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The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Reviewed by Jim Holden.

Director Peter Jackson
Length 141 mins
Certificate 12A / PG-13
Rating *******---
Filmmaking: 3  Personal enjoyment: 4

Photo from the article The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, Peter Jackson’s first part of his Hobbit adaptation released last December, was a slightly plodding film, weighed down by too many characters. It was too exposition heavy, making for an oddly soulless tale. But the greatest issue was with the pacing and structure of the film. Thankfully, part two, The Desolation of Smaug, although picking things up straight after the first film's climax, hits the ground running, as Bilbo (Martin Freeman), Gandalf (Ian McKellen) and Thorin (Richard Armitage) lead a band of dwarfs toward the Lonely Mountain to reclaim their homeland and defeat Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch), its dragon guard.

What really captures the eye this time around is the tone, a delightful balance of humour, thrills and genuine threat. Although the running time is long, unlike its predecessor it rarely drags, with epic spectacle jostling comfortably alongside the more intimate moments. Freeman as our titular Hobbit Bilbo and Armitage's dwarf lord Thorin seem to have a better grip on their roles, and with much discussion of the journey out of the way, they get sufficient screen time to show it. Thorin is self-righteous, but Armitage plays it well as we start to feel the weight of history on his shoulders, whilst Freeman often undercuts the drama with genuine emotion, mostly fear but often comedy too, something that is most welcome and stops the film from becoming to solemn.

There are, inevitably, some issues, mainly with new members of the cast: Evangeline Lilly's Mirkwood elf, Tauriel, is particularly short changed and laboured with a forced romantic sub plot. Thankfully, Orlando Bloom, returning as Legolas, fairs much better and is crucial to the film's high point, a sequence in which Bilbo and the dwarfs escape in old beer barrels down river to evade some enemy Orcs. Thrilling and fraught with peril, this extended sequence captures the magic of returning to Middle Earth, and reminds the audience of the fun and thrills on offer in Jackson’s earlier films, including his previous Tolkein adaptations.

Whilst The Hobbit will never better The Lord of the Rings in terms of cinematic achievement, this second instalment certainly gets close to the original trilogy's weakest film (also it’s second part), The Two Towers (2002), and bodes well for the story's climax next winter.

This review was published on December 21, 2013.

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