beorn, the last of the Skin-Changers, who is able to assume the shape of a great black bear.
The sequence at Beorn’s house is, I feel, one of two real highlights of the film, and is far too short. Beorn’s hall is just as I’d imagined it would look, surrounded by beautiful, fertile fields, and boasting a table abundant with bread, milk and honey. The attention to detail here is pure delight, and as someone who has read the books many times, I was extremely pleased with the thought and effort that was put into setting the scene. Beorn himself, while not exactly how I’d pictured him, was portrayed extremely well by Mikael Persbrandt. Beorn and Thranduil were the two characters I was really concerned about, as they’ve been my book favorites for many years, and I’m really pleased with Persbrandt’s performance here. I’d have liked to have seen more of him.
Beorn escorts the group to the edge of Mirkwood, where Gandalf comes to the realization that what was once Greenwood the Great, has now fallen under the spell of the Necromancer. He abruptly leaves the group with a dire warning to stay on the path at all costs. It doesn’t take long for the company to stray from the path and become trapped in the webs of giant spiders. Bilbo uses the One Ring to escape the spiders and free his friends with the help of Elves, led by Legolas and Tauriel. Victory is short lived, however as the Dwarves are taken prisoner by the Wood-Elves. Here we reach the second shining moment in Desolation, as we meet the Elvenking, Thranduil, who is none too fond of Dwarves. Thranduil is played by Lee Pace, and is absolutely flawless. In a perfectly cast movie, Lee Pace is the absolute height of perfection. A delicious blend of beauty and cruelty, he finds the exact balance that I was, I admit, worried that no one cast in the role would be able to pull off. His chemistry with his son, Legolas is excellent, and it was exciting to get to see these two interact. I could write this whole review about how brilliantly Pace portrays his character, however, I’ll stop here. There is a bit more to this movie than just Thranduil, after all.
Things don’t go well, as Thorin and Thranduil argue about the Elves abandoning the Dwarves at Erebor when Smaug the dragon had last come to claim the Lonely Mountain. Offended by Thorin, Thranduil imprisons the Dwarves, and it is, once again, up to Bilbo and the Ring, to save them. He does so, utilizing empty wine barrels, which he packs full of Dwarves and drops through a trap door and into the rapidly flowing river. Elves and orcs pursue them as they ride the rapids, and this goes on for far too long. It seems like a good quarter of the movie is devoted to the barrel scene, and it’s just not interesting after the first couple of minutes.
The Dwarves and Bilbo escape, however, not unscathed. During the chase, Kili is shot by a Morgul-arrow, taking a wound to the thigh. You may remember when Frodo is cut by a Morgul-blade in the Fellowship of the Ring, that this is bad news, indeed. Unlike the Morgul-blade belonging to the Witch King of Angmar, which wounded Frodo, if pierced by a Morgul-arrow, the victim will not become a wraith, however they will die an excruciatingly painful death. When Tauriel realizes Kili’s terrible fate, she follows the company, against the express orders of King Thranduil. You see, the Athelas plant, or Kingsfoil, will slow the poison, but Elvish healing is needed to fully restore the wounded. Legolas, realizing that Tauriel has left, follows her against his father’s wishes.
You may be surprised that an admitted book purist like myself, really enjoyed the addition of the original Elf character, Tauriel, and her sympathy toward/attraction to Kili the dwarf. I’m usually of the opinion that no changes are good changes, however, I felt that the addition of a female character to such a male dominated story was actually a smart move. The character was well written and likeable, smart and sympathetic, and her relationship with Kili gave the film a depth that modern audiences could relate to. I was 100% ready to dislike the character, and I’m not ashamed to say that I was wrong. Tauriel added an element to the story that I really enjoyed, and I fully support this divergence from the original story. I’m also perfectly at peace with the addition of Legoals to the film, as I think his relationship with his father gives Thranduil’s character an added depth.
The company then meets a boatman by the name of Bard, whom they pay to smuggle them into Lake-town, where Thorin and company ready themselves for the final leg of their journey. They must find weapons, food and supplies, as they were forced to leave the Wood-elves empty handed. Thorin, seeing how badly injured Kili has become, orders him to stay behind in Lake-town. Fili, Oin and Bofur remain with Kili, while Bilbo and the rest of the Dwarves leave for the Lonely Mountain. We also find that Bard, is actually a skilled bowman and the descendant of Girion, the last king of Dale. Bard also is the proud owner of the last of the black arrows that is capable of killing the dragon, Smaug. I really enjoyed Bard, Luke Evans was wonderful in the role, grim faced and stern, he plays Bard as a quiet hero, just as he is described in the book.
Meanwhile Gandalf and fellow Wizard, Radagst the Brown, meet and set out to investigate the tombs of the Nazgul. To their dismay, they find that the tombs are empty and the Nazgul have been set free. Gandalf departs to find the Necromancer at Dol Guldor, while Radagast travels to inform Galadriel of their disturbing discovery. The two Wizards are just brilliant, and I wish we were able to see more of them working together! When Gandalf reaches Dol Guldor, he finds Azog and his band of Orcs ready to attack. In his attempt to flee, the Necromancer overpowers and imprisons Gandalf, revealing himself to be Sauron, the creator of the One Ring. Unable to escape his prison, Gandalf witnesses the Orc armies as they begin to march toward the Lonely Mountain, and, of course, toward Thorin and Company, while Bolg and his gang head to Lake-town to attack the remaining Dwarves. Luckily, Tauriel and Legolas arrive in time to chase off the Orcs and Tauriel is able to heal Kili of his Morgul-wound. It’s all wrapping up nicely, so far.
Thorin and the Dwarves arrive at the Lonely Mountain and find that it’s not a Dwarf, but their Hobbit-burglar who is able to find the way in. Bilbo goes into the dragon’s lair, alone and invisible, to steal the Arkenstone, however Smaug awakes and is none too pleased to find he’s got a visitor. Benedict Cumberbatch voices both the Necromancer and Smaug, and he’s perfect in both roles. It was interesting to learn that Cumberbatch pursued the role, having learned to love the dragon as a child, when his dad read the Hobbit aloud to him. His voice is perfect for both roles, and you need to really listen to realize they’re both the same voice actor. Cumberbatch also did some motion capture work for the film, and if you’re familiar with him as an actor, you can really see him reflected in the Smaug’s facial expressions. The Dwarves attempt to kill the dragon, however, they only succeed in angering him further, and in the final scene, the beautiful creature takes flight, ready to release his fury on the people of Lake-town.
So far this review has been positive for the most part. I other than a few scenes running long or not long enough, really I don’t have much to say about Desolation that’s negative… until we get to the Orcs. I think the major element that this movie is lacking, when compared to the LOTR trilogy, is the absence of practical Orcs in main roles. The overwhelming use of CG on the Orc front is really disappointing. We get it, you guys are good at CG. But don’t you think that things look better when they’re a bit more balanced? I would have really liked to have seen ‘real’ Azog and Bolg at least during close fighting scenes or at the very least, when they’re speaking lines. I was so excited seeing the early promotional shots of Conan Stevens as Bolg. He was fabulous! They even sold action figures, which, or course, I bought. So why do we get a lousy CG version of Bolg in the movie? Knowing Conan Stevens’s work, Bolg would have been a hell of a lot more impressive with him on screen. For me, this really put a damper on my overall enjoyment of the film. The majority of the movie, however, was fun, fast paced and enjoyable for movie and book fans, alike, and I’m greatly looking forward the the third installment in the trilogy, The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies.
HBO’s 2014 Labor Day Schedule is something a little different: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug airs Saturday, 8.30 at 8PM. On Sunday 8.31, HBO will be airing The Hobbit: An Unexpected Jouney at 6PM, followed by a repeat showing of The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug at 9PM. Until then, here’s the official trailer to whet your appetite!
MJ Snow is an avian behavior specialist, animal activist, role player, blogger and writer. She began reading the Hobbit and the LOTR trilogy when she was 10, and has read them many times since. A long time George RR Martin fangirl and A Song of Ice and Fire Addict, her loyalties lie with Houses Bolton, Baelish and Clegane. MJ is co-founder of The Snow Keep, a short story and fan-ficiton blog, The Brothers Clegane.com, a Sandor & Gregor Clegane tribute site and CastlesofSnow.com, a Petyr Baelish tribute site. When she’s not writing, MJ is working in the animal rescue field, and co-runs Empowering Animals, wristbands for animal causes.
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