Director: Peter Jackson
Cast: Martin Freeman, Benedict Cumberbatch, Sir Ian McKellen, Richard Armitage, Orlando Bloom, Evangeline Lilly and Luke Evans
Running Time: 161 minutes
Release Date: December 13th
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey was a boisterous romp through Middle Earth, free from the occasional self-seriousness of its Lordly predecessor (or successor in literary terms). Despite its mammoth length, it was generally a good time at the cinema, if a little light on the awe-inspiring wonder of the other films. Much the same is true of The Desolation of Smaug, Peter Jackson’s latest attempt at stretching Tolkien’s shortest work out within an inch of its life for the sake of maximising the shelf-life of the franchise. Unfortunately, it becomes even clearer with this installment that Jackson is dealing with a relatively simple story (a bunch of fantasy creatures go and fight a dragon) and is desperately tugging at plot threads to attempt to justify his trilogisation.
The film soldiers along with the same fun-loving glee as the previous film, with a sense of charm and humour in the momentum driven action scenes that recalls the silent era of cinema. There’s an increased amount of violence compared to the previous film and perhaps that won’t be to the taste of parents with young children, but even the violence is, with a few notable exceptions, of the swashbuckling, derring-do variety—beheading orcs as part of slapstick comedy routines is one of Peter Jackson’s specialties—rather than the bleak, indulgent carnage of other blockbusters. The film has some delightfully grotesque scares as well, again reminiscent of simpler times, but amped up with the power of twenty-first century CGI and IMAX cameras. Arachnophobics might best be suited to another film.
Martin Freeman earns his keep as the eponymous Hobbit, his Bilbo Baggins encapsulating both the hauntingly idiosyncratic man-on-the-street he has perfected in his television work, as well as the otherworldly creature qualities Tolkien’s text requires. The screen literally lights up with magic everytime Ian McKellan appears onscreen, but alas neither he nor Freeman have as much to do this time around, with so much attention being paid to the ballooning plot and the activities of the other characters as Jackson desperately tries to convince the audience that his ragtag collection of Dwarves can be as cool as the Fellowship once was. Much of the humour from the first film returns which can sometimes lead to a feeling of repetition—how many times can snoring be used as a comedy device before it gets old? This feeling of sameness creeps its way into the action, with an off-putting feeling of familiarity as the dwarves climb over each other, fall into buckets, pull levers, end up on roller-coaster-like conveyor belts, etc.
Despite the spectacular look and feel of the film, the visuals of the film are rather shockingly flawed at times. While Smaug the Dragon looks undoubtedly phenomenal, liquid gold—a centrepiece of a significant action scene—is drab and textureless, appearing as though it were rendered on a Windows 95. Perhaps due to the infamous frame-rate of the film, certain ‘chase’ scenes look as though they were filmed on a lower quality camera. Finally, on numerous occasions, some rather awkward editing is applied to wide shots texturelessthe viewer can clearly decipher that the actor’s lips don’t match the dialogue track. Perhaps these complaints will be significantly less prominent when viewed in a traditional cinema over IMAX, but it all adds up to a rather hurried experience.
Ultimately, while it’s undoubtedly a good time at the cinema with plenty of fun, humour and adventure, Smaug never really earns its right to be a film in and of itself. It feels like what it is—a second act needlessly enhanced for the sake of profit. Despite the staggering length of the film, there is nonetheless a feeling of ‘It’s over?’ as the credits roll. Tolkien fans and moviegoers alike are certain to be delighted and disappointed as the film neither excels nor does it offend. It’s just there.