Jo Wylie ’16 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
The desolation of preconception – the latest Hobbit installment is an immersive, enjoyable film that reminds us why we love Jackson’s Tolkein.
For many fans, the first Hobbit didn’t quite stand up to expectations. It was a little slow, and didn’t really feel like a self-contained film as much as a really, really long set-up. There wasn’t a huge amount of emotional depth, remembering the dwarves names was something reserved for the big fans and Aiden Turner, and the balance between comedy and action felt a little off. Despite the familiar platitude fans argued – that the Hobbit novel is a children’s’ book – it didn’t stop the fact that, ultimately, An Unexpected Journey just didn’t strike the right balance in a whole bunch of areas. Fans going in to see The Desolation of Smaug, therefore, can be excused a little trepidation. Will Peter Jackson have picked the franchise up again? Will Desolation stand up as it’s own film, with everything we wanted but didn’t quite get from An Unexpected Journey?
Well, the answer is pretty much a huge yes.
The resounding assessment that ‘Peter Jackson has done it again’ is the one you’ll be hearing as you leave the cinema. Desolation strikes a perfect balance – still keeping the bright, easy comedy from the first movie, but managing to balance it out with a great deal of darker tension. Both in the film as a whole, and in its exciting action sequences, the audience will go from laughing out loud to holding their breath in trepidation in no time at all.
Desolation is a more cohesive, self-contained film than its predecessor, and it manages the numerous simultaneous threads of plot with great finesse. After the somewhat wobbly start the franchise got, Jackson has managed to get The Hobbit well and truly back on track, with the sweeping plots and emotional investment that have made the Lord of the Rings trilogy such an enduring classic. The ensemble cast feels like an actual ensemble, instead of a particularly tenacious collection of background characters. Although knowing all thirteen is still a push, you’ll leave this movie with a much easier grasp of the individual dwarves, and a considerably bigger investment in their, and Bilbo’s story; as well as that of the numerous surrounding characters we meet along the way.
Despite this, the movie does start a little slowly, with a preface section rife with reference to previous films and somewhat blocky in its exposition. Even after this section, when the film unquestionably picks up and sets on at a well-managed pace, there are moments where the exposition becomes too overt. Usually provided by the eldest dwarf character, Balin (“the one with the big white beard”), as the historian for the group, some of the description can seem a little dry.
These moments aren’t nearly enough to derail the whole movie, however, and are balanced out very well by the exciting action sequences. There is a great deal of fun had with the elves, using their grace and skill to make exciting, fast-paced action sequences. The Fangorn elves– lead by a younger, more small-minded Legolas (Orlando Bloom)– sweep in and somewhat steal the show, even from the awesome and majestic dwarves. Jackson’s preference for using nothing but wires and cool actors, instead of CGI, to have his characters jump about with preternatural grace, lends a side of realism to the elves, and allows for immersive and exciting action sequences.
The over abundance of trick-shots and visual jokes as the elves fight can become a bit of a drudge by the end of the film, however – you can’t help but be ready to shout “We get it already, elves are really cool!”
Jackson’s preference to avoid CGI, sadly, appears to stop there. Although his elves and dwarves are actually running around, most of their enemies are not – Azrog the defiler, one of the party’s main enemies, and his band of entirely CGI-ed orc friends, can become a bit grating. While some seem realistic – the second in command Azrog delegates to is particularly on mark, well designed and rendered. In turn, however, some of the footmen – footorcs? – and even Azrog himself seem to miss that mark at times. Fans will miss the orcs made up for the Lord of the Rings, as some of the immersion is lost when faced with Azrog’s plastic-looking face.
Of course, there is one particular CGI enemy that I have not yet discussed. One of the two title characters for this installment, and an antagonist that defines the Hobbit book, Smaug’s conception was hugely importance to the success of this franchise. And where the elves thought they were stealing the show with their trick shots and cameos? Smaug’s arrival undeniably blows them out of the water. A great deal of effort has evidently gone into the creation of the great dragon under the mountain, and Benedict Cumberbatch’s smoky voice was well chosen to just augment the awesome power of the dragon. His writing, movement, and action sequences are powerful, tense, and masterfully created – this is a dragon that will stay with film-goers in the same way that he stayed with readers since The Hobbit was published.
But, before you ask, no – this film doesn’t stay true to The Hobbit. Veiwers who are fans of the novel need to put it behind them, at least a little. They will still get to see the sections you love and remember, but these three movies have been crafted out of a number of threads, from the Hobbit, the Simarilion, and even outside Tolkien’s extended universe, as he conceived of it. Despite this, Jackson stays true to Tolkien’s style, and even updates it somewhat – elf Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly) is a woman who fights and kicks orc ass as well as all of her male counterparts, and that is something Tolkien would never have conceived of. These movies are far from an obsessive translation of the novel to the screen; instead, fans can enjoy an exploration of the Hobbit’s world. If fans can put behind them a desire to see nothing but exactly what Tolkien wrote, they will find a great deal to enjoy in this movie.
Ultimately, this Hobbit installment reminds us of why Lord of the Rings has stayed with us so long – it’s sweeping, fun, escapist, but also deeply emotional and powerful. It strikes a balance between light-hearted sections and darker, tenser action, and stands alone as a wonderful film while also adding to the trilogy in a way that has us very excited for the third and final installment.
Overall Grade: A-