Review: “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug”

I have something to confess. Despite coming from the land of “Lord of the Rings” (a.k.a., New Zealand), I have secretly never finished reading it.

I always end up petering out somewhere in the middle of “The Two Towers”—around about the time that the Ents (the talking tree-people) are discussing at excruciating length whether they should help their middle earth comrades out in their quest. When I found out that the Ents had spent the first full days of their talks greeting one another, I just gave up. To my eternal shame, I still only know what happens at the end from (*gulp*) the Peter Jackson movies.

But “The Hobbit” is a whole other story. While the “Lord of the Rings” is a fantasy of epic proportions, “The Hobbit” is less of an epic quest and more of a charming adventure story for children. Running at only 277 page—and with songs and jokes thrown in for good measure—this was a book that I happily revisited, year upon year.

So the news that Peter Jackson’s “The Hobbit” was going to spread across three feature-length movies made my jaw drop. How on earth were they going to stretch out that little plot across over nine hours of movie time? Like my failure to finish “The Lord of the Rings,”I feared that I was doomed to lose interest somewhere around the midway mark.

And lo and behold, I was right.The first instalment, “An Unexpected Journey,” was panned by critics for dragging out the first chapters of “The Hobbit” and not getting the characters anywhere. The lengthy introductions of characters, the unnecessary fight scenes—it was a movie in search of a quest.

But how did the second chapter of the tale fare? Let’s find out.

How does it compare to “Unexpected Journey?”

So much better. Peter Jackson has listened to his fan’s feedback on how the first film dragged, and it shows. The story is fast-paced, with the dwarves careening from one mishap to the next throughout. Bilbo Baggins has taken on the mantle of a burglar, and Jackson has adapted the tale slightly so that it is a chase movie, with the orcs close behind the party at every turn, adding some adrenaline to what could otherwise have been a plodding tale. The chase takes us from cob-webbed covered forests, to the forest elves’ hauntingly beautiful Mirkwood, the the mist-shrouded village of Laketown, and the Smaug’s glittering den, littered with gold, jewels, and the corpses of his foes.

The special effects are impressive, the Orcs are just as disgusting and cut-throat as ever, and Smaug the dragon is a work of terrifying art. And the scenery? Breathtaking (but I would say that!).

Where are the ladies at?

Tolkein wasn’t strong on writing female characters, and “The Hobbit” has next to none. Tauriel (Evangaline Lilly) is Peter Jackson’s answer to the complete lack of female characters in the original story. A fierce warrior, her fighting prowess sees her capturing the dwarves, slaying Orcs, and tracking our questors through middle earth. And yes, she’s also the token love interest—torn between the stern but supportive Legolas and the smooth-talking dwarf Kili. The love story adds a bit of heart to the tale, but my inner cranky crone wished that we could have had a strong female character who didn’t need a sappy romance as her ticket to be there.

What will The Hobbit lovers think of it?

The movie is “The Hobbit” on a grand scale, but with more gloom and less delightful humour than the original book. Jackson has taken out the songs  peppered throughout the original story that the dwarves sang together around the fire at night, but the consolation prize is that Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins is the perfect embodiment of the Bilbo we grew up with. Watch out for the scene of the bulky Bombur going down the river in his barrel—a scene that captures the delightful child-like humour that Tolkein’s first book was so cherished for.

Does Smaug deliver?

Smaug only enters the movie in the final half-hour—but he is worth the wait. The portrayal of Smaug by Benedict Cumberbatch is Smaug at his best: Evil, powerful, and frightening enough that a whole new generation of children are going to be going to bed at night and checking the cupboard for dragons.

Should you see it?

Hell yes. It’s Peter Jackson at his finest; epic questing, comic camaraderie, stunning scenery, and heart-stopping fight-scenes.

Infinitely better than the first installment, the movie sets the scene for an explosive final chapter – and I can’t wait to see it.

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Have you seen “The Desolation of Smaug?” Tweet us @litdarling and tell us what you thought!

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