I went to see The Hobbit, Desolation of Smaug expecting a little disappointment. The marketing had already made me realise that there would be too many elves; still I hoped that the rest of the film would be as mind blowing as An Unexpected Journey.
We stupidly didn’t book our tickets and so ended up sat on the row second from the front. I type this now with a very sore neck. Next to me were two small boys, and you can probably guess what my reaction to that was. But those boys were fantastic. Silent and enthralled throughout, the one next to me even jumping at all the right places, and in turn making me jump.
**Minor spoiler alert**
The Desolation of Smaug picks up more or less where An Unexpected Journey ends. Thorin Oakenshield, heir to the dwarven kingdom of Erebor, is leading his company, including hobbit Bilbo Baggins, to the Lonely Mountain to claim what is theirs. This is the second film in the trilogy and left me shouting at myself. Why, oh why, did I have to read the book at the beginning of this year?
Watch out for Peter Jackson’s cameo at the very beginning! Remember where the company was left at the end of the first film? On top of a rock shaped like a bears head, an omen of the good stuff to come. Except that it doesn’t. Beorn, a favourite character in the book, is magnificent, and then he’s gone.
But that’s ok, I thought, because now we’re venturing into Mirkwood, where all manner of dark and wonderful things will happen. Or not. Everything happens very quickly, which seems to be a theme in these films. The scenes that take the time and pleasure in the book are rushed in the films, which seem to focus on only necessary scenes and completely new material.
This film is not for the arachnophobe. The Mirkwood spiders are incredible, a fantastic use of CGI and actually quite scary even if you like spiders (like me). In fact, during the spider scene, the boy next to me touched my foot with his and I very nearly squealed and kicked him! Hearing the spiders talk was also wonderful, I’d forgotten about that from the book. But it is all over too quickly.
In fact, Mirkwood is over before you know it. All too soon we are in the wood elf kingdom. Now, I’m not a fan of elves, but I rather love the wood elf kingdom and I rather love Thranduil, the wood elf king and father to Legolas. He is played brilliantly by Lee Pace and of all the elves, he was the one I wanted to see more of.
The makers of the film decided to create Tauriel, the captain of the guard, to bring a little bit of femininity to proceedings, and also brought back Legolas from Lord of the Rings, played again by Orlando Bloom.
I hate to say this, but I actually quite like Tauriel (Evangeline Lily). She’s strong and independent, with a good heart and can very much look after herself. This is rather ruined by most of her scenes being justified by men. Either she is luminous as Kili falls head over heels for her or she is humble as she is told Legolas is fond of her. What is an elf to do? Her existence and relationship with Kili concerns me, will this change the ending of the story?
I also quite like Legolas being in Mirkwood. It makes sense. He is a prince and that is his kingdom, but his continued presence throughout the film is not necessary. Nor is it justifiable. The only reason I can see to give him such a role is so that I could look away and stretch my neck without worrying about missing anything (the writers must have known I would be so close to the screen).
My favourite scene in the book is when Bilbo and Smaug, the dragon, meet and talk. Sadly, this scene seems a little downplayed in the film and so much more could have been made of it. But Smaug. Oh, Smaug! The stealer of the show, the jewel, the Arkenstone, in this film’s crown.
The dragon is perfection. From his booming, deep voice courtesy of Benedict Cumberbatch, to his elegantly designed head and beautiful proportions, not to mention the way his belly lights up as he breathes fire. This is what this film is about. A company of dwarves, a hobbit, a dragon and a whole heap of gold. So maybe we had to forfeit some of the good stuff to get to it, but it was worth it. And perhaps, once again, the writer’s have created new material. I didn’t mind. As long as Smaug, Bilbo the dwarves and Erebor were on screen, everything felt right again.
Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of other brilliant bits to this film. The wonderful Bard (Luke Evans), and Stephen Fry’s excellent Master of Laketown, being just two things I loved. The scenery, as always, is beautiful. The mountains are becoming a little monotonous, but the dwarven carvings in the Lonely Mountain, the innards of Erebor, and Laketown are glorious. I was hoping for a little more of the ruins of Dale, but I would hope that will come into its own in the final film.
Gandalf was also faultless, naturally. It wouldn’t be Middle Earth, now, without Sir Ian McKellen.
I saw An Unexpected Journey three times at the cinema (although once just to see the High Frame Rate in action). I will only see the Desolation of Smaug once (in 2D, unless someone wants me to keep them company). While I still love the story, the dwarves, meeting the new but already loved characters (Bard and Smaug) and revisiting such a vivid and now familiar world, this film just doesn’t have quite the same magic as the first film. Maybe this is due to it being a middle film, or maybe it’s because there is too much new material forced into it. It is a good film and definitely worth seeing, but if certain parts were removed, it could be so much better.