The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013)

Tomorrow, the end is here: the release of The Battle of the Five Armies marks the end of a 14 year cinematic journey through Middle-Earth, as The Hobbit franchise draws to a close. Last week I wrote of the issues in An Unexpected Journey, and predominantly how the film struggled to strike a balance between being faithful to the book, and making the film into a Lord of the Rings style trilogy. And though I enjoyed it for what it was: the same question remained for The Desolation of Smaug, and now with The Battle of the Five Armies.

However, talking about The Hobbit can be tricky, because as I discovered about 18 months ago, not everyone has read the book. I was at a friends the summer before The Desolation of Smaug was released, talking about how certain stumbling blocks might be tackled, to which someone said “the dragon talks?!” Woops. My bad. Not the best first impression to make; but never mind eh! I had completely forgotten that for those who had only seen The Lord of the Rings and were unaware that The Hobbit is a children’s story, Smaug having a natter with Bilbo would be as ridiculous as a shape-shifting bear/man named Beorn.

But despite causing apprehension in others, my fears at least had been placated somewhat by An Unexpected Journey, and I now looked forward to the next installment. With the darker aspects of the book to come, there was less need for balance: we’d got past the introduction of the Dwarves and trolls etc, and we could get down to business.

To my surprise though I didn’t like the start; and I don’t really get why we had the flashback of Thorin and Gandalf. Ok sure, it shows how the journey began; but in reality, who cares? Some things are better left unsaid, and that was certainly one of them.

This made me a bit nervous, and old doubts began to creep in. Would Beorn now be like South Park’s man-bear-pig and Smaug have a voice like Paul O’Grady?

Thankfully, no. Beorn was dealt with early on and was fine. I could breathe a slight sigh of relief, and perhaps the start was just a minor hiccup. But then, I was to soon find out that the hiccup continued for the first hour or so, and developed into more of an awkward splutter which refused to go away.

The forest scene was a bit rushed: almost as if the Producers sat down and said: ok, we have to show this because it’s in the book, so let’s get it out the way and then do what we want. This meant the scene lacked the kind of atmosphere and tension I was hoping for. I also felt the added subplots/characters which are introduced were a bit lacking compared to the main meat of the film. And then we come onto the most irritating part, which is the escape from Mirkwood. I appreciate the need for slightly more childish aspects, but when one of the dwarves is rolling over goblins, trapped inside a barrel, I was reminded of Donkey Kong: and not in a good way. Leave this kind of action sequence in Pirates of the Caribbean where it belongs.

I didn’t really feel comfortable until we reached Lake Town, where the film settles down. And from here on in, I really enjoyed it.

I think most people who had read the book, and those who had this surprise ruined by the likes of myself, would have been wondering how Smaug would be tackled: the answer is triumphantly. Benedict Cumberbatch is a mesmerising dragon. His voice reminded me of a mixture of Darth Vader and Scar, and you can’t really get more bad-ass than that. Unless you’re Samuel L Jackson of course, but I don’t think Smaug as a bad ass mother ****** would have quite been in-keeping with the tone of the film.

Overall then I enjoyed The Desolation of Smaug more than An Unexpected Journey: but has it done enough to convince me about The Battle of the Five Armies? Not really; but that’s mainly because the trailer shows little else other than fight scenes, which might get a bit tiring after a while.

Nonetheless, despite the underwhelming start and hints that I might get quite annoyed throughout, in the end I didn’t see red: I saw fire.

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