By Christian DiMartino
When Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey opened last year, it made plenty of money. But some complained that it was bloated, redundant, and, in some ways, like the later Star Wars trilogy. Personally, it wasn’t really a bad movie at all. Yes, it was too long, but come on, it is a Lord of the Rings prequel. It is almost as if it is in the contract. Also, it included some unnecessary scenes. But it was great to see some of the beloved characters from the first trilogy return. Now, a year later, the sequel, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug comes crashing into theaters, and though it is still too long (it is actually shorter than its predecessor) it is a slight improvement over the original.
I’m not going to lie: Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings is possibly the greatest trilogy of them all. Each film was perfect or near perfect, but the trilogy is mainly special for its final chapter, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, which won Oscars for Best Picture, Director, and everything else it was nominated for (the only movie ever to do so). The trilogy was groundbreaking. So obviously, Jackson’s Hobbit trilogy has a lot to live up to.
Jackson has made some questionable decisions to this trilogy. For one thing, it is not even supposed to be a trilogy. J.R.R. Tolkein’s The Hobbit is one book, and was originally going to be two films. But Jackson and writers Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens decided to turn it into a trilogy. Also, they include two characters that are not even mentioned in the book. One is from The Lord of the Rings trilogy, and the other is one that Jackson and Co. created. So, how has the journey been so far?
The Desolation of Smaug continues pretty much right where the last film left off. Quiet hobbit Bilbo (the fantastic Martin Freeman), the wise wizard Galdalf (the even more fantastic Ian McKellen), and the 12 dwarves continue their journey to Erebor, the dwarves homeland, in an attempt to reclaim it from the humongous dragon Smaug (played to perfection by Benedict Cumberbatch, who is great even as a special effect). Along the way, they encounter giant spiders (I was really hoping to never see those again), along with Legolas (Orlando Bloom, probably grateful to have work again), the male elf version of Katniss Everdeen, and Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly), a beautiful elf who serves as a possible love interest for one of the dwarves.
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is even better than the original. The film does not waste time getting on its feet. Jackson has a story to tell, and he does it with such an artistic vision it is easy to forgive the movie for whatever faults it may have. Jackson is a visionary poet who is now so comfortable with Middle Earth (where both The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings take place) that he could probably write out a map. He is not the only one who knows a thing or two about Middle Earth. Ian McKellan, who has now played Gandalf five times, is just as wonderful in this role now as he was ten years ago.
As one who really liked the last film, it is difficult to compare both films. This one is better, but not by that much. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is visually spectacular. It is the best visual achievement to come along since Gravity, which may not sound that good considering the fact that Gravity is only two months old. But to even be compared to a movie like Gravity is an achievement all its own.
So many of the action sequences, such as the one involving the barrels and the trip to Smaug’s lair, are exhilarating. None of them ever seemed to drag on, even in a movie as long as this. Maybe that is just the spell that the movie brings.
Which leads to Smaug himself, who does for this movie what Gollum did for the previous trilogy. As Smaug, Cumberbatch nails it. What a terrifying creature. Who wouldn’t want to get out of that lair?
Is it as good as the original trilogy? No. But it does not need to be. It works plenty well as its own trilogy. I love these movies, and with a cliffhanger as huge as this one, the next film, The Hobbit: There and Back Again (out next December) cannot arrive any sooner.
Perhaps turning one book into a trilogy was not exactly necessary. That said, Jackson knows what he is doing. The man has won three Oscars and has directed some of the best movies ever, so just go along with his vision. If he wants to write new characters, let him. Tauriel, who was not in the book, is a good character, so he got that one right. If he wants to split one book into three, let him. In the end, it is going to be a journey well spent. It has been so far.