[Movie Review] Smaug Breathes Fire Into 'The Hobbit'
It’s December, so that means it’s time for our annual trip back to the fantastic world of Middle-Earth, created by author J.R.R. Tolkien and fully realized on a grand cinematic scale by visionary director Peter Jackson, as the journey of brave hobbit Bilbo Baggins and his friends continues into The Desolation of Smaug.
Martin Freeman is a joy to watch, as the big footed and even bigger hearted Bilbo finds his courage among the battle-weary dwarves he is helping to reclaim their homeland from a sleeping fire-breathing dragon.
There are quite a few nods to Jackson’s original Lord of the Rings trilogy, including an opening flashback scene at the Prancing Pony, but none more than the wizard Gandalf actually conversing with a certain dark lord who is gaining strength and who we already know cause all kinds of trouble later in the Rings films.
This great evil is growing and its darkness is spreading in various subtle and not so subtle ways throughout this world, and Jackson maintains a constant feeling of overall impending dread. Even as we cheer on our heroes on their noble quest, we are only too aware that the titular dragon they hope is dead will most certainly awaken once Bilbo the burglar tries to take back a precious jewel of the dwarves from Smaug’s liar.
We begin to feel that the quest of Bilbo and the dwarves has bigger significance to their larger world than perhaps anyone realized in last year’s kick off An Unexpected Journey.
We also get a few brief but vital glimpses at how the mysterious ring of power Bilbo found (stole) in the last film is already starting to change him, infecting the hobbit with a new sense of obsessive possession. He manages to mostly keep it in check, but only after sounding suspiciously like the ring’s last owner Golum when he snatches it up and grunts the word “Mine”.
As with The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, Smaug too leaves us with an emotional cliffhanger, promising that the real climax is coming in next year’s final Hobbit chapter There and Back Again, thus rendering what we’ve just seen a three-hour teaser for the next movie, but the truth is I could have sat for another hour just to have more of the dragon.
Smaug his magnificent in its grotesqueness, slithering through a sea of gold treasures like a giant serpent while speaking with deep, finely pronounced menace, thanks to Benedict Cumberbach (Star Trek Into Darkness).
But its Freeman who more than proves his weight in gold, as Bilbo uses all of his riddle-making, stealth-like sneaking skills to save the day for both he and his companions on numerous occasions.
After watching him as another literary icon on also on an unexpected journey as Arthur Dent in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (2005), I knew Freeman would make a perfect Bilbo, and now more than ever I am convinced there is no one else who could have played this role.
Ian McKellen (X-Men) is also back as the wise wizard Gandalf, grave and prophetic as ever, as is Richard Armitage (Captain America), also returning from last year’s Unexpected Journey as dwarf leader Thorin.
Orlando Bloom (Pirates of the Caribbean) reprises his role of the lethal elf Legolas from the original Rings trilogy, who we find lovestruck in his athletic youth for this film’s rebellious new addition Tauriel, a character created just for the films and not based on the Tolkien books, played by Evangeline Lilly (Lost).
I admit I didn’t want to like Tauriel out of reverence for the source material, but she is impossible not to like, from her life-saving first spring into action to her audience-pleasing defiance of the elf king, who also happens to be Legolas’ dad, and her blatant but harmless flirtation with the brave dwarf Kili (Aiden Turner).
Tauriel and Legolas make a formidable and spry team, setting themselves up as much needed allies to Bilbo’s quest but promising dire consequences for themselves from their own elf kin.
The Desolation of Smaug oozes with darkness, foreshadowing the coming events told in the Rings trilogy, but the best and funnest scene is a group barrel ride down some pretty intense white rapids, a memorable scene from the book brought to life in epic fashion. Full of hilarious and heroic deeds set to a soaring score amid non-stop action, it encapsulates what makes this movie great.
When the sleeping dragon finally awakens and roars its fiery vengeance, you’ll feel the heat, but it will only leave you longing for more of this monster adventure.
Official Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars
Reviewed by: Matt Artz
Write your own review in the comments below!
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (rated PG13) is now playing, January 17-23 at The Pioneer Theatre in Manteo, and at R/C KDH Movies 10 in Kill Devil Hills.