The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug Review

This Friday sees the release of the second instalment in Peter Jackson’s 3-part adaptation of JRR Tolkien’s Lord of The Rings prequel, The Hobbit. At only 300 pages, Tolkien’s classic children’s novel doesn’t seem long enough to sustain what has become an epic movie franchise, but The Desolation of Smaug builds on An Unexpected Journey making for a movie of grander scale, higher stakes, greater ambition, and all the more spectacular for it.

Ian McKellen - Gandalf The HobbitWhat’s it about? Bilbo Baggins’s epic quest to help the dwarves of Erebor reclaim their lost homeland from the fearsome dragon Smaug continues. It was never going to be an easy journey, but being hunted by an orc pack, Wood-elves, and freakish spiders through cursed forests and impassable lakes puts the band of dwarves in more danger than ever. Worse still, as they get ever closer to the ruined lair of the treasure-hoarding dragon, they are separated from Gandalf, who must travel to explore the darkness rising in the ruins of Dol Guldor, putting himself in more danger than ever.

Verdict: Darker, bolder, more epic and more compelling, the story builds on An Unexpected Journey to introduce higher stakes and richer characterisation that serves to both push the story forward and weave it into the mythology of Rings. Martin Freeman as Bilbo is more conflicted, the dwarves are more sympathetic, and our stalwart Gandalf has moments of genuine vulnerability that are simply gripping. The darkness rising is a savvy tease that adds a healthy dose of dread in anticipation for an explosive finale and the events of the Rings trilogy.

The film is visually stunning. 3D can be hit-and-miss, but this is without doubt one of the best uses of it. The landscapes are crisp and colourful, and this time round we get to see the twisting reaches of the Mirkwood, Thranduil’s spiralling kingdom, the rickety buildings and winding canals of delightful Lake-town, and the staggering halls of Erebor itself, all rendered masterfully with a use of light and texture that is hypnotic. The creatures too are terrifying. The orcs are more fearsome, but the true marvels are the scuttling arachnid monstrosities and, without doubt, the glorious fire-bellied dragon.

Hardcore fans will surely be pleased by a film that draws so richly from the source material to create such a grand spectacle, but it’s a double-edged sword. Whilst fans will immerse themselves in the world they’ve imagined The Hobbit Dwarvescome to such vivid life, casual viewers may find that, at over two hours and 40 minutes, the pace lags. Changes from the book will also prove controversial. The addition of a female character, wood-elf warrior Tauriel, has been hotly discussed, but she’s a great character and really earns a place in the story, even if she’s a little under-served. The change in tone will probably prove more divisive. Where the book and the first film have a tone of joviality, that spirited sense of adventure gives way to a gloomier one here. Freeman’s little comic flourishes are few, far-between, and sorely missed at times. But for lovers of the Rings trilogy, this building sense of dread just fuels the fan fire of the epic story to come. And apart from the odd cheesy moment in the script, the film certainly lives up to fan hype. Seeing Legolas return, seeing how Gandalf’s journey plays out, seeing Smaug come to life are all moments that fans will treasure.

Final Words: A sumptuous visual feast, Jackson serves up yet another mammoth blockbuster bursting with action, adventure, and plenty of entertainment. It won’t please everyone, but with gorgeous visuals, an ever more epic tale to tell, and the promise of darker things to come, The Desolation of Smaug is a great addition to this superior franchise.

Rating: 4 / 5      

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is in cinemas on 13 December.