The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (dir. Peter Jackson, 2013) – The company moves ahead in their quest to reclaim the Arkenstone from the fearsome Smaug.
Racing through a slew of adventure, The Desolation of Smaug rewards patient fans with charm and barrels of fun.
Oh, how long we have waited. Where we last left off had been a rather tantalising tease. Past the Misty Mountains and murky caves, the thirteen dwarves (and a hobbit) finally have the Lonely Mountain in sight. Spared the need for expository introduction, the middle part The Desolation of Smaug forges ahead thereupon to the thrills that await.
Atop a tree in the benighted Mirkwood, Bilbo (the always delightful Martin Freeman) emerges from a contrast of lurid beauty among autumn leaves and butterflies. He sees that their destination seems to be just within a stone’s throw, and our heart rejoices along with his.
But he soon realises that the road is never that easy. Dreadful Orcs and Great Spiders are but the very beginning of his terrors and worries. More successive trials lie ahead on their rocky path to reach the much coveted Arkenstone.
Onto new territory the company treads. Thereafter, the company of dwarves fall into the hands of Wood-Elves. It is here where we get to meet a younger Legolas (played by an older Orlando Bloom).
The familiar archer gets a rather meaty role. However, he spends the majority of time in a contrived love triangle with Tauriel the Mirkwood elf (Evangeline Lilly) and Kili (Aidan Turner). We much rather watch the three in battle than romance, but we can’t always have what we want.
Invented for the screens, Tauriel at least stands out as an apposite addition to the male-dominated cast. The fiery warrior and healer fits the Tolkienverse in both combat and acumen, putting any initial misgivings to rest. If only female characters did not need a strained romantic tangle to matter.
Essentially, the Mirkwood scenes belong to the scene-stealing Elvenking Thranduil (Lee Pace). He evinces Elvish vanity in a veil of ethereal beauty and menace in his inescapable presence. Deep-set wariness between the two races puts King against King, as he and Thorin (Richard Armitage) engage in a revealing and gripping parley.
Meanwhile, Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellen) and Radagast the Brown (Sylvester McCoy) face a threat of their own. They stand in the darkness of Dol Guldur, where the Necromancer looms. Undaunted by its full plate, the increasingly busy movie weaves swimmingly in between simultaneous events.
Each set is a visual spectacular, and the pace has tightened since our unexpected journey began. Things only get more exciting in the climatic clash with the fear-inspiring Smaug the Tyrannical.
Livening up the Dragon Dread is Benedict Cumberbatch’s adept voice work with his distinctive timbre, inflected with vile deviousness. Intimidation pours from his lava of rage as the nimble burglar leads him on a merry chase. When the treasure hunt finally seems to seal in his favour, Bilbo Baggins watches the beast unleashed in great fury and realises what is to come…
The dragon still lives, despite the title. The sprawl beyond the compact 300-page novel has begun to feel excessive at this point. But yet again edging closer to the end of another Tolkien quest, this will perhaps be the last of Middle-Earth we’ll see in a long time.
Plot additions that have incurred the wrath of some purists, have arguably brought more good than ill in enriching this otherwise plain monomyth. How the last frame torments with portent of an epic conclusion, one that is certainly worth waiting for.