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Review: ‘The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug’ (or ‘The Lord of the Rings, featuring the Hobbit’)

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The Hobbit: `The Desolation of Smaug'


Words by Jack Spillane

Director: Peter Jackson
Cast: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Benedict Cumberbatch, Richard Armitage, Orlando Bloom, Evangeline Lilly, Aidan Turner, Luke Evans
Plot: The dwarves, along with Bilbo Baggins and Gandalf the Grey, continue their quest to reclaim Erebor, their homeland, from Smaug the Dragon.

Verdict: 8/10

Peter Jackson loves epic film making. He could take The Hungry Caterpillar and adapt it into a 3-hour extravaganza, bursting with eagles, spiders, an evil overlord, topped with a Cate Blanchett voice over. It has been both a blessing and a curse with Jackson’s filmography over the years, and his latest venture into Middle-Earth, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, is a return to form after the tentative first entry in this new trilogy. However, what is a fun, entertaining and exceptionally well-made film is unfortunately brought down by what seems like needless padding, forced sub-plots and an excessive running time.

The Hobbit: Smaug

The Hobbit is around 300 pages long, and a much simpler story, originally devised for children, than its successor The Lord of the Rings charting the war of a fictional world. Many were cynical and felt that dividing The Hobbit into three films would just mean more money for Jackson and Co. (which of course it does), but in his work there is undeniably a love for his source material. The only problem? He has turned a story that could be told in two hours into one that is going to be pushing nine hours in full. This means The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug has its fair share of filler, which is undoubtedly going to make purist fans as mad as Gollum when he loses his precious. Although what we see on screen is not necessarily bad, it is just questionable whether it needs to be there at all.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
In addition to Bilbo (Freeman) and Thorin’s (Armitage) story, we are shown Gandalf’s (McKellen) side quest, a sub-plot romance involving Kili, Tauriel and the returning Legolas (Turner, Lilly and Bloom, respectively), as well as a personal story of redemption for Luke Evans’ Bard. This seems a lot of clutter – for a story that is supposed to be about a Hobbit robbing a dragon, said Hobbit feels a little bit lost in this tale. He and Thorin fight for screen time and the latter wins out, with him being thrust upon us as the new Aragorn. This is a shame, because Jackson has made a film that is enormously fun in parts – Bilbo and his band of dwarves take on terrifying spiders, a shape shifter, the elves and orcs with a smattering of fantastically executed action set pieces throughout. Most notable is a sequence that sees the group pursued in barrels down a river by both elves and orcs, which is clever, creative and wildly entertaining.
The Hobbit: Tauriel
What all this is building to is of course the confrontation with Smaug, and this character is more than worth the wait. With Benedict Cumberbatch’s bellowing tones and a truly awe-inspiring design, Smaug is a spectacular creature and his back and forth with Bilbo is another highlight, which leads into yet another great action sequence. Smaug is not the only antagonist in this film however, as Gandalf the Grey investigates an apparent new evil arising in an interesting side story that looks to set up the Lord of the Rings trilogy.  Again, this is not entirely necessary, but was on the whole much more engaging than the forced Kili/Tauriel romance that clogs up the screen for far too long.
Running at 160 minutes, The Desolation of Smaug is a testing length, that will likely have some checking their watch, but is an entertaining film – just in need of some fat trimming. Jackson has perhaps spent too long in Middle Earth at this point, but he does undoubtedly know how to make films on an epic scale – it is just debateable whether these films need to be quite so epic. Regardless of filler and padding, The Hobbit is a must see for audiences, and anyone that enjoys seeing a few orc decapitations and a dragon spewing fire at dwarves need look no further. Plus the music is nice too.
Jack is currently a third year English and Film student who spends far too much time watching movies and television. When he’s not watching them, he’s writing about them.


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aAh! Magazine is Manchester Metropolitan University's arts and culture magazine.

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