Is It Cool?: Excellence in Filmmaking
This is the second installment of what is shaping up to be another fine trilogy in Peter Jackson’s portfolio. While The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey was a bit scattered in places and felt slow with its wandering storyline, The Desolation of Smaug has the firm, driving tempo of a Wagnerian opera. In blending several laugh-out-loud moments with emotionally lovely moments, the film is a long ride up a tall mountain in a rickety cart, leaving us poised over the edge of a very high cliff and collectively holding our breath.
Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) joins a band of Dwarves led by Thorin Oakenshield who, at the urging of Galdalf the Gray, is on a quest to reclaim his lost kingdom from Smaug (the fire-breathing dragon who is perfectly voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch). Along the way, this motley band of underdogs meets with many other characters and are at one point captured by the Forest Elves. Reprising his role as Legolas, Orlando Bloom is joined on screen by the lovely Evangeline Lilly (LOST) who plays Tauriel, an Elvish Captain. To say much more would be to inundate you with spoilers, so I will just say this:
Die-hard purists of the written works of Tolkien will doubtless be shouting from the rafters that Jackson and his team of writers (Walsh/Boyens/Del Toro) have added a few characters and taken a few story liberties. HOWEVER, as a huge Tolkien nerd myself, I applaud the way this team continues to respect the integrity of the Middle Earth World which Tolkien lovingly created.
This film is acted by a solid and wholly likeable ensemble cast and contains some of the most breathtaking CG I have seen in any film. In fact, I would be shocked if the visual achievements in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug don’t feature very heavily this awards season. From the hilarity of watching a portly Dwarf sprint to the exquisite rendering of the final scale on Smaug’s wingtip, every note and beat of this film felt authentic to the story.
What’s it Saying?: Message of the Movie
The story seems to be that whether one is a powerful Elf King or a lowly thieving Hobbit, our actions have resounding effects on the world around us. We see a small and humble character walk toward almost certain death because, as he very simply explains, he made a promise and so he should try to keep it. We see this man persevere when others have given up and in doing so, he restores a lost kingdom. We see a woman defy her king with courage and conviction because she knows that what he is doing is wrong. We see her love a man, despite his race and appearance. We watch simple and compelling examples of loyalty between friends. We watch as Middle Earth plays host to stereotyping, racism, classism, greed, and of course, violence.
It should be noted, however, that while there is a great deal of violence and implied violence in the movie, it does not seem to be gory or needlessly placed.
The Good, The Bad, The Ugly: Morality in the Movie
There are many references to “evil” and “the dark” and how it is necessary to do the right things so that they will not win. Middle Earth is a place where flawed heroes and heroines do their best to fight the dark and evil things and if they are very lucky, they are helped by figures like Gandalf and Galadriel. God is not a character in the story of The Hobbit. Actually, God is not a character anywhere in the entirety of Tolkien’s Middle Earth.
It can and should be argued, however, that the values prevalent in the story are absolutely those embraced by Christianity and those with faith. Evil is to be thwarted by good, each life has purpose and dignity, and there is a providential care with which the lives of the inhabitants of Middle Earth are treated. I am pleased to report that Jackson’s team has created a film in which these characteristics shine through.
That's Right. I Said It: Reviewer Comments
After seeing The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, I must admit that I was nervous about the success of this new venture. The temptation for many Tolkein fans (myself included) was to compare The Hobbit franchise side-by-side with The Lord of the Rings, but the fact is that The Hobbit can and does stand alone as its own epic undertaking. The Desolation of Smaug has pulled The Hobbit into the big leagues.
The Hobbit, as a franchise, easily has the chops to go toe-to-toe with any of the other “big boy sagas” and stand tall — well, as tall as Dwarves and Hobbits can, in the face of criticisms nudging us to believe that this is the “poor man’s Middle Earth.”