Peter Jackson’s fifth Tolkien adaptation dangles somewhere between the The Lord Of The Rings trilogy and the first The Hobbit movie. Not only in terms of chronology, but also in terms of its tone. Where it sometimes seemed An Unexpected Journey was squarely aimed at only the youngest viewers, injected with forced and childish humor, and the film never really picked up steam, The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug is an entirely different experience: it entertains from beginning to end, offers more adventure, darkness and depth. In other words: the tone of The Lord Of The Rings has returned.
Bilbo, Gandalf and the dwarves are still on their way to Erebor to take back their city under the mountain, and chase away or kill the dragon Smaug. But early on it tunrs out there’s more at stake and Gandalf is forced to leave the company to investigate Dol Guldur, an old ruin where dark forces are at work. Jackson expertly weaves these two storylines together and is a master at cutting away at the exact right moment to keep you guessing and to make you wonder what will happen next. Many viewers will be familiar with The Hobbit‘s outcome, but the director makes sure the movie is still captivating all the way through. That’s partly established through the inclusion of elements from Tolkien’s appendices and even by adding new characters: The Lord Of The Rings‘ Legolas appears in the film for example, and the female elf Tauriel, a character devised for The Hobbit‘s second and third parts, makes her entrance. These liberties make the movie fresher, more spontaneous and less servile than An Unexpected Journey was, which benefits the film’s pace and adds some surprises for those familiar with Tolkien’s book. The fact that The Desolation Of Smaug explores more new locations than it’s predecessor also contributes to the sense of wonder and excitement.
But not everything works: some of the flaws from the first The Hobbit movie have carried over, namely the forced humor and the Pirates Of The Caribbean‘ish slapstick action. The addition of a trite romantic subplot doesn’t help matters either. These elements are not entirely consistent with the mature tone Jackson seems to want for his film, which does not only make these faulty moments fall flat but it also detracts from the overall quality of the picture. Furthermore the computer effects tend to hamper the immersion: sometimes it’s far too obvious the creatures you’re looking at are fake, which takes you out of the movie, a problem that was avoided by the practical effects used for the The Lord Of The Rings trilogy. There is one computer animation that is utterly convincing though, an achievement that is a marvel to behold, and that’s the dragon Smaug. He easily ranks as one of the great movie dragons and is a memorable villain. Benedict Cumberbatch’s voice acting and motion capture ensures that the imposing beast really comes to life and steals the scenes he’s in, which is only fitting for a movie with his name in the title.
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is a big step forward: the pacing is better, the spectacle’s bigger and the characters and locations are more interesting. 8/10