This article features spoilers for The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.
After a long wait, fans of J.R.R. Tolkien’s book The Hobbit finally get to see a big screen version of the classic tale that features one of the most memorable characters the author ever made, Smaug. But, does Peter Jackson’s film adaptation live up to the massive expectations from fans the world over? I think so.
Picking up shortly after Bilbo (Martin Freeman), Thorin (Richard Armitage), Gandalf (Ian McKellen), and company escape the clutches of the goblin king and the subsequent ambush led by the pale orc, Azog the Defiler (Manu Bennett), the group finds themselves being hunted along the borders of the forests of Mirkwood. After a brief encounter with the skinchanger Beorn (Mikael Persbrandt), Bilbo and Thorin find themselves leading the company into Mirkwood without Gandalf, who has left on an urgent errand to discover the true identity of the nefarious Necromancer (Benedict Cumberbatch). As the dwarves journey ever closer to their goal they must face vicious orcs, cruel elves, and greedy men. However, at the end of their road lies the greatest foe they will ever face, the monstrous dragon Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch).
Early on, The Desolation of Smaug seems like it might be trying to cram too much into too short a time. Within moments, we are introduced to Beorn, we leave Beorn, we are given a short history of how Gandalf convinced Thorin to undertake this epic quest, and we’re introduced to Thranduil (Lee Pace), Legolas (Orlando Bloom), and Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly). With so much going on, the movie began to feel cluttered and lost some of its strength.
I was worried that the film might fall short of An Unexpected Journey, which would be devastating to the series. When the dwarves encounter the elves, and Kili (Aidan Turner) and Tauriel begin to develop a relationship, I grew even more worried. Their “love story” felt awkward and out of place (especially seeing as it was not in the book), and sadly, it never becomes anything more throughout the duration of the film. However, my fears were thankfully dispersed when the film entered its second act.
Even from the beginning, the film wastes no time in upping the amount of action tenfold. there’s no lengthy setups like Fellowship of the Ring or An Unexpected Journey. Epic fantasy battles abound and each one is more tense and entertaining than the last. There’s a short lull once the dwarves reach Laketown, which is good because most of the first and third acts are so action packed that having that somewhat calm middle ground allows the story to build momentum and allows you to catch your breath before the big reveal of Samug. And my god! What a reveal it is!
Gollum was a huge technical achievement in Jackson’s adaptation of The Two Towers. Andy Serkis’ performance won several awards, and the character’s realization by the wizards at Weta Digital garnered everything from critical acclaim, to Academy Awards, to the adoration of fans new and old. Smaug however, is something else entirely. First of all, the sheer size of the beast is something to behold on its own. I’ve never seen such a massive and incredible dragon on the silver screen before.
When the size of the creature is initially revealed, I literally got goosebumps. On top of that, Smaug trumps Gollum on just about every level. The same facial scanning programs that were used for Serkis are used with Cumberbatch, and the result is a dragon that isn’t only imposing in size, but also in demeanor. As Smaug sneers, snaps, and breathes flame, you can’t help but feel like a little kid again. The awesome spectacle and wonder that his screen presence generates is unmatched by an fantasy character that exists today. Expertly voiced by Cumberbatch, Tolkien’s legendary dragon comes to life and soars into greatness and brings the film along with him.
As the film closed, and the stakes took an exponential jump higher, I couldn’t help but compare this middle chapter to the middle chapter of the original Star Wars trilogy. Where the Empire Strikes Back was a quantum leap forward for the series and stands as the best Star Wars film ever made, so does
The Desolation of Smaug carry this Hobbit trilogy into legend. The film does end on a massive cliffhanger, but unlike many other films I’ve seen this year, the cliffhanger doesn’t ruin the movie (I’m talking about you Thor…), but instead leaves you breathless and extremely excited for the conclusion of the trilogy. As it stands, The Desolation of Smaug is the best fantasy film of the past five years, and surely your best bet for an exhilarating, and satisfying time at the theaters this holiday season.