The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug: Getting on With the Adventure

Posted: December 21, 2013 in Movies


When Smaug the dragon, voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch, finally shows up in the last one-third of The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug it is one of those great movie moments.  Smaug arising from a slush of gold coins and gems produces the same wonder and disgust that Gollum produced ten years before in the LOTR trilogy.  And that dragon voice echoing with regal malevolence ushers the same kind of dread in the audience as when Gollum uttered his first “precious” words. Smaug, unlike the motion captured Gollum of Andy Serkis, is an entirely CGI creation, even though Benedict Cumberbatch did slither along the recording studio floor at times in deep preparation for his voice role.   The Sherlockian past that Martin Freeman shares with Cumberbatch helps create a believable “frenemy” rivalry between Bilbo and Smaug as the finale becomes a “precious” display between Smaug’s fiery defending of his golden horde and Bilbo using the invisibility (and the blindness it produces) of his precious ring that figures prominently in the saga yet to come to steal that one gem worth a kingdom to one obsessed royal heir. Smaug is the devil in the details of Bilbo’s soul.

The skimpiness of the printed Hobbit tale prompted director Peter Jackson and writing partners Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens and Guillermo del Toro to scavenge Tolkien footnotes, marginalia and appendixes for dramatic filler.  The material devoted to The Desolation of Smaug occupies only five chapters in The Hobbit.  So the expansion keeps Smaug hitting consistent character beats as its action opens up like alternate levels of a video game.   The barrel chase down a river featuring the tiny crusaders fending off an army of Orcs is cut with the gamer point of view in mind.  Jackson is not only selling a movie but a potential theme park ride.

Of course, it is inevitable that old characters be brought back and new ones created.   Legolas (Orlando Bloom) makes an appearance, made up and digitally amazed to appear ten years younger than he was in the LOTR series.   Evangeline Lily as Tauriel, a female warrior elf, exists to give some girl power and romance to a mainly manly enterprise.   The beginning of a triangle between Legolas, and slightly taller than the rest of them dwarf, Kili (Aidan Turner) and Tauriel gives off a familiar Hunger Games echo of the Peeta, Katniss and Gale kind for the tweeny boppers.  That Lilly manages to give Tauriel a deeper emotional side is just great performance magic and nice character development.

The first Hobbit agreeably dawdled along, content to display character through character affectations and scenes of culinary indulgence.  It was all fun and no glum.  Smaug by necessity gets on with the serious business of plot development.   There are Hobbits to be made brave, cunning and wise; Kings needing to prove their royalty; alliances to be forged and broken; heroes to be fraught and tested and evil to be fought.   Is it better than an Unexpected Journey?  I withhold my judgement until the whole series has been fully formed and viewed.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug gets a B+ from me.


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