Peter Jackson’s gargantuan adaptation of ‘The Hobbit’ continues with the second in the trilogy, ‘The Desolation Of Smaug’ and at a run-time of 161 minutes, one would expect some desolation, and definitely some Smaug. Indeed, Jackson ensures that this film does not start at the meandering and mundane pace of the previous incarnation and rather flies in to the action almost straight away, after a short pre-scene. Indeed, Jackson makes sure we slip the characters and the setting back on easily, and seeing as we’re due to be with them for another two and a half hours after this, ensuring that there isn’t a disjointed feeling between the three films is essential.
As with the first film, the performances are all commendable and it is rare that anyone puts a foot wrong. Martin Freeman is a very strong Bilbo, portraying his bewilderment and awkwardness when faced with a new situation fantastically, together with his ability to pull himself together and quickly think of a solution, though almost uncannily right after the rest of the group has already decided to do something else. His performance, often the source of amusement in dark situations, is counteracted well by another straight-edge performance from Richard Armitage as Thorin Oakenshield, the stoic and determined Dwarf king, relentless and set on reaching his goal and finally putting an end to the dragon Smaug. Other performances from the likes of Ian McKellen and Orlando Bloom, making a return to the Middle Earth universe around ten years after the release of ‘The Return of the King’, are predictably strong as both inhabit their roles well as Gandalf and Legolas respectively. The real highlight of the film however is Benedict Cumberbatch’s brilliant performance as Smaug the dragon, encapsulating all his slyness, arrogance and eloquence together to make a truly terrifying beast.
Reliably strong performances aside, technically the film is still a little bit of a mess. Sure, it’s visually beautiful at various times and the views from the mountain down to Lake-town are stunning, but the insistence on close-ups together with CGI that brings a shimmering quality to many landscapes sometimes has an adverse effect on believability mean that a couple of the elaborate set pieces feel a bit like cutscenes from an expensive video-game. It’s a sign that maybe this sort of hyper-real effect is not really what’s needed in this situation, and rather a more carefully administered CGI that blends in to its surroundings better. That said, most of the set pieces are directed well, a sequence involving barrels in particular, and make for exciting viewing, making the film the epic romp that it is.
The run-time of the movie does mean that it meanders a little, never quite as focused as the gargantuan ‘Lord Of The Rings’ films managed to be, despite their massive length. Characters like Evangeline Lilly’s Tauriel, while well performed, aren’t given enough to do and her inevitable love triangle does feel a little forced to say the least, but it’s a testament to the refined pacing that we are able to overlook these missteps and concentrate more on the story as a whole. It can be said, then, that while ‘The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug’ has a good few problems regarding a script that veers from one setting to another at wild abandon and a runtime that necessitates the milking of absolutely everything in Jackson’s and Tolkien’s head as the film looks back to its measly 300 page source material, it ends up flying past these at a strong pace and with enough gusto to make for a fulfilling second installment, and one that leaves us the prospect of a finale that if more refined could provide a truly special experience.