I imagine myself watching it again after the trilogy is complete and enjoying it a whole lot more than I did the first time around. The films in this Hobbit series, unlike the Lord of the Rings films, aren’t lending themselves to be very interesting on their own. The Desolation of Smaug isn’t pointless but not very exciting: it’s just a tease. The other problem is that the stakes are so much higher in LOTR – all of Middle Earth at stake! – than they are in The Hobbit, which is a prequel with with an ending by which anyone who’s seen the LOTR films will not be surprised. But we’re not here just for plot, and Jackson, the only director who can tackle the series, and his team deliver. (Keep an eye for a cameo by Jackson who appears in a blink-and-you’ll-miss moment at the very beginning of the film.)
We find Bilbo Baggins, Gandalf and the dwarves continuing their journey to Erebor, a mountain town that holds treasure and that used to be the dwarves’ home, but is now guarded by a fire-breathing dragon, Smaug. They go from town to town making friends and dodging foes until they make it to the mountain.
The costumes, hair and makeup in The Desolation of Smaug are faultless, though nothing revolutionary. The pacing is slightly better here than it was in the first Hobbit film, but there were still more lulls in Desolation than, probably, all of the LOTR movies combined. The Howard Shore score was fine, but not nearly as memorable as anything Shore did for the LOTR. The cinematography was on point, as usual. The visual effects, in two scenes in particular, were breathtaking. The giant spiders the dwarves and Bilbo come across in the forest were the highlight of the film until we finally laid eyes on Smaug, the dragon. I know how unpopular it is to give even the slightest of praise to the Star Wars prequels, but advancements in technology did make the special effects in Episodes 1-3 look a bit more sophisticated. Here, too, the spiders and dragon are gorgeously animated. They probably would have looked good 10 years ago – the LOTR had great SFX for the time, but watching the series again recently made me realize how quickly CGI and animation technology evolves – but they look great in The Desolation of Smaug.
Two notes: I saw the 2D version of The Desolation of Smaug. I thought it was visually stunning, and it’s probably even more so in 3D or IMAX. Second: you absolutely need to see The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. The Desolation of Smaug picks up right where the first movie left off. The assumption, too, is that you are committed to seeing the final part of the series, There and Back Again, due for a Dec. 17, 2014 release. The Desolation of Smaug ends mid action: a cliffhanger for which you have to wait a full year.
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug was the no. 1 movie at the box office this weekend, raking in just under $74 million. That’s 13 per cent less than its predecessor, An Unexpected Journey, which opened to $84.6 million just a year ago.
The Desolation of Smaug
Directed by Peter Jackson
Adapted from the J.R.R. Tolkien novel The Hobbit by Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson and Guillermo del Toro
Stars Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Richard Armitage, Orlando Bloom, Evangeline Lilly, Benedict Cumberbatch, Lee Pace