Peter Jackson might have put us asleep last year with the start of his epic take on a rather short novel, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. But for fans of fantasy, we only get a solid genre film every decade or so (as the last real sword and sorcery epic was Jackson’s Lord of the Rings), so perhaps we have to just take what we can get when available.
If An Unexpected Journey failed to capture the magic of Middle Earth, the charms of its citizens, or the overall magic of the journey, then The Desolation of Smaug is a nice reminder of why we love spending so much time in Middle Earth in the first place. It is safe to say filmmaker Peter Jackson learned a thing or two about progression that should be able to once again grab the imaginations of those who waited so long for their precious to be adapted.
The film begins in the past with Gandalf (Ian McKellen) meeting Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) in the Prancing Pony to discuss the situation with the Lonely Mountain. Fast-forward about a year, and we catch up with our band of merry dwarves seeking shelter at the home of Beorn, a skin-changer, who first appears as a threatening bear.
The dwarves soon hit the road again, with Gandalf shortly leaving their presence in order to investigate these so-called Necromancer rumors, only to discover the true identity of the chaos, which only further complicates matters for the party at hand.
This journey all culminates into the heart of the Lonely Mountain, where Smaug awaits, sleeping. Bilbo is charge of lurking about in order to steal the Arkenstone – the key in allowing Thorin to take back the mountain – but strikes horror when he wakes up the dragon.
Just like An Unexpected Journey took forever to actually get going (that first hour is brutal), Smaug takes just as long to fire up. But when it does, there are some amazing moments here (like the barrel escape scene or the climax with Smaug) that the previous entry simply lacked. Even the dramatic invention of non-existent characters from the text couldn’t slow down its pace.
It’s hard to say if J. R. R. Tolkien ever thought of his 300-plus-page source novel being turned into a 9-hour cinematic journey. Anyone over 12 years of age can read the book in less time than that, and they’d have a better time doing it. Regardless, The Desolation of Smaug is a step in the right direction in terms of the series.
Rating – 7/10