A familiar feeling came over me a third of the way through The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. It was reminiscent of what happened during last year’s The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. I became blanketed with a thin layer of disappointment. It is difficult not to immediately compare The Hobbit Trilogy to The Lord of the Rings Trilogy.
Unfortunately, for The Hobbit, there is no real comparison.
The main ailment plaguing Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit Trilogy is that it’s been made into a trilogy. As the second movie has now been released, it is becoming clear that The Hobbit would be told with more effectiveness as a two part movie series instead of stretched into three. And when you stretch something, it becomes thin in areas. One of those areas is following Gandalf on his adventures away from the group to seek out the Necromancer. The other is much of the film’s beginning following the dwarves and Bilbo as they are being pursued by Azog and his band of Orcs.
While this had definite potential for excitement, the pursuit falls right on the heels of the fiery climax in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. Thus, as the beginning of a second installment, it falls flat. I wasn’t immediately pulled into Middle Earth, which I desperately wanted to be. I had to meander around, as with the characters. The dwarves, Bilbo and Gandalf take refuge from Azog with Beorn, as skin-changer, who is first introduced as a bear, then later a very tall and hairy man. While Beorn is an interesting character, he slows the pace of the film’s opening half hour.
Luckily for those viewing the film, our companions make it to Mirkwood and enter the forest only to be tangled up with some nasty gigantic spiders. At this moment, I had finally entered Middle Earth. Suspense had spun its way into the story-line and I was enthralled. One of the most enjoyable moments in this sequence comes from the spiders themselves. Their high-pitched repetitive dialogue not only reminded me of the book, but also the 1977 animated feature of The Hobbit. Yet, a new character, somewhat controversial to lovers of all things Tolkien, is the one who begins to truly save The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug.
Evangeline Lilly plays Tauriel, an elf who is as skilled with the blade and bow as she is showing us true emotion. Tauriel is not in Tolkien’s The Hobbit. She was created by Jackson and his partner Fran Walsh to bring a female presence into a male dominated cast. While I was suspicious of this insertion, she was needed. And when I say she, I’m writing more about Lilly herself. On screen, her presence pulls the film of out its meandering malaise. She injects both life into the film but a humanness to the otherwise wooden elves. While I am partial to Lilly due to my previous obsession with LOST, she has an immediate connection with the audience, something lacking by many of the other characters.
The next clear savior of the film is Smaug, the dragon himself. I have watched countless films with computer generated characters, yet I have never seen one not only so life-like, but seamless in how he’s presented. Not once did I believe Smaug wasn’t real. This is a true testament to both the creative team working on the dragon and also how far computer technology has come. It makes me begin salivating for what the dinosaurs will look like in the upcoming Jurassic World. Benedict Cumberbatch delivers a terrific performance as the voice for Smaug. He is what you think he’d be: menacing, dominant and fickle. The best part about Smaug is the time we get to spend with him. Never did it feel shortchanged.
Overall, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is a good film. While it does meander too much with side adventures that never propel the story forward and would be better off left to the Extended Versions when the film comes to DVD, Jackson still taps into enough adventure, suspense and wonder to pull the film off with modest success. But without Evangeline Lilly and the wonderfully created Smaug, I think this middle act would have been far too bloated for my liking.