Review: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (Home Release)
Dragons, Dwarves and New Zealand location shoots. These things can mean only one thing; another trip to Middle Earth, courtesy of Peter Jackson.
This instalment of Hobbity goodness picks up with a flashback to a meeting between Gandalf and Thorin, their encounter revealing the master wizard to be the instigator of the would be Dwarf King’s quest to reclaim his homeland. After that the narrative remains relatively straightforward; the company (including the titular hobbit, Bilbo) must proceed through Mirkwood forest to reach their destination, whilst Gandalf faces an unknown power in the south.
Mirkwood is a standout scene in the movie. Unbelievable creepy and laced with peril, it really makes you fear for our hero’s safety, something which the milder incident of the first film didn’t achieve. This film keeps that sense of danger along with the epic sweep of adventure, right throughout its running time. Mirkwood is also notable for the beginnings of Bilbo’s infatuation with the ring. It’s here that Martin Freeman proves himself to be not just a born reactor, but also an actor capable of expressing a character’s deepest feelings. His expression of desire, fear, confusion, self-disgust and realisation is beautifully played.
The film also carries through a sense of fun and lightness of touch, with the banter and byplay between dwarves and elves forming much of the humour, and even generating a hint of romance! The work done establishing character in the first film pays off, the company of dwarves feeling like lived in people who we can root for.
Ken Stott in particular gets a chance to shine, his heartfelt response to Thorin “His name is Bilbo!” reminding him (and the audience) of the potential cost of his quest.
And what a potential cost there may be. The dragon in the lonely mountain; Smaug. A most magnificent CGI creation, menacingly voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch, Smaug is like the ultimate end of level boss. His meeting with Bilbo is like a cat toying with a mouse. It’s clear this dragon has the smarts to match his awesome power.
The film stops at an almighty cliff-hanger which is understandable, given that Peter Jackson had to end it somewhere to make it a movie trilogy. However, despite being a great enticement to go and see the next film (for those who haven’t read the book) it feels narratively unsatisfying and abrupt in its closure.
The other problem the story has is that there is no clear lead (the closest being the magnificent Richard Armitage’s Thorin). Whilst not a problem in and of itself, when you factor in the shifting locations and variety of events it can blur the focus of the film, leaving the audience without a rock to hang onto while the story flows through.
What is ace in this film is the action. Whether is be the dwarves’ rousing barrel escape down a river or the elves graceful combat with orcs, the events are well choreographed and practically hum with excitement. The greatest compliment you could pay this film is that in its purple patches it feels like a well struck balance between the sweeping epic and the more intimate, character driven film. It’s not always perfectly calibrated, but when the movie is at its best it charms you fully, just like Thorin and company.
Extras: A veritable sackfull of stuff from behind-the-scenes production videos to breakdowns of key locations and scenes. All very interesting and informative.
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is out on DVD, Blu-ray and Blu-ray 3D on 7 April 2014.