This past weekend, I saw The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug in theaters. The Lord of the Rings is the only franchise that truly rivals against Harry Potter for the coveted spot of “favourite fandom ever” in my heart. When it was announced that they were not only making one Hobbit movie, but that the single book would explode into its own trilogy, I thought I might have a heart attack. While An Unexpected Journey received mixed reviews, I think Smaug hit the ball right out of the park. [WARNING: minor spoilers ahead.]
I think a lot of the cause for criticism of An Unexpected Journey was that the movie was primarily setting up for the action that would come in parts 2 and 3, though it does beg for viewers to remember that The Fellowship of the Ring was also primarily a set-up and progressed much more gradually than The Two Towers and Return of the King. Generally, The Hobbit is also a more lighthearted novel than The Lord of the Rings books, so the significantly airy comedic feel (and the singing) that moved at a slightly slower pace was not totally unexpected to me.
That being said, Smaug brings back the action-packed adventuring that we know and love from the series. Right from the get-go, the pace of the movie is a lot quicker and more succinct than the first. We see the prelude to Thorin’s quest to recruit Bilbo and his burglary skills to retrieve the Arkenstone. We then pick up from where An Unexpected Journey left off – the company is being chased down by Azog and the orcs. They then head into Mirkwood through the Elven path, encounter giant creepy spiders (scarier than Shelob), and witness the realm of woodland elves (Legolas! Tauriel!) under the command of Thranduil. We are then introduced to Bard, who smuggles Bilbo and the dwarves into Esgaroth on their way to the Lonely Mountain, where they will face the terrifying dragon, Smaug (the magnificent! the tyrannical!; A+ to Martin Freeman for delivery in this scene), in the halls of Erebor. Meanwhile, Gandalf is on his own quest, discovering that the dark one has been gaining strength in the ruins of Dol Goldur.
As before, Martin does an amazing job portraying Bilbo. Evangeline Lilly also shines as Tauriel. Though her character is made solely for these films, I felt that she fit right into the storyline. It may be because of my natural inclination towards the Elven race, but Jackson has given me another elf to love and dote upon, so I’ve got no complaints. Plus, Evangeline has such a perfect face to be an elf. She’s a great addition to the cast (and has thusly fulfilled a longtime dream of mine to see her and Orlando Bloom work together).
By far my favourite (and the most exciting) scene is the barrel escape. Fun, thrilling, and really not physically realistic if you think about it, Bilbo and the dwarves fend off the orcs as they ride the Forest River’s current out of Thranduil’s kingdom. I’m not one for rollercoasters, but if they made the scene into a water ride, I’d be so down. The scene also gives us some signature Legolas Greenleaf moves: rapid-fire shooting of arrows, killing orcs, and (hilariously) using dwarf heads as stepping stones – obviously good practice for the days in his future that will involve sliding down elephant trunks and slaughtering uruk-hai. Swoon.
My only criticism of the film is that I felt that it was playing up the 3D aspect a little too much for comfort (deliberate focus on giant bees floating in the air, the orc head soaring into the crowd). My preference for 3D is prevalent only when the depth is played inwards. The camera motions were also a little jarring in the first half of the film – lots of tilted panning and a little more dizzying than usual. However, I did love Jackson’s token vast landscape shots that make you feel as though you are flying. A scene with great camera work was when the company is sitting at the table in Beorn’s home. It really made you feel as if you were sitting there with them. On another note, has anyone else noticed that they gave Orlando piercingly blue contacts for this movie? I can’t get over them.
Overall, I loved this movie, and it wasn’t just because of the return of my favourite elf. Now to wait another twelve months for There and Back Again…
Other parts I loved: Peter Jackson’s cameo at the beginning of the film, Tauriel/Kili (I’m debating writing up a whole separate post re: my feelings on this subject), the shapeshifting of The Eye’s pupil (so cool), and the occasional sprinkling of “In Dreams” within the score. I mean, seriously, even just the first few notes of the song can set my tear ducts off. Thanks to Howard Shore for another musical masterpiece. The score is rounded out by Ed Sheeran’s “I See Fire”, which you can listen to below.
Have you seen the movie yet? Will you? I hope the answer is yes.