The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Desolation of Smaug picks up with our heroes still on the run, with the orcs hot on their tail. They take refuge at the house the skinchanger Beorn before tackling giant spiders in the forest of Mirkwood. From here they are taken prisoner by the forces of King Thranduil before escaping to Laketown with the assistance of the bargeman Bard. This first half of the film is more exciting than the entirety of its predeccesor, with our company in constant peril.

The cast of characters is already rather large but gets an expansion anyway. Legolas makes his welcome return as the prince of the Woodlan Elves, played once again by Orlando Bloom. He isn’t the softened character that we’ll come to know in LOTR but is instead a dwarf-hating soldier, which is a side of the character I’m intrigued to see. We are also intorduced to a female elf named Tauriel who is part of the Elven Gaurd. She serves as a love interest for both Legolas and Kili which I have absolutley no interest in seeing. If there is one addition The Hobbit doesn’t need it’s a love triangle and words cannot explain how sick of seeing them I am. Forced romantic plots in films that do not need them, especially when it is not present in the source material, is one of Hollywoods biggest flaws. Finally, we meet Bard who has the unfortunate trait of looking like Will Turner from Pirates of the Carribean, who was played by Orlando Bloom. Luckily Bard is different enough and stern enough to differentiate him, proving to be a good addition to the cast.

The CGI is better here than in An Unexpected Journey which is good considering how often it is used, particularly during the dwarves’ escape from Thranduil. They ride in barrels down the river whilst being followed by both the Elven Guard and an orc pack in a scene that is one of the funnest moments so far. The practical effects and CGI mix almost seamlessly, which is utterly mezmerizing to me. There are also several scenes where different characters of different heights are required to be on screen at the same time. This happens particularly in the first 20 minutes where Gandalf, Bilbo, the dwarves and Beorn share the screen which results in a stunning feat of computing.

This extended cut of Desolation of Smaug features extra footage that I don’t find to be completely necessary. There is a flashback to Thorins one-on-one fight with Azog, which we’ve already seen as well as a voiceover from Galadriel detiling how the Witchking of Angmar was buried which we have also seen. However there are moments which provide small bits of extra context. There is a scene of The Dwarves being introduced gradually to Beorn by Gandalf, which further demonstrates his skeptic nature and a scene of Bombur falling in the Mirkwood River, thus explainig why he needs to be carried. Finally there is a moment of the Laketown villagers helping Bard hide our heroes from the Lakemasters guard as wll has his snivelly servent Alfrid. It is an excellent way of showing how much respect they have for him and instead of simply telling us.

I think the second half of Desolation of Smaug is a great piece of cinema and the only thing letting it down is Tauriel, who I’ll get to soon. We pick up events as Bard figures out who Thorin is and the dwarves are welcomed into Laketown as heroes. Kili is forced to stay behind with an injury, joined by Fili and Bofur , while the rest of the company finally make it to The Lonely Mountain. From here the remainder of the film switches between them facing down Smaug and our trio in Laketown, which culminates in one of the finest cliffhangers i have ever seen. Meanwhile Gandalf heads to Dol Guldur to discover more about The Necromancer.

Howard Shores score has been beautiful since the very beginning but it really comes into its element here. When the dwarves finally enter the halls of Erebor, Shores score provides a stunning backdrop providing this moment with the level of gravitas it deserves. Whenever Bilbo is reminded of home, that thought is met with the theme for The Shire which holds a special place in my heart. Having grown up on this series it is genuinely difficult to not hear that theme and have some kind of emotion. When The Necromancer is revealed to be the remains of Sauron we are met with a fully orchestrated version of his theme from LOTR and during the last minute of this film there isn’t any music present at all. When Smaug bursts from The Lonely Mountain to lay waste to Laketown declaring that he is death, you can feel the tension which can only be provide by having absolute silence. It is a truly outstanding piece of work and one of the finest endings I have ever seen.

Unfortunately Desolation of Smaug has a downside in the continued existence of Tauriel. She is simply there as a love interest and to appeal to the female demographic and it shows. The only thing she actually achieves is healing Kili which is something that  Fili and Bifur were doing anyway . Cutting off several dwarves from the company is absolutely fine, you do what you must to extend the runtime but please don’t use it as fake justification for a bland female character.

Luckily, this extended cut of the film features a saving grace in the form of a resolution for Thrain, father of Thorin. This aspect was completely cut from the theatrical version but I am delighted to see it restored here. It transpires that after the final battle against Azog he was not killed but instead taken prisoner at Dol Guldur, where he promptly goes mad. The Necromancer has taken one of the seven Great Dwarven rings from him in his quest to reclaim all 20 rings of power, those being the 9 given to man, 7 given to dwarves, 3 given to Elves and The One Ring. This is a wonderful demonstration of just how long his plan has been in action. Unfortunately it is not a plan that Thrain survives, as he is killed by The Necromancer shortly after Gandalf finds him, but it is closure nonetheless. We also get a small scene of Fili and Bifur coming to the Lakemaster in search of medical aid for Kili, which he turns down with disgust. This serves as further proof that he is a foul person who cares only about himself and his gold.

On the whole, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is superior to its predecessor in both story and atmosphere. It is a wonderful tipping point from a tale of adventure to one of survival. I feel that genuinely the only thing letting it down is Tauriel whose character is unnecessary and one-note. This is an excellent continuation in a trilogy that seems only to be getting bigger and better.

Until Next Time…

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