The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Remember the song about the kindly “Puff, the magic dragon”? (Peter Paul and Mary (1963)).  Smaug certainly doesn’t.

The Desolation of SmaugThough I’ve said it before, let me repeat my observation that the best movie trilogy in history was Peter Jackson’s monumental Lord of the Rings series. It was creative, adventuresome, both scary and heartwarming. It also ended with a feeling of excitement and a bit of a broken heart.

And though Mr. Jackson’s Hobbit films don’t quite dance in that same league, they nonetheless amount to tremendous movies in their own right. For those of you who have yet to take the plunge, the most recent film, The Desolation of Smaug, captures Gandalf (the magnificent Ian McKellen) and his band of 13 dwarfs as they battle their way to recapture a lost kingdom now ruled by a dragon with a very bad attitude.

Whether the story appeals to you or not, and it should, the cinematography is a masterpiece from beginning to end. The settings are as breathtaking as the scenery from Mr. Jackson’s native New Zealand, and the movie is worth watching on that level alone.

However, though the film lasts 2 hours and 41 minutes, I simply can’t tolerate criticism of any movie based upon its length. If you are watching a great film, what difference does it make? Furthermore, for those of you who watch professional football games, who gripes when you must sit there for over 3 hours while watching approximately 20 minutes of action?

Though the characters in the Hobbit films lack a bit of the emotional edge previously provided by Vigo Mortensen as the indomitable Aragorn in the original Lord of the Ring films, Mr. McKellen is a joy to watch in every scene. He may be an elderly wizard, but don’t mess with him when he is holding his deadly staff.

Martin Freeman, to his credit, pulls off the role as Bilbo, the troubled ring bearer. If you remember him from the original films where he was played by Ian Holm, he became half mad in his old age as a result of the sinister effect of that ring.

And while Richard Armitage is captivating as Thorin, the leader of the dwarfs, the film is immensely helped by the reappearance of Orlando Bloom as the elf warrior Legolas. While there is no doubt that many of you girls will find yourselves experiencing a bit of suppressed attraction for this blond-haired elf, he more than meets his match by the performance of Evangeline Lilly.

Mis Lilly plays Tauriel, an elf version of Jennifer Lawrence’s Katnis Everdeen from The Hunger Games films. Incredibly, she is even more accomplished with a bow and arrow than Katniss, and her budding romance with a wounded dwarf provides a central moment to the film.

And though our dragon does not appear until the last half hour of the film, he is a sardonic, miserable old coot who toys with Bilbo before deciding the proper moment to make him a meal. Furthermore, Benedict Cumberbatch provides Smaug’s voice, and this is one dragon that insists on being heard as well as being seen.

The only mild criticism I have of Smaug is that with the exception of one wounded dwarf, all of our heroes survive frequent battles while their garish enemies fall in droves. On the other hand, the evil Sauron reappears as the gigantic, threatening EYE that serves as the leader of the dark forces, and you can’t help but feel that any success by our group will be met by tragedy when the last film reappears next Christmas.

Though Mr. Jackson has expanded a relatively small book to encompass three long films, I can’t help but feel that Mr. Tolkein would feel justifiably proud.  The author and director combine to produce works that involve spectacular creativity, and there simply is not a single weak moment in either the book or film.

So set aside your scepticism and buy a ticket. Try to see it at an IMAX, and remember that it is not necessary to have seen the first Hobbit to enjoy this one.