- Created on Wednesday, 15 January 2014 18:58
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By SHEILA PRITCHARD
For the causal moviegoer, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is a riveting return to Middle Earth and is a fine improvement over its predecessor, An Unexpected Journey.
However, Tolkien devotees may feel differently. The second in a trilogy of film adaptations of the timeless and much-loved literary masterpiece The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien, The Desolation of Smaug continues the adventure of title character Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), the wizard Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellen) and a merry band of 13 dwarves on their journey to reclaim the lost dwarf kingdom of Erebor in the Lonely Mountain. The company of dwarves, led by Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage), must kill the ruthless dragon Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch) to take back their homeland.
Many moviegoers criticized An Unexpected Journey for tedious character development as the dwarves wandered in circles, but The Desolation of Smaug has plenty happening. Like An Unexpected Journey, the sequel suffers from rambling subplots at times but is more cohesive than its predecessor thanks to the premise already established in the first film.
Emily Miller, a 24-year-old University of Guelph student, read The Hobbit years ago and says she thinks the second silver screen instalment has more to offer than the first, despite its flaws.
“The second movie has a bit more plot movement than the first. I can’t easily pick out what was included in the book or not because it’s been so long since I’ve read it, but if you go to the movie without expecting it to be word for word, as I did, then it is an easy way to escape to the fantasy world of Middle Earth for a few hours with entertaining dialogue and beautiful scenery.”
Where the real merit lies in The Desolation of Smaug is in the exceptional cinematography, its great cast of actors and some of the best action choreography a moviegoer will experience.
Tolkien’s fantasy world of lore is brought to life by visual excellence, while the attention to detail is an undeniable accomplishment and should ease any uncertainty Tolkien aficionados may have with the overall narrative. Some viewers and critics will be disappointed by liberties taken by Jackson and the film’s three other writers.
Liam Weichsel, 23, of Niagara Falls, is a fan of Tolkien’s work and had mixed feelings about Jackson’s film version.
“For hard-core Tolkien fans the movie is a disappointment because the storyline does deviate quite a bit from the book. Having said that, the second instalment in this series is an improvement over the first … but it still has a long way to go to live up to Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy, and, more importantly, do the book justice.”
Ann Dalton, 58, of Rockwood, Ont., agreed with Weichsel, saying, “For diehard lovers of the book, the significant difference from the storyline will be troubling.”
However, Jackson is conceiving and adapting the story not unlike many other filmmakers who have done the same. By taking what he liked and infusing creativity and imagination, Jackson gives an old legend new life.
To play to his strengths, Jackson and the team of screenwriters brought back The Lord of the Rings fan favourite Legolas (Orlando Bloom), who does not appear at all in Tolkien’s The Hobbit, and introduced newly invented Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly), a graceful, yet fierce, butt-kicking elf.
There is also a new love triangle involving Legolas, Tauriel and Kili, the most attractive and tallest dwarf. None of this subplot was conceived by Tolkien, but it speaks to the way Jackson felt the story could have been. In a male-dominated franchise, it is a breath of fresh air to see Tauriel, a strong female, holding her own.
The Lord of the Rings was an epic to the core, while The Hobbit is more of a heist story. Its strengths lie in the humour and the wit of title character Bilbo Baggins. The book’s highlights are not its battle scenes, but those where Bilbo uses his wit to overcome his foes, including a pack of trolls, Gollum and, finally, the fierce dragon Smaug. In his adaptation, Jackson struggles with creating some of these scenes but there is still lots of action for him to work with. Battle sequences with menacing orcs and giant spiders are exquisitely done and reminiscent of The Lord of the Rings glory.
The film’s highlight is its third act, in which the dwarves ultimately make it to the Lonely Mountain and Bilbo meets Smaug face-to-face. A wonder of CGI, Smaug is easily the finest flying, fire-breathing terror of his kind, and the lost dwarf kingdom is a visual delight.
The Desolation of Smaug keeps a good pace for its nearly three-hour runtime and has much to offer: an honourable quest, terrifying creatures, the growing courage of little Bilbo Baggins, a touch of romance and the addition of a strong female character. The whole movie retains the humour of Tolkien’s writing while creating a tone of thrilling tension.
Kathryn Osborne, 27, of Ottawa, says she has never read the book, but thought the movie was entertaining from beginning to end.
“It was a great mix of lightheartedness, action and emotional tension. I liked the charming and quirky characters and visual effects. I’m looking forward to the third movie.”
Smaug is a cinematic success that should please fans of Jackson and Tolkien alike, audiences unfamiliar with the book and casual moviegoers wanting to see a fantasy-based, CGI-rich, action-filled powerhouse. The film ends on a cliffhanger note, leaving audiences anticipating next year’s third and final film in the series.
The trilogy’s finale, The Hobbit: There and Back Again, will arrive in theatres on Dec. 17.