While not as climactic as its title implies, this second part in The Hobbit trilogy perfectly captures the scale and scope of an epic quest to reclaim a lost homeland.
Immersing is the word to describe this second installment of The Hobbit, adapted from J.R.R. Tolkien’s children’s book about an exiled group of dwarves trying to reclaim their land, the Lonely Mountain, from the ferocious dragon Smaug.
While An Unexpected Journey started off on a light note, with plenty of comedic touches, like hobbits dawdling around the Shire chugging down pints and chomping through wheels of cheese, The Desolation Of Smaug dives into the action right where Part 1 left off, with the Orc leader Azog and his pack hot on the hobbits’ heels again.
It’s true that all 160 minutes of the film can be summarized into one line: the company makes another three pit-stops before reaching the Lonely Mountain. Well, to quote Boromir from The Fellowship Of The Rings, one does not simply walk up to the porch of the Lonely Mountain and demand for the keys be returned. There are Orcs to battle, elves to sidestep and alliances to be built before everyone can reach the foot of the Mountain alive and intact. And to quote somebody else for good measure, it’s not the destination but the journey that matters.
And what a journey Peter Jackson brings us on, ushering viewers into the cavernous but cozy farmhouse of Beorn the skin-changer and entangling them in the webs of giant spiders in the mysterious Mirkwood forest before sending them into the hostile arms of wood-elves led by the Elvenking Thranduil (Pushing Daisies’ Lee Pace looking eerily beautiful in royal elvish getup).
The company, minus Gandalf (Ian McKellen) who is off fighting unspeakably evil forces elsewhere, arrive in the water village of Laketown with help from Bard (Luke Evans), a man with more in common with their quest than they know.
Admittedly, the movie descends into drudgery at times and sometimes slows to a plod—but so does real life, right? Hence, what some detractors call “heavy padding,” this writer would rather term “realistic” story-telling. Nobody ever hears people accusing arthouse flicks of “heavy padding”, do they?
Strong performances from Richard Armitage as dwarf prince Thorin and Martin Freeman as Bilbo puts us right in step with the bouts of despair at delays and dead-ends faced. The titular character Smaug is well realized with CGI wizardry and the voice-acting of Benedict Cumberbatch. It’s a pity thus that the final scene feels more “cut-off” than “cliff-hanger”.
And what of the hotly contested inclusion of the new character, she-elf Tauriel (Lost’s Evangeline Lilly), who with fellow elf Legolas (reprised by the curiously ageless Orlando Bloom) get their Pantene-perfect locks entangled in the dwarves’ quest?
Neither character is in the book, but at the risk of sounding almost blasphemous, it must be said that just because something is original doesn’t mean it cannot be improved on—even the purist in this writer cannot deny that the obvious lack of girl power/ gender imbalance in Tolkien’s original narrative was more than made right with the introduction of Tauriel.
As some fellow online reviewers have aptly put it, she is the swoon-some composite of Eowyn’s stare-death-in-the-face bravery and her Orc-slaying prowess as well as Arwen’s silky good looks. More than that, she’s the voice of conscience for the Mirkwood elves, a race that not willing, or able, to see beyond their own world.
In short, a well-justified, full-bodied middle chapter with entirely forgiveable missteps here and there.