Saturday, December 21, 2013

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013)

Directed by: Peter Jackson
Starring: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Richard Armitage, Orlando Bloom, Luke Evans, others.
Release date: December 12, 2013 (UAE)

All fears that Peter Jackson is not the director he used to be will be quelled with THE HOBBIT: THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG. In a boisterous return to form, Jackson churns out the best action-adventure movie of the year in a harmonious blend of his love of epic scale & choreographed action sequences with J. R. R. Tolkien’s fun & adventurous episodes from the book. Jackson does take many cinematic liberties with the source material, something that will not go down well with Tolkien-purists. This is not entirely detrimental to the movie though. In fact, this will satisfy all that complained about the seemingly languid pace and lack of action in AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY.

Starting with a short flashback to a familiar setting, THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG plunges right back into the ongoing perilous journey of the company of dwarves led by would-be king Thorin and accompanied by Gandalf & Bilbo Baggins. Getting to Erebor does not come easy though, especially with Gandalf having to leave the group for a task of his own – to tackle the Necromancer at Dol Guldur. Bilbo, Thorin and the dwarves face further challenges, from giant spiders to hostile elves and many more before finally facing the evil and cunning dragon Smaug.

Though the film lasts 161 minutes, THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG doesn’t feel like a long film – it moves at break-neck speed. Having established the backstory in AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY, the movie hits the ground running, taking the characters from one moment of peril to another. Amongst many, three key sequences are especially spectacular – the spiders of Mirkwood, the barrel chase and the face-off with Smaug. Jackson’s ingenuity is in full display in these sequences: from tackling the concept of speaking spiders (considering Shelob did not speak in THE RETURN OF THE KING) to the white-knuckle experience of the energetic barrel-chase pitting orcs against elves against barrel-riding dwarves floating through white-water rapids. Expectedly the best is saved for the end, when the majesty of Smaug is unleashed. In terms of a technological marvel, Smaug (motion-capture & voice performance by Benedict Cumberbatch) is as impressive as Gollum. But the dragon’s sheer size, booming voice and therefore presence lend magnificence to the beast. The scene between Martin Freeman’s Bilbo and Smaug is a high point in the movie, not unlike the Bilbo-Gollum scene from the first film.

Freeman again turns in a fantastic performance as Bilbo, bringing the right balance of humour, wonder and wit to his part. More than the top-notch special effects, production design and musical score, it is Freeman’s Bilbo that elevates Middleearth from make-believe to a realistic fantasy world. Among the new characters added to the returning ones, significant presence is given to the warrior elf Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly) and Bard the bowman (Luke Evans), the principal human character of the trilogy. While not positioned for heroics yet, Evans brings warmth to his Bard as a vulnerable family man in a soulful performance. In contrast, Tauriel is feisty and adds a much needed emotional sub-plot to the films. Not a character from Tolkien-lore, Tauriel is a fabrication of the film’s writers. As a friend of Legolas (Orlando Bloom), she brings a grounded perspective to the prince of Woodland realm hinting at an important resonance in his future in Middleearth.

With the amount of ground covered in the film, it goes over some portions too quickly. While this builds anticipation for the extended edition, it makes for a markedly different viewing experience from the first film. The most memorable incidents from the book barely touched upon, if at all. As the middle-chapter of a trilogy, THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG also suffers from the shortfall of ending without resolving or reasonably concluding the various story arcs. The last scene with Gandalf is particularly abrupt. The episodic end deprives the audience of emotional closure, something that Peter Jackson had tackled successfully in his previous Middleearth movies. These minor gripes aside, it is an absolute rollicking time at the cinema and there could not have been a better way to set up the grand finale, THE HOBBIT: THERE AND BACK AGAIN (December 2014).

My Rating --> 4.5 of 5

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