Written by Chris Winterbottom
There was much to be satisfied with in Peter Jackson’s opening instalment of ‘The Hobbit’ trilogy, although it is fair to say the film was not a resounding success. But I was keen to see the second film in a trilogy many felt to be overstuffed, mainly to see how the story was progressing. Of course, I can understand the naysayer’s complaints regarding the obscene length and over-saturated material of ‘An Unexpected Journey’, but there was so much promise for the trilogy I could not help but be excited. Plus, as a Peter Jackson fan in general, I am always eager to see his latest work.
‘The Desolation Of Smaug’ begins in rip-roaring fashion and does not let up; we are right back into the swing of things as Bilbo and the dwarves continue their journey to The Lonely Mountain, while Gandalf is off in the darker reaches of the world investigating a looming threat. The pace of the film is more breathless than its predecessor, with rarely a beat available to gather your bearings. The story also becomes darker, as the realities of the unseen threat of The Necromancer become something much more visible. The over arching sense of dread that I loved about the first film remains in this second instalment, only this time the threat is amplified.
Clearer are the dangers awaiting our heroes, and Jackson has created an entertaining chapter in the overall Middle-Earth saga. But the film’s length is cumbersome and unnecessary, with secondary characters added for little reason other than to service plot contrivance and Tolkien fans. Over recent times, we have seen Jackson’s work become more ill-disciplined, with the average length of his films being around 140 minutes. ‘King Kong’, while a beautiful film, could have done with thirty minutes shaving off, and it seems ‘The Hobbit’ films are in need of the same editorial treatment.
To clarify, I was never bored during this film and there are actually moments here that rank with Jackson’s best work. The performances are still terrific, particularly from Sir Ian McKellen who continues to develop Gandalf as a true icon of the modern era. But the appearance of Legolas, while inoffensive to me, seemed convoluted and, in all honesty, a bit of a novelty. His scenes add length to a film which is already extensive, and I am sure connoisseurs of Tolkien’s lore will be up in arms at this liberty of creative licence. The sequence in Laketown too, during the third act, though beautifully orchestrated, feels like a necessary evil of giving the film’s ending a climax it would not have needed had these films been kept as one movie, or at most two.
As it is, Jackson and his fellow screenwriters – Phillipa Boyens, Fran Walsh and Guillermo del Toro – struggle to find more story than is available, which leaves the film rather thin and patchy. The length itself is not so much of a problem – there are many films which run at nearly three hours, which warrant that running time (The Lord Of The Rings films for example), but that is because the length services the story and is justified by the depth of its narrative. In this instance, Jackson and his colleagues have had to create more of a plot out of thin air, to service the running time. In the end, it is a flaw in the whole trilogy that will ultimately relegate them to playing second fiddle when compared to ‘The Lord Of The Rings’ series.
Despite obvious flaws, there are moments of genius in this film. The barrel sequence is entertaining, visceral and beautifully choreographed, proving that despite his lack of discipline, Jackson is still an immense talent. Furthermore, the sequence involving the dragon, Smaug, is sublime. It is a sequence of pure cinematic genius that adds a level of poetry to a film that seems to have abandoned its literary routes. The whole sequence is a brilliantly realised piece of cinematic art that ranks up there with some of the best scenes I have ever witnessed; it is just a shame that it comes at the end of a film that is significantly flawed.
When ‘Return Of The King’ was released, it felt like the end of something; the end of a cinematic journey that was both groundbreaking and timeless. I am not sure I can say the same about ‘The Hobbit’ trilogy, but there is still lots to enjoy and there is more evidence of what a visionary Peter Jackson is.
Director: Peter Jackson
Starring: Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, Sir Ian McKellen, Benedict Cumberbatch