I have struggled to accurately articulate my feelings about films being split into multiple parts. I’m not talking about sequels, trilogies, or franchises, but rather the recent trend of taking one story and splitting it into different films with different release dates. Mixed reactions have surrounded the decision to split films like Kill Bill, Breaking Dawn, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows, and the upcoming Hunger Games installment, Mockingjay into two films. Some appreciate the expanded devotion to detail these films receive while others feel they result in bloated, watered down films designed to get doubled the box office. Director Peter Jackson is mostly known for his Lord of the Rings films. While, the third film in that series, Return of the King, clocks in at nearly four hours, Jackson never considered dividing it in half. The film went on to be nominated for 11 Academy Awards and won every single one of them. Jackson took a different route with J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit, dividing the book into three films. If anyone can make a film that convinces me of the merits of this decision, it’s Jackson, and The Hobbit’s second installment, The Desolation of Smaug just might be that film.
In classic “middle-film-in-a-series” fashion, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug opens with a brief flashback scene between Gandolf (Ian McKellen) and Thorin (Richard Armitage) to remind the audience about what’s happening. Bilbo (Martin Freeman) continues his quest to assist thirteen dwarves in reclaiming their lost kingdom. A pivotal step in the process involves recovering the arkenstone from a terrifying dragon named Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch) who dwells in the caverns of the Lonely Mountain guarding his riches. Those who complain about how Jackson’s Tolkien films spend too much time walking will be happy to hear that Bilbo and company do arrive at the Lonely Mountain with plenty of time to spare. Like in the previous Lord of the Rings films, the characters do not all stay united in one plot for long. Smaug finds Gandolf abandoning the band of dwarves to investigate the rise of a being known as the “Necromancer” whose threat on Middle Earth was introduced in the previous film. Furthermore, the Mirkwood Elven Guard led by Legolas (Orlando Bloom) and Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly) are introduced. Tauriel represents the first major evidence of Jackson’s and co-writer Guillermo del Toro’s decision to expand The Hobbit into three films. Her character is not in the book and is created for the film. Her role appears to be to add some romance into the mix as she catches the eye of both Legolas as well as one of the dwarves. While introducing a female character for strictly romantic purposes would be a bit shallow, Tauriel fits in well and holds her own as both a lover and a fighter.
The Desolation of Smaug, like The Two Towers, improves on the previous film. There is more action, more humor, higher stakes, and purposeful character development. Bilbo is in the throngs of ring delusion and Freeman plays this ambiguous stage in Bilbo’s life with deliberate hesitation and false bravado. While the film catches a small snag when Bard the Bowman (Luke Evans) enters the scene, it in no way minimizes the excellent final act where Bilbo and the dwarves square off against Smaug. If you enjoyed the classic game of wits between Bilbo and Gollum in the first film, you will love the battle of egos between Smaug and Bilbo as he attempts to fulfill his role as Burglar.
The Desolation of Smaug is an exciting, beautiful, and thrilling film with plenty of excitement for any moviegoer. The debate on whether the decision to split this film into three parts takes a substantial hit as the second installment is quite good. Tolkien aficionados may resent some of the additional material added like Tauriel or Gandolf’s scenes, but these additions are in keeping with the look, feel, and tradition of The Hobbit and the Tolkien universe. A-
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is rated PG-13 and has a running time of 2 hours and 41 minutes. It was released in both 3D and 2D, but the 3D craze is dying down and this film works very well in the traditional 2D format.