3-9 January 2014 #688

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Sophia Pande

Everyone who ever grew up reading The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings books have one thing in common – an obsession with Middle Earth and a deep yearning and nostalgia every time we pick up those beloved books.

So when the first instalment of The Lord of the Rings came out in 2001, I was in a heightened state of anxiety, I mean, after all, how could Peter Jackson possibly realise the soaring expectations of millions? And yet he did – with that first trilogy which I count among my three favourite films of all time.

The anxiety and speculation started again with rumours that Jackson would then develop and direct The Hobbit. When it was later announced that that slim book would be extrapolated into not one but three films, we all shook our heads – this time Hollywood’s avarice had gone too far. So it was with trepidation that I went to see the first of these three films last year – circa this time.

Although panned by critics, I must admit I was delighted to find myself back in Middle Earth, surrounded (courtesy of ubiquitous 3D) by the Shire and dwarves and elves and of course Gandalf (the legend that is now Ian McKellan).

So going to see the The Desolation of Smaug was slightly less stressful. It is clear by now that Jackson’s greatest strength is his commitment to Tolkien’s material in all of its entirety. This is why you will find entire storylines in these films that you will not remember from The Hobbit – Jackson and his screenwriting partners have in fact incorporated information from the appendices to The Return of the King and cleverly worked them into the story.

Hence we have a wonderful storyline harking the return of Legolas (arguably Orlando Bloom’s best role to date) and even more excitingly his potential love interest Tauriel (played beautifully by Evangeline Lilly). There are many other elements that you will not recognise from the book – but rest assured, they do not bloat the film, only elevate its complexity.

Jackson’s strengths have always been his ability to cast just the right people for these archetypal parts and so in addition to the already brilliant Martin Freeman (Bilbo Baggins), Richard Armitage (Thorin Oakenshield), Stephen Fry (Master of Lake-town), we also have the much talked about Benedict Cumberbatch (of Sherlock Holmes fame) as Smaug the last, great, terrifyingly magnificent dragon of Middle Earth.

This second and middle film (always a tricky one) is astonishingly good at propelling forward the quest to reach the mountain and the dragon with a great deal of extraordinarily choreographed action set pieces linking the narrative to ensure that we never lose our sense of the grand adventure. The only regret I had when leaving this 161 minute long film is that despite its length, it never quite had the time to breathe, give us a bit of that hobbit humour we have so grown to love, and, most unfortunately, we never have the time to linger in the beauties of Middle Earth – for this film deals more with Orcs, a rather terrifying Necromancer, and of course with dragon-fire.

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