The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013)

(On Cable TV, November 2014) I had to free my mind of two reasonable notions before starting to enjoy this second instalment of The Hobbit trilogy: First, that it ought to be faithful to the original novel; and second, that it had to be paced efficiently.  Once you accept the idea that The Hobbit is going to be a grand fantasy quest put together using the same grandiose tone as The Lord of the Rings, it actually becomes a bit more bearable.  The lavish, spectacular action sequences don’t feel out of place, and once you warm up to the tone, the lack of snappiness in the telling of the tale (which will eventually stretch a 300-page book for kids into a seven-hour trilogy of movies) simply becomes something to accept.  It’s hard, of course, to fault Peter Jackson from doing the best he can in making The Hobbit seem like an important story and recapture the magic of The Lord of the Rings: This second tome never misses an occasion to harken back to the other trilogy, either by featuring the same people (Legolas, back in fine surfing form), mentioning them (“my wee lad Gimli!”) or setting up portentous signs of Sauron’s return.  Still, this is fantasy-epic filmmaking of the highest order: the lavish details are all in place, the camera flows smoothly, the CGI is often flawless and the sheer excess of means used to put together this super-production seems worthwhile in itself.  There are some crazy sequences in here, perhaps the best being a long-running battle around rapids –there’s a lengthy shot in there that’s nothing short of beautiful action filmmaking.  There are small issues here and there (a shoehorned romance, overdramatic moments, arguably a sequence designed to trigger fits for arachnophobes), but the dragon pretty much makes up for it.  The pacing, as languid as it can be, is quite a bit better than the first instalment of the trilogy, and the cliff-hanger ending promises much for the concluding volume.  In the meantime, it’s a bit foolish to try to pin down a specific rating for this middle tome –best to wait until the end to take it all in.  All seven hours of it.

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