The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

If I wanted to buy some barrels I’d definitely purchase them from the elves because they make them indestructible. In one of several thrilling sequences that propel the second of this trilogy at a rate of knots, a dozen of these barrels tumbled down waterfalls, along rivers and over land complete with a dwarf passenger in each/ Afterwards they are still sturdy enough to take a pile of fish. That’s craftsmanship. Such durability is at the heart of The Desolation of Smaug, a far more focussed film than its sometimes stodgy predecessor. 

Though it runs for two hours and 40 minutes, the film is lean and seamless in its approach. It moves at such a pace that when it finally comes to rest under the mountain for an extended scene where Bilbo encounters Smaug the change of gear works perfectly. The depiction of the dragon is superb as it awakes from underneath piles of gold coins and starts to slink about the enormous hall pursuing Bilbo. The dialogue between them – like a lot of the conversations in this film- feels more real than is often the case. We benefit too from Bilbo’s renewed confidence thanks to the ring inspiring a nuanced performance from Martin Freeman. His Sherlock colleague Benedict Cumberbatch lends his tones to give Smaug a calculating air, a hissable but interesting monster. It is almost disappointing when the situation pans out for an extended climax in which Smaug becomes just another very big, dangerous creature to be felled with some rather incredulous activity that nonetheless remains exciting.
There’s more character in this film; everyone gets more to do and makes the most of their moments. Stand outs include Lee Pace as Thandrill the brooding Elf king, Evangaline Lilly as Tauriel a character apparently invented for the film who plays a key role and adds some welcome female company for what is otherwise a very male dominated affair. Of the dwarves, Ken Stott as Balin impresses with quiet dignity and Richard Armitage is superb as Thorin the proud but flawed leader. The dwarves are all good though, down to earth in more ways than one, their presence lightens the portentous air that the Lord of the Rings films possessed.

Martin was slightly miffed his salary for the Hobbit films was paid in £2 coins

In that respect Gandalf sometimes seems to have wandered in from another film. The only part of the film that seems less fresh is his sojourn with Radagast which takes us away from the thrust of the action. He ends up confronting evil in a ruined castle and it does make you ponder too that if he knew this soon what was lurking why did it take him so long to warn anyone?
It is probable that by creating or extending the slim book on which this trio of films is based has afforded Peter Jackson the opportunity to make them suit the medium far more. While THDOS does have its pretentious moments on the whole it is a more welcoming movie with which the viewer can have more affinity with the protagonists. Even the Orcs get more lines!
Visually as you might expect it looks fantastic and for the most part photo realistic enough to seem like a real place with the 3D used to support the film rather than drive it. There are a whole series of set pieces notably the party being assailed by giant spiders and an Orc raid on a town. The action is despatched so swiftly that the viewer is pulled along (like a dwarf in a barrel!) though like a lot of films these days’ matters do go slightly over the top towards the end.  Overall it feels like a complete film (despite ending on a cliff-hanger) less a spectacle to gape at as its predecessors seemed and more an adventure to share.

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