Review by Pete Mason
“The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” improves on the first film in the trilogy and leaves the audience hanging with a painful cliffhanger, just as the plot was getting somewhere good. Not that the plot isn’t well laid out, it is by far the meat of the book and the purpose behind the journey – help the King of the Dwarves, Thorin Oakenshield, reclaim the Kingdom Under the Mountain, currently occupied by the dragon Smaug (Ow, not Aw). The trip to the mountain re-introduces the Elvish Kingdom and introduces Laketown of the Tolkien Universe to the audience, and features plenty of reasons to fear the Orcs and their evil master who grows in power.
Having just survived an attack by the Orcs, the band of dwarves, along with Bilbo Baggins and Gandalf the Gray, make haste to the safety of Beorn’s property, where the hulking man who turns into a bear-like creature lives and keeps watch for orcs. A trip on the Old Forest Road leads the crew to an encounter with giant spiders, then the Elves, who come to their reluctant rescue. This is when we learn that Elves are territorial and hold grudges for hundreds of years and are generally dicks to outsiders. This is well before Legolas and Gimli fought together in “The Lord of the Rings” tales, although the cold and distant Legolas (Orlando Bloom) appears throughout the film, mostly to provide needed cavalry support for the dwarf party.
Then there is the role of Tauriel (played by Evangeline Lilly), who was not a character in the original book, but rather a fabrication of director Peter Jackson for lack of a female character in the film. While the creation of the role is understandable, the purists may not appreciate her appearance for nothing more than mild equity in a fantasy realm, but her prowess with a bow and arrow is remarkable.
Action sequences are few, but the quality far outweighs the quantity. The barrel ride down an icy river out of the Elvish Kingdom looks like a great deal of fun and the best CGI in the film, especially when watching Bombur roll around in his barrel and take part in the floating battle ala Ram Man from “Masters of the Universe.” Ending up in Lake Town, they meet Bard and regain supplies on the way to the mountain. Bilbo, the burglar in search of the Arkenstone, arrives inside to find the immense and imposing Smaug, the dragon guardian/hoarder of the gold, is only dwarfed in size by the kingdom under the mountain, including the vast gold works that play a crucial role in the fight against Smaug, and also an incredible CGI sequence.
Viewing the Tolkien universe come to life adds far more depth to “The Hobbit” than would be expected from a book that is shorter than the individual “Lord of the Rings” books, but necessitated not one but three films. Now we can understand why – The Kingdom Under the Mountain may as well be its own film, dwarfing (pun intended) Helm’s Deep and all other kingdoms in Middle Earth, and the task of slaying a dragon is on par with the battle for Middle Earth. The third film has a large task of reintegrating a captive Gandalf, give closure to the hippie wizard Radagast and the conclusion of the story where the dwarves finally (?) regain their homeland, despite the shadow of Sauron looming overhead.
“The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” is now playing at many local movie theaters. It is rated PG-13. It is available to watch in 3D, but it’s not entirely necessary.