Our fifth visit to the wonderful setting of Middle Earth has finally come, and there is every possibility that it is the most well rounded effort outside of ‘The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King’. Yes, I will say it, that is just how good ‘The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug’ is.
From beginning to end, Peter Jackson crafts yet another engaging film that explores more unseen parts of Middle Earth, all while delving deeper into the mythology that J.R.R. Tolkien created when writing the appendices to “The Lord of the Rings” back in the 1950’s.
From the prologue, all the way to a ominous “What have we done?”, Jackson puts us on a roller coaster ride of thrills and chills. At times this ride may seem familiar, but Jackson has put enough of a spin on things to make them still be fresh enough to leave us wanting more.
While many point to the “juvenile” nature of some of the stunts in both ‘An Unexpected Journey’ and ‘The Desolation of Smaug’ as a way for Jackson to say “look at what I can do with CGI”, I simply look at it as an effective way to lighten the mood in these films. What some people seem to be forgetting is that Tolkien wrote “The Hobbit” for his young son and therefore should never be shown to be anywhere near as dark as “The Lord of the Rings”, and for the most part, Jackson has nailed that right on the head this time around.
While ‘The Lord of the Rings’ films are some of the most successful and critically acclaimed films of all time, the first entry into ‘The Hobbit’ trilogy is not as loves, both by fans and critics, but was still very much a success and laid a strong groundwork for what may be one of the best big budget films of 2013, all on the strength of the second titular character.
Benedict Cumberbatch does a supreme job as the voice of the dreaded wurm, Smaug, and with enough conviction to possibly even rival the job that Andy Serkis did bringing Gollum to life in four films. Cumberbatch, best known for his turns as Sherlock Holmes and ‘Star Trek’ villain Khan, brings life and death to Smaug in a way that I never truly felt could be accurately brought to the screen.
The look of Smaug is just another extraordinary piece of work from the Middle Earth crew that should have come as no surprise to anyone. From his stalking of Bilbo in the treasure room, taken right from the book, all the way to his finally taking flight, Smaug is a menacing presence, highlighted in the end by the work done by the digital artists to bring his mouth and face to life.
One of the other truly mesmerizing aspects of what Jackson has done with our five trips to Middle Earth so far has been to differentiate each locale from each other, and that is once again at the fore of ‘The Desolation of Smaug’ with new locales of Mirkwood, the Woodland Realm of the Elves and Laketown.
Beginning with an aura of Mirkwood that is on par with what we saw with Fangorn Forest in ‘The Two Towers’, through wooded caverns of the home of the Woodland Elves, up to the icy coldness of Esgaroth and the true Desolation of Smaug, Jackson brings forwarded even more breathtaking scenery, which is one of hallmarks of the five films so far.
The last thing that I really want to touch on here is just how perfect and wonderful Martin Freeman is in this film as the lead character. Freeman brings to life all of the insecurities that Bilbo would be going through during this adventure, but also demonstrates just how much a Hobbit can change, much as Tolkien wrote about way back in the day. Freeman is in a class of his own in this film, and it will be interesting to see what changes he shows next December and if it will finally be worthy of award talk.
In the end, ‘The Desolation of Smaug’ manages to overcome the dreaded middle film syndrome in a wonderful merging of light heartedness and impending doom and darkness in a much better way than ‘The Two Towers’ was able to do and bring forth an amazing visualization of a character that all fans of the book have tried to see in their minds eye for decades.
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