********* 8 out of 10 *********
Who knows what J.R.R. Tolkien would have imagined his piece of work to turn out to be when he had his novel The Hobbit published in 1937 and then wrote The Lord of the Rings trilogy between 1937 and 1949? Could he have foreseen that his writing would turn out to be one of the finest literary works of the century which would be read with enthusiasm by folks in the next century as well? Would he have thought that decades later they would be adapted into two trilogies in Hollywood, which would rake in some incredible box-office collections? Or would Tolkien have seen writing as an escape for his mind from the horrors that were being committed during the Second World War, and nothing more? Did he simply enjoy the journey of writing a book, so very much like the journey his hobbits have undertaken, and not worried about the success or failure of the end products? So many of these questions we would have no answers to. But one thing we do know is that Tolkien’s books and Peter Jackson’s adaptations of them have contributed to one of the greatest movie franchises in cinematic history, which has been filled with such magnificent adventures that would make you itch to push open the doors of your house and set out on one of your own. The four movies which have been released so far (The Lord of the Rings trilogy and The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey) have earned close to $4 billion in worldwide revenues and gathered 17 Oscars. But their achievements go beyond the commercial and critical success; they have created a whole new universe for the audience to submerge themselves in and learn more about friendship and courage and wisdom and love, through the adventures of these different races of the Middle-Earth. Now The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug continues on this path, delivering on its promise of another exhilarating tale filled with enough moments of warmth and spook, and living up to the old adage, “It is not the destination, but the journey that matters!”
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is the typical second movie of a trilogy. It neither opens nor closes on its own, but does enough to make you reminisce about the prequel of last year, and eagerly await the sequel releasing next year. Continuing from where The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey left us, the band of dwarves, along with a hobbit and a wizard are being chased by Orcs led by Azog the Defiler. To continue their journey forward, the group has to make way through Mirkwood, but without Gandalf who leaves to explore a rather dark place. From hereon we embark on two different adventures: one with the dwarves and the hobbit, Bilbo Baggins, which is filled with encounters with Elves, Orcs, and Men as the group inches closer to its final destination, Erebor; the other is the path taken by Gandalf who seeks hard to find out the mysterious powers that are shaping up in Dol Guldur. It is a race against time for all, as the dwarves need to reach the Lonely Mountain by Durin’s Day so as to enter Erebor, while Gandalf needs to uncover the mysteries hidden in Dol Guldur to stop an impending war. And so the adventure begins!
This is Peter Jackson’s world. Even though Guillermo del Toro was all set to direct The Hobbit series, no one knows it better than Peter Jackson. Even though J.R.R. Tolkien created this whole universe of the Middle-Earth, it is Peter Jackson who converted it into flesh and blood with sincerity and astuteness. There is nothing that seems too elaborate, and yet its grandeur and magnitude humble you. Movies of this size and class come only a few times a year, if they do at all, and so it is imperative for us to take a step back to simply appreciate the efforts taken by Peter Jackson and his team to provide us with something so grand and so rich with its visuals, and its dialogues, and the history, that for those 160-odd minutes of run time, the real world fades away, and only Middle-Earth exists. The time of our dreams, where heroes fought for their rights and took a stand against powers stronger than them, where allegiances were formed and friendships carved for the greater good, where love triumphed despite the darkness, where courage was needed and rewarded even if the rewards came late. And where an adventure does not seem too far away. Peter Jackson excels again in depicting Middle-Earth with all its richness and its glory, along with the growing darkness and evil, in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. The wide shots are the best, with the landscapes of such breath-taking beauty that seem beyond the world of ours. But it is the way the cameras move, fluidly, gliding downwards from the top or moving left from the right, which adds more to the thrill of the adventure, and makes you feel a part of it all. Your heart skips a beat when the ring falls from Bilbo’s hands, you shriek when the Orcs arrive, you feel dizzy with joy when Legolas battles the Orcs in his unique style. And you cower when Smaug reveals his mammoth size. Great directors know how to make a statement; they can make the ordinary stand out by taking the perfect shot, which otherwise may have been forgotten. Peter Jackson has been a master story-teller, we all know that, and with The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, he once again confirms the obvious. Middle-Earth would not have been the same under anyone else!
The music score is once again provided by Howard Shore and plays another key role in turning up and down the tempo of the film. But the main theme song of the previous film “Song of the Lonely Mountain” which was hummed regularly during the film, is badly missed here, and the alternatives do not match up to that piece. The behind-the-cameras team is largely the same that worked on the previous film, with Andrew Lesnie as the cinematographer and Jabez Olssen as editor. Needless to say, they know their jobs and do it quite well.
Martin Freeman returns as Bilbo Baggins, and it was his mannerisms, his simplicity, his hesitations, and at times his awkwardness, which made him such an endearing hobbit in the first film. Freeman’s acting brings forth all those attributes once again , and now add to that a bit of aggression that comes over him as the powers of the One Ring start to work its dark magic. In a movie with such a wide cast and filled with so many different sub-plots, it is at times difficult to leave your unique mark. But Martin Freeman manages to stand on his own with a delightful and fresh performance. Joining him is Ian McKellen who is playing Gandalf for the fifth time now, and ain’t it just a joy to see him on the big screen! The attire never changes (until he became Gandalf the White), nor does his resounding persona in all the films; his mere presence along with his charming smile and mischievous eyes, give hope to us as much as to Bilbo Baggins and the others. And then there is Richard Armitage who plays Thorin Oakenshield, the leader of the dwarves. Armitage brings a different personality altogether to the movie, that of a tough commander who does occasionally display a soft heart; the strength of his voice is what keeps the group on track towards its goal, and add the pride in his eyes which seeks to regain what was lost, and you have a dwarf there who looks worthy of being the king. The other twelve elves become more easily recognisable now, with each one of them adding a bit of uniqueness to the tale, no doubt helped by Peter Jackson’s ability to somehow make the presence of even the smallest of his characters appear meaningful in the grand scheme of things.
There are a bunch of new characters that emerge in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. And it is simply a joy to see Orlando Bloom make a return as Legolas after his heroics in The Lord of the Rings made him quite a star. Bloom as Legolas is a bit more arrogant in this movie, though his enmity with dwarves is something now we know of. There is once again that grace and charm about him, which would make the ladies swoon. And as for his battle scenes, I would have paid for my ticket only to watch those… incredibly fluid and graceful as ever! There is someone else who matches Orlando Bloom in terms of grace and beauty, and that is Evangeline Lilly playing an elf and the Chief of Guards, Tauriel. She finds a lot of screen time in the film, and uses it to perfection to leave a strong impression. The same holds true for Luke Evans playing Bard, who should have a bigger role to play one imagines in the final film. And then there is Smaug and Benedict Cumberbatch. Who needs to even make an appearance if you have a voice with such depth and power! Without revealing too much, Cumberbatch gives Smaug a voice of might and arrogance, bringing that creature really to life. The work done on creating Smaug is amazing, and his size and ferocity displayed towards the latter parts of the film made it all worth waiting for.
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug should charm all those who loved the book, and those who love adventures of a sizeable nature. There would be quite a few, I can imagine, who would complain about the lack of battles in this film, but not me, for sure. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is a movie about a journey, through tough and winding roads; it is about staying alive to reach the destination. It is not an action film, and it should not be. There are many films that enact battle scenes, real ones and fictional, magical and non-magical. Only a few can show an adventure of this size, which keeps taking the story forward with such aplomb. There would be a bigger battle, no doubt, when The Hobbit: There and Back Again releases in December 2014. Till then, we enjoy the journey of the dwarves and a hobbit and a wizard. Truly magical indeed!