Monday, 17 March 2014

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Two thirds into this achingly long franchise, and most of the problems surrounding An Unexpected Journey continue to resonate; the characters are two-dimensional, CGI is used too liberally, and the plot is bloated and messy. But one thing this film has that the first one doesn’t is a colossal, terrifying, beautiful dragon.

The dragon Smaug reminds us - amidst the rest of the film’s clichéd orcs and soulless landscapes – of the potential for CGI, and is quite possibly the technology’s crowning achievement to date.  He lurks among his stolen treasure is the vividly realised setting of the Lonely Mountain, which by necessity is vast enough to contain his startling size, and the use of motion-capture and Benedict Cumberbatch’s voice give him anthropomorphic qualities that establish him as a fully fledged character rather than simply a monster. This is the only scene from the Hobbit films to rival the best in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and like the riddle sequence with Gollum in An Unexpected Journey, is shaped by an intriguing battle of wits that is tonally distinct.  

Unfortunately, before getting to the dragon we have to sit through two hours of sub-standard fantasy. When the wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen) sits down with Dwarf king Thorin (Richard Armitage) and draws up a plan to steal the Arkenstone treasure from Smaug, there are encouraging signs that this second instalment will follow a straightforward, coherent story. These hopes are quickly extinguished, however, as stale, uninvolving plot strands keep popping up and clogging up the extortionate running time.

For example, the film’s insistence on following the Necromancer plot line does little other than redundantly foreshadow ­The Lord of the Rings, and takes Gandalf away from other characters with which the inimitable Ian McKellen can work his charm. Similarly, the noble decision to at least partially redress the gender balance by introducing the female elf Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly) is immediately counteracted when she is lazily placed in a bland love-triangle involving the similarly bland Kili (Aidan Turner) and Legolas (Orlando Bloom), that makes Aragorn and Arwen’s dull fling in the original trilogy look like Casablanca.
However, it’s perhaps unfair to accuse the film of sexism when the male characters are equally two-dimensional. The interesting duo of Bilbo (Martin Freeman) and Gandalf are sidelined while a hoard of uninspired characters – the Bard (Luke Evans), the Master of Lake-town (played distractingly by Stephen Fry), the interchangeable dwarves - are given the odd scene here and there. Ironically, the most rounded of all the new characters is probably the proud and greedy Smaug.

Much of the problem lies in the script, with most lines either functioning as exposition or a reiteration of just how much peril everyone is in. One line in particular, when Gandalf tells Bilbo that ‘you’ve changed’, is a damning microcosm of the scripts shortcomings; though we’re told Bilbo has changed, there’s very little – barring one promising scene in which the ring’s power seems to overcome the Hobbit - to suggest that he actually has. Jackson seems to have forgotten the fundamentals of storytelling, and as such fails to resonate with the viewer the same way he did in The Lord of the Rings.

Still, he can still spin together a good action set piece, and there’s a number to enjoy here even before we get the Lonely Mountain – one sequence involving some barrels and rapids stands out, even if it does feel a bit like a pitch for a theme park.  

More discipline, focus and better storytelling would have made this a strong adventure yarn, but instead The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is uneven and at time boring, and, remarkably for a film so long, doesn’t even have a proper ending (perhaps Jackson has had enough of endings having included so many in The Return of the King). Nevertheless, much is forgiven thanks to Smaug- gaze upon his  magnificence! 



  1. Does anyone actually read this blog?

  2. No, not really. Apart from you apparently.