Monday, January 6, 2014

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

There's no doubt this second installment in the film trilogy of Tolkien's novel, The Hobbit, is an exciting, well made movie that is a visual treat but a loose retelling of this famous story. Diehard Tolkien fans will be disappointed with Peter Jackson's film adaptation, because that is exactly what this is - a mostly made up story loosely based on the middle part of the The Hobbit.

The film opens with some backstory showing Gandalf meeting Thorin Oakenshield at the Prancing Pony and convincing him to retrieve the Arkenstone as well as to drive out Smaug from the Lonely Mountain. Gandalf tells Thorin that something evil has awakened and that he is concerned that this evil will ultimately use Smaug for its own ends.

After this, the movie picks up where the first left off,  with the dwarves entering Mirkwood accompanied by Bilbo Baggins, but without the protection of Gandalf the Grey who leaves them for a mission of his own. Gandalf warns them not to stray from the old elven path or they will become hopelessly lost. Bilbo can sense that things are not right in Mirkwood, telling Gandalf that the forest is "sick".

In a flashback, the two wizards, Gandalf and Radagast decide they need to check the sealed tombs of the nine Nazgul kings. There are rumours of a necromancer in the destroyed fortress of Dol Guldur and of the return of a terrible evil that was thought to have been destroyed 400 years earlier.

While the dwarves make their way through Mirkwood, attempting to stay on the path, Gandalf journeys to where he meets up with Radagast and together they discover the terrible truth that the Nazgul tombs have been breached. Radagast is sent by Gandalf to tell Galadriel, while Gandalf journeys to Dol Guldur to confront the evil there before it goes any further.Unfortunately, Gandalf is no match for the evil who reveals himself as Sauron.

Back in Mirkwood, the dwarves are attacked by the spiders who capture the entire party except Bilbo. Using the ring to hide himself, Bilbo can hear the spiders talking to one another about the delicious meals they have just captured. When Bilbo is in danger of losing the one ring, he viciously slays the spider and manages to free the dwarves. But their freedom is only momentary as they are captured by Legolas and Tauriel of the Mirkwood elves and taken to the elvenking, Thranduil. Tauriel is intruigued by one of the dwarves, the handsome and not so short, Kili.  Bilbo through the use of the ring manages to enter Thranduil's realm unseen and frees the dwarves by placing them in barrels which he releases into the river.

At the time of their escape, the orcs under the command of Bolg attack Thranduil's kingdom. The dwarves escape and meet up with Bard who smuggles them into Laketown where the residents of Dale now live.  However, Kili has been wounded by a Morgul blade and becomes ill. When Thranduil learns of the evil outside of his kingdom he orders it sealed. However, Tauriel upon learning of the wounded Kili, disobeys her king and leaves, followed by Legolas.

The mayor of Dale soon learns of the dwarves presence and their intent to retake the Lonely Mountain. At first the townsfolk are horrified, but Thorin manages to convince them that they will share in the treasure beneath the Lonely Mountain. They along with Bilbo are sent off on the journey with great fanfare. The people of Dale do not know however, that the dwarves continue to be hunted by Bolg and his orcs, who are in turn being followed by Tauriel and Legolas.

Bilbo finds his way into the Lonely Mountain by the runes and is sent by Thorin to steal the Arkenstone. However, he only succeeds in awakening Smaug who becomes enraged when he can smell the dwarves.In an attempt to destroy Smaug, they have him restart the long dead forges and attempt to kill him by drowning him in gold. The movie ends with Bilbo and  Thorin watching in horror as Smaug emerges from the mountain intent upon destroying Laketown for helping the dwarves.

Viewers will be captivated by the beautiful cinematography and the amazing CGI within this movie - something Peter Jackson excels at. Because this was originally a children's book, the plot is not so detailed as the adult novels in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, providing Jackson will less to work with. Perhaps because of this, Jackson has taken it upon himself to embellish the storyline with a ridiculous elven-dwarve love triangle that involves a character who does not exist in the original story and to resurrect an Orc king, Azog who has a vendetta against the dwarve heir - Thorin. It all seems a trifle silly. As well, the CGI antics of Legolas are far beyond those seen in the Lord of the Rings movies - he's amazingly agile, fast with both knife and bow, so much so that it's almost impossible to visually follow all of his moves. 

Despite this major flaw, the film effectively captures the dangerous quest of the dwarves to reclaim their long lost kingdom. Jackson does a great job of portraying the once great wealth and grandeur that characterized the dwarve kingdom of Erebor - ruins overflowing with gold, jewels and precious stones that give viewers a feel for both the wealth and the greed of the dwarves. Wealth guarded by a terrible dragon who verbally fences with Bilbo while slinking through the tons of gold that he guards - one of the best parts of the movie!

Martin Freeman is delightful as the seemingly quaint hobbit, Bilbo Baggins, who is believed to be a master burglar by the dwarves. He is however,  revealed to have a stout heart filled with more courage than all the dwarves put together. Richard Armitage makes a fine Thorin, in whom we begin to see the corrupting influence of the Arkenstone and gold. He is more than willing to let Bilbo die while retrieving the Arkenstone, were it not for the conscience of Balin who pressures Thorin into helping save Bilbo from the wrath of Smaug.

Benedict Cumberbatch gives voice to Smaug, capturing his maleficence in all its evil glory. As the long-winded Smaug toys with Bilbo the suspense builds as to whether the hobbit can grab the Arkenstone and make it out of Erebor.

The Desolation of Smaug is a very, very good movie - it has visual appeal, great casting, plenty of action and suspense. Enjoy it while recognizing that it does stray from the storyline and it has lost some of the charm of the Lord of Rings movies.

The theme song, sung by Ed Sheeran, I See Fire can be enjoyed below:

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